Wednesday, January 14, 2009

First Look: Google Apps Premiere Not For Everyone

By launching Google Apps, Google decided to take productivity applications into the cloud for business. Whether it's good business, in and of itself, still remains to be seen.

Google Apps Premier takes the feature of the original Google Apps (now known as Google Apps Standard) and extends the platform to include functionality of a corporate network.

For $50.00 per user, per year, Google is offering a relatively easy-to-set-up network, hosted on the Google platform. Included is ad-free Gmail, Postini e-mail security and archiving, Google Calendar, Google Talk, SSL security, Google Docs, Video and Storage—essentially all things Google.

That's what Google provides. What's taken away is hands-on control over security and physical access to resources or company property -- the data. For some, that's a nice trade-off. For others, it's a sacrifice that's either not welcome or even permitted under some regulatory structures.

To get started requires two things: a credit card (to initiate a 30-day free trial) and a public domain. After 30 days, it becomes a recurring cost. Anyone opting for this offering would need to factor that into cost and growth projections beyond 12 months.

DNS information for that domain has to be altered so that a CNAME and MX record points to Google's servers. The process is detailed step-by-step in the administrator portal that is set up once a user signs up for the free trial, and is a breeze for anyone with basic DNS knowledge.

Once the domain information is verified -- which can take 24 to 48 hours -- users can be added and you're off to the races. The administrator's dashboard provides granular access of services like Calendar and Docs. That means an administrator can establish which user can access which services or data. Permissions can be set up by Groups as well.

There are some advanced management capabilities. An administrator can specify e-mail white lists from which users can receive e-mail. In-bound gateways that handle spam can be specified in the administrator dashboard as can outbound SMTP servers.

Single-Sign On can be enabled to allow users one-time-only authentication to Web-based apps like Gmail or calendar. Google Analytics is used to report on the traffic of Google services enabled for a domain. This utility will report on where visitors to your site come from and which Google service users are accessing the most.

Google Apps Premier is about anytime, anywhere access to data. Google Sites is an included service that can be used to create an intranet, where users can collaborate on projects or access files from in a variety of sources like Google Docs, YouTube, or any images. VARs and solution providers can use Google Apps Premier to create a robust, network infrastructure for clients without the need to purchase equipment and additional software. There are several considerations, however. One of them is cost.

VARs must decide whether the $50-per-user, per-year price will be cost-effective, more so than the cost of a traditional on-site e-mail and file server network, particularly with regard to a small business.

Another issue is one of control. This is a hosted solution, so ultimately security and controls are at the topmost level the responsibility of Google. Depending on the nature of a client's business and data, this may not be a big issue. For a doctor's office, or a merchant that needs to store customer credit-card information, the issue of adhering to HIPAA and PCI giving up the security that could be easier to control with data residing on-site may be an issue.

Google's site makes the claim that there are security controls in place for compliance issues, but a solution provider must weigh in as to whether a hosted solution is ideal for a client that is bounded by compliance regulations.

The bottom line is that this is an offering that can offer a VAR a lot of advantages: no additional implementation of hardware or software, centralized management and anywhere access are the main ones. The downside: loss of complete control over security and the recurring cost for the service.

To deliver this as an effective solution, VARs need to put their trust not only in Google's infrastructure but in their own assessment as to whether it fits their customers' growth and budget planning.

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