Google Expands Enterprise App Partner Program

Google on Wednesday launched a beefed-up Google Apps reseller program for the enterprise, opening the program beyond its initial 50 core team members. Under the program, resellers provide system integration and training support, along with customization of Google's hosted applications.

The move increases potential competition in the enterprise software-as-a-service (SaaS) space, delivering e-mail, calendar and collaboration solutions to business users. It represents a potential sword-crossing moment with arch-nemesis competitor Microsoft, which has its own partner community selling to the enterprise sector.

Google got to its position -- selling to "more than 1 million businesses," according to the company's blog -- by first cultivating a consumer-friendly persona. Google Apps are offered to the general public for free, but the company also charges enterprises for customized solutions with added security.

Having a consumer-facing product, along with SaaS delivery, generates more innovation and flexibility compared with on-premise software installations, according to Google spokesman Andrew Kovacs.

"The innovation on the consumer side is more Darwinian, and that's been informing our movement in the enterprise," he said. "We believe as a company that the advantages of the consumer world can be applied effectively to the enterprise world to make applications that are simple and easy to use yet powerful."

In short, he said, Google, born of the Internet, believes that the Internet cloud is the best place to start when attacking the enterprise space. Google, through its new Google Apps Authorized Reseller Program, is betting that its partners will agree.

"This presents an opportunity to them today to start adding cloud services to their offerings," he said. Google's resellers also have the choice of selling on-premises software from other software providers, including Microsoft and others.

Google provides security for its enterprise apps through technology the company acquired when it bought Postini. The Postini acquisition marked the company's move into the enterprise direction, and it did "improve the performance of the security of their e-mail in particular," said Jeff Kaplan, managing director of THINKstrategies, a SaaS advocacy group.

Google, for its part, only provides "limited" customer support.

"We're depending on our reseller partners to provide it," Kovacs said, calling it "one of the biggest opportunities for them" to make extra money on end user support and training.

Google's retailer partners sell, customize and support Google Apps Premier Edition for enterprises, and there's no hardware to maintain. And that, said Kaplan is the selling point.

"People are becoming tired of buying, implementing and maintaining their own software and then having to notify the vendor if anything goes wrong. That formula is quickly becoming obsolete," he said.

Google has already drawn some blood in the academic market with its hosted gmail solution. An Australian school district dropped out of a three-year $33 million e-mail contract using Microsoft Exchange Server in favor of a $9 million hosted gmail deal with Google.

Microsoft has been formulating its own "software plus services" play, offering hosted versions of its best-selling software applications since late last year, both directly and through its partner channels. Still, the software giant faces an incumbent's burden, while the new guys can come in fresh.

Apple Inc. also appears to be entering the SaaS space from the consumer side with a new hosted offering that supports the Apple iWork productivity suite. Last week, the company announced an public beta, which lets users of iWork '09 software share documents online.

Corporate delays in implementing Windows Vista have given Apple and Google a boost, Kaplan contended.

"Apple has been making tremendous inroads into the corporate environment because of the disruptive qualities of Vista," Kaplan said. "Google seems to have many opportunities with the same vulnerability that Vista created. The economy has aggravated and the overall attitude towards traditional software has become increasingly negative."

About the Author

Jim Barthold is a freelance writer based in Delanco, N.J. covering a variety of technology subjects.