Google Apps Gets the Shaft but It's the Broader Cloud That Needs to Improve
You know what really grinds my gears?
There's a popular argument circulating that Google Apps isn't good enough for enterprises, that the SAAS collaboration software suite isn't battle tested enough. One could certainly make that case against the standard Google Apps, with its easy-breezy, no-frills approach to computing.
The Google Apps Premier Edition is much more hardy, with increased security and support. Even so, the lack of fully dedicated, 24/7 support and the frequent outages make Google an easy target for naysayers.
Not long ago, Microsoft used this rhetoric to attack Google Apps. Of course, that was before the company started pushing its own SAAS collaboration suites for SharePoint, Exchange and Office.
I wonder: Will businesses proceed with caution for Microsoft SAAS the same way they do with Google, or will they adopt these online versions because Microsoft has more enterprise credibility? It remains to be seen.
TechRepublic's Jason Hiner offered the usual arguments against Google Apps in this blog post. If you've been following the nascent cloud computing market, you'll quickly note that Hiner's position echoes what some pro-Microsoft analysts were saying about Google Apps for the last couple of years, at least until Microsoft entered SAAS. Hiner wrote:
When IT departments do mass deployments of applications for business-critical tasks, they expect a high level of service. They expect the software to be bug-free, and if they do run into problems then they expect to be able to quickly connect with a customer support representative to resolve any issues immediately, if not sooner. In order to pull off this type of experience that corporate IT demands, a software maker needs excellent attention to detail, strong processes and systems in place, and software that is "good enough" to provide a seamless experience for users. Again, delivering fully-packaged, mostly-bullet-proof software is not part of Google's DNA. Another major consideration for enterprise IT is data security. Google still typically thinks like an Internet company, spreading data across multiple servers and continents for redundancy and performance. But, many big companies are under regulatory scrutiny and so they have to be able to document where their data is at all times and they need that data segmented from the data of any other companies.
First, no application or server software, not Microsoft Exchange, Outlook or SharePoint, is bug-free. Bugs in on-premises software are so old and common that people got tired of talking about these bugs, so they don't.
But when a cloud computing application such as Gmail or Google Docs goes dark, the sky is falling. Armageddon is nigh. Even today, hands are wringing over the Google App Engine outage.
Google's applications run in parallel across thousands of servers, so when there is an outage, it affects thousands, sometimes millions, of people at once. That's the unfortunate risk inherent in the cloud. Some businesses can live with that; others can't.
Google's outages are a symptom of the cloud computing model and shouldn't be a condemnation that Google can't provide enterprise software. Remember, Salseforce.com goes down, too.
Find me a SAAS provider that doesn't. This just in! Servers go down, people. I don't care how much failover you have; some downtime is inevitable. Let's minimize it and not criticize it.
Hiner also gives Google's Apps team the shaft. He implies that they lack detail and generally have no software management skills regarding the enterprise. "Again, delivering fully-packaged, mostly-bullet-proof software is not part of Google's DNA."
That's a common, but false argument against the Google Apps group. When people make blanket statements like that, it implies that Google Apps comprises a bunch of whimsical consumer Web services programmers who don't know how to build reliable software. That's hardly the case.
Most of the Google Apps people come from the enterprise! These guys were leaders at infrastructure software companies like VMware (Rajen Sheth), Virage (Dave Girouard) and BEA (Nitin Mangtani). Google CEO Eric Schmidt worked at Sun and Novell. These guys get the enterprise.
Hiner also attacks Google's data security, noting Google still typically thinks like an Internet company, spreading data across multiple servers and continents for redundancy and performance.
That's the essence of the cloud. If you're not going to allow data to live in parallel across multiple servers, then you might as well stay local with on-premises. Also, Hiner's note that the idea that data housed entirely on Google's servers is a major security risk is another issue of contention.
There is risk in any environment where data lives, whether it's in a company's internal central repository or spread out across several machines. I'd argue most data shenanigans are happening from within companies, not from outside.
Ultimately, Hiner would be better served arguing that the cloud in general is not sufficient because that seems to be what the real argument is here. In that context, his argument has more validity.
Dismissal of Google Apps, Salesforce.com, Amazon Web Services or the cloud on the whole is not the solution. Microsoft, through its new SAAS suites and Windows Azure, demonstrated that it now agrees. We will see outages in Microsoft's cloud computing environments, too.
We need hybrid solutions. We need cloud and on-premises options right now. As years and decades pass us by, all of the current weak points of the cloud will be vastly improved.
We're playing and working a little bit in the cloud now. We will be living in it in the future.