Google Apps: a Golden Goose … or just a Goose Egg?

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Google wants to do hosted apps now.  Interesting.  Google Apps was actually soft launched 2 years ago and they have been using it internally since.  You might ask “what does Microsoft have to say about that?”  Well, they have launched BPOS (Business Productivity Online Suite).  In short, they are very similar products … but basically, clients would run their applications over the internet via a browser. Welcome to the new Google/Microsoft battlefield:  Cloud-based Apps.

I find this all very exciting, although … in principle … it’s not entirely new.  Delivering applications across the Internet is something IT Weapons has been doing for over 10 years.  I first did this myself way back when I qualified as a ‘geek’ in 1992. As a matter of IT-history, I did Canada’s first Citrix WinView installation (yep, I’m THAT old).  Anyway, having focused my own career (nearly 20 years) and my company on app-delivery for clients, I qualify as an expert on the topic.

I am deeply familiar with the challenges inherent in:

a) application centralization
b) application delivery over variable/contention-based bandwidth
c) multi-tenant solutions
d) security demands
e) the realities of giant vendors delivering cookie-cutter solutions

I don’t want this brain-dump to turn into an essay … but stick with me here …  I want to help my clients feel safe knowing we are looking out for them.

I have been running Google Apps in several configurations in a sandbox, and for some of my companies.  I run them all in virtual instances via XenDesktop so I can compare their performance on similar tasks.  Beyond my own R&D, this ensures I’m up to speed on the latest technology for my clients, teammates and partners.  To be honest, I’ve had my share of issues and tech support time with Google (which is almost nonexistent by the way).

To understand the worry and potential frustration, here’s a task for you …  hit start on a stopwatch and then try to find the Google Support telephone number!  That said, when Google Apps works—and if the current feature set fits your business— it is very cool.  They have certainly upped the bar for online collaboration.  In fact, you can very effectively use Google Apps for isolated projects and for organizing shared responsibilities.

I have a peer in Vancouver, Chris Day, (who I consider a black belt social networker) … he uses Google Apps externally with marketing companies to collaborate and gateway documents into his internal systems.  It’s very creative and allows collaboration without having to let external people inside his high security environment.

He also shared a story with me:

My wife recently started up a clothing business for infants, “Playpants” a local company based in Vancouver, BC.  She asked me to get her and her two partners setup with e-mail and share documents.  The right solution was obvious: Google Apps Standard. It was free, simple, and would provide her with everything she needs to collaborate in real-time with her partners. They can develop product marketing materials, pricing, some basic legal documentation, etc…

Unfortunately, about 3 months after starting the business, a gap appeared; her document and spreadsheet editors built into Google Docs were lacking the needed functionality – even for a company of 3 people. While Google has done a great job of providing basic e-mail and document hosting service, the time had come (already) where more complex documents were being created … and working with these in a feature-poor web-based editor was just not feasible.

So, what does this all mean?  I think these are exciting times.  Major developments are occurring in the global village right now.  Social media is shaking things up even more than 4 years ago when Facebook stepped on MySpace.  Twitter is coming into Gen-2 and quickly becoming a valid business tool.  LinkedIn has inserted itself as a staple in most professional portfolios.  The rebirth of ASPs as MSP’s and morphing into Technology-as-a-Service (TaaS) providers and/or cloud providers – Wow!

So, should you start adopting Google Apps/MS BPOS?  I say “hang in there” … They have a lot to learn about the nuances of the SMB and Enterprise solutions;  being able to provide 10 applications to a company that uses over 30 is a start…  What I find striking is that since Corel/WordPerfect/Lotus 123/Harvard Graphics/Quattro Pro/etc… have all faded,  Microsoft hasn’t faced a real challenger…   No real competitor to force innovation on the quest for customers.   So, Google Apps will definitely rattle the cage of Microsoft and all our businesses stand to benefit from the pending war…  I STRONGLY suggest we get a good seat and watch things play out – and reap the benefits of the coming new world of Cloud-based applications.  There are exciting times ahead.

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