Google Apps Admins Get Rapid, Scheduled Release Tracks

Google March 15 launched two new release cycles to give Google Apps administrators more control over new feature upgrades for Gmail, Google Docs, Google Sites and other apps.

Google March 15 moved to improve its Google Apps upgrade deliveries, adding a rapid release and scheduled release tracks to help IT administrators prepare for application upgrades.

Google hosts Google Apps, including Google Docs, Gmail and other collaboration applications on its cloud computing infrastructure. Google's practice has been to automatically provision upgrades for those apps to customers.

While this approach saves IT managers the time and costs of performing software upgrades and managing installers, some companies want to better plan for new features.

"We're always excited to bring you the newest features as soon as they're ready, but we've heard from some customers with complex IT environments that they'd like more notice before new features are deployed to their users," said Anna Mongayt, from Google's Enterprise Operations.

Google's new feature release process lets Google Apps admins have more control over when new features are provisioned to their companies' Google Apps installations.

Admins may choose the Rapid Release track to have access to new features as soon as the features have completed testing and quality assurance. Alternatively, Apps admins may select the Scheduled Release, which provisions new features on a regular, weekly release schedule following the initial release of those features.

The Scheduled Release allows administrators to test the new features, and keep users abreast of the changes. New features will be released on the Scheduled Release track each Tuesday, with a one-week notice following the initial feature launch.

Mongayt said Gmail, Contacts, Google Calendar, Google Docs and Google Sites will be following this new release process.

"This is an important step for Google to show it's more serious about enterprise application users," Nucleus Research analyst Rebecca Wetteman told eWEEK. "IT managers want to be able to plan for and deliver new technologies to end users in ways that minimize disruption and drive adoption. This puts them more in the driver's seat."

Wetteman added that Google must also provide product and feature roadmaps so enterprise IT managers can know what to expect if they're including Google in their enterprise application strategy.

This is an unlikely scenario, as Google's software engineering model is built from the ground up to iterate and update with regularity and speed.

At any rate, admins who previously had selected "pre-release features" in the Google Apps control panel will be placed on the Rapid Release track to access upgrades when they're ready.

Those who had not selected that option will be placed on the Scheduled Release track; those admins can always switch to the Rapid Release track in the future.

With the new release cycles, Google aims to provide a comfort level to admins as the company seeks to lure more users from Microsoft Office and SharePoint and IBM Lotus productivity and collaboration platforms.

The new release cycles come three weeks after Google introduced its new Appsperience program aimed at luring more business users to its Google Apps suite, which has more than 3 million businesses. It also comes two weeks after Google weathered its first big Gmail outage of 2011.