Caution for Businesses Thinking About Google Apps

Is Google Apps Premier Edition tempting enough to make the switch?

Google Apps Premier Edition may be a tempting alternative to Microsoft Office software, but it may not be all that its cracked up to be early on, according to one industry analyst.

When Google unveiled its Google Apps Premier Edition (GAPE) in February 2007, many industry watchers sat up and took notice. The initial thought was that GAPE was being positioned as a cost-effective, hosted alternative to the cash cow known as Microsoft Office.

After all, GAPE features similar tools to what users have found in Office for years. The package includes applications for creating Web pages, e-mail, instant messaging, calendaring, as well as documents and spreadsheets.

Businesses can pay $50 per user to work with these tools, which are hosted on Googles servers as part of the ambitious SAAS (software as a service) model popularized by Most experts agreed GAPE results in some savings over Office. Few agreed on how much.

Burton Group analyst Guy Creese told eWEEK August 22 that while GAPEs $50 per user per year is seductive, businesses must conduct due diligence and decide if the software is the right fit because the package was initially conceived in Googles consumer product line.

This is good from a usability standpoint, but the data model is different in that when the system is set up, everyone is equal and administrators have to tailor admin rights to everyone they add.


Click here to read more about Google Apps Premier Edition.

"When you set up the system now, everyone is equal and you individually have to tailor admin rights to each person you add, whereas in a regular enterprise system you say well these folks are all in this department and as a general rule they have these levels of security and Ill deal with exceptions as they come up," Creese said.

"With Google Apps right now, its more set up as a one-by-one kind of thing, which is not a problem in the consumer space but starts to become an issue in the enterprise space," he added.

Creese also said GAPE does not satisfy the need for records management, which lets companies archive documents. He said Googles response to that concern is to say that users can manually copy all of their online documents to their own local storage.

"Not too bad in the first couple of months," Creese said. "Probably a problem if youre doing it for three years and the SEC sends you a subpoena [for certain records]."

Creese also questioned the preparedness of Googles corporate culture to make a go of it in the enterprise space.

"Saying we dont have it now and were waiting for the future is an okay thing to tell a company," Creese said. "But, you then need to tell them when, but its against their DNA to actually say that."

The analyst noted that Google has a history of releasing incomplete products, calling them beta software, and issuing updates on a "known only to Google" schedule.

But even at the root level, some businesses may have a hard time entrusting their corporate documents to a company that "makes its living from analyzing content and displaying it to the world," Creese said.

Its clear GAPE has a ways to go before even being seriously considered an alternative to Office. Google isnt forcing the issue, preferring to paint the package as more of a collaboration tool and less as a replacement for Office. But just the fact that the suite targets the enterprise means Google is taking GAPE down that path, Creese said.

The emergence of GAPE points to a larger trend, a blurring of the lines between content and collaboration.


Click here to read more about the collaboration software market.

Despite the similarities between GAPE and Microsoft Office, the obvious difference is in the delivery models. Office is downloaded and used in-house; GAPE is procured in the SAAS model and hosted on Googles servers. These are two very different models, but Creese claims companies are employing both for different stages or aspects of their businesses.

"You live in a workspace where you do store documents, but its also a workspace where you can collaborate. In the long run, we will get to a tuning-dial way of migrating between software in-house and SAAS. Right now, were asking people to choose one or the other," Creese said.

By way of example, Creese pointed to the market for Web analytics. In 2000, Web analytics was packaged software like any other.

Over the years, Creese said, retailers who weathered peak loads during holiday seasons switched to SAAS because the infrastructure load to handle it is so high, and they dont have to have a bunch of servers sitting dormant for nine months out of the year. Some vendors switch back and forth between in-house software and SAAS.

"I think we are years away from that in the content space, but in the long run thats a model that people like because they want to treat software as a utility," Creese said.

Regardless of the rationalization of in-house and SAAS, the Burton Group believes the future of the content management and collaboration market rests in the hands of the "super platform" players, including IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and even Google.


Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis about productivity and business solutions.