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Google Incents Partners To Nab Office 365 Customers

Google is calling on its 13,000 partners to convince midsized enterprises to give Google Apps a try.

A new partner-led Google program will let customers try Google Apps free of charge for the duration of their subscription to a competitive service, notably Microsoft's Office 365. The offer is open to any-sized organization, but Google is focusing on those with 350 to 3,000 seats. In an effort to make it more appealing, Google will offer partners $25 per customer per seat to cover the cost of deployment.

The move comes as the rapid growth of Office 365 has become a thorn in the side of Google Apps. Microsoft reports that there are 15.2 million subscribers to the Office 365 Personal and Home Editions, although the company hasn't disclosed how many have subscribed to enterprise-oriented SKUs, including licenses with Exchange and/or SharePoint Online. However, a report published in August by security vendor Bitglass showed that Office 365 has overtaken Google Apps over the past year.

Use of Office 365 increased 300 percent over the past year. The Microsoft suite is in use at 25.2 percent of enterprises, compared to 7.7 percent last year, according to the report. Google grew, too, but is used at only 22.8 percent of enterprises, up from 16.3 percent last year. Microsoft has fared even better among enterprises with more than 500 employees; 34.3 percent of such companies use Office 365 compared to 22.9 percent that use Google Apps.

Bitglass gathered its numbers using traffic reports from 120,000 organizations.

Microsoft pointed to the Bitglass report in its Office Blog. (Bitglass supports both Office 365 and Google Apps, though its listed partners are Microsoft, Dropbox, Box, Salesforce.com, OneLogin, Okta, Deloitte, Forsythe and Sayers.)

"For several years, Google was the standard for cloud-based productivity suites. However, with the release of Office 365, Microsoft has provided a viable alternative to Google Docs," said Alan Lepofsky, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research. "The timing for this offer is good, as many organizations are evaluating if they should switch from Microsoft's on-premises offering to the cloud, and this helps place Google Apps for Work into the decision-making matrix."

Organizations taking advantage of the offer must do so via one of Google's partners. "We are going to use our channel partners to do this," said Murali Sitaram, director global partnerships and alliances at Google for Work. "We believe that particular segment [midsized enterprises] is right for this because they have been using premises-based platforms. They have less money to invest in these broad platforms, they have the scale that makes it somewhat more complex compared to small and medium businesses, so we want to make sure we give them the ability to use really strong collaboration technologies and not be mired in the past."

Google is hoping that if organizations take advantage of the ability to try its apps suite for the duration of an existing Office 365 contract, they'll see some of the benefits it offers. Ryan Tabone, director of product management for Google Docs, explained during an interview that the company has added 350 features to Google Apps, including improved fidelity, support for pivot tables in its Sheets spreadsheet, red-lining, real-time editing, and the ability to work with legacy file formats and workloads.

Tabone demonstrated two new features added last month that take advantage of Google's cloud-based machine learning capabilities. One was the ability to perform real-time voice-to-text transcription, and the other to render visualization from datasets that can forecast key business-impact results without requiring support from trained experts.

"We are trying to push the industry again," Tabone said. "We are not just a good solution in this space -- we are actually a better solution for most enterprises."

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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