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Google Apps Education Edition helps attract solution providers

Google's hosted email service for colleges and universities now has 1 million users, and channel partners are starting to take notice.

The Google Apps Education Edition service has passed the 1 million users mark, and that growth is helping to attract more channel partners, Google said yesterday.

Google Apps Education Edition, also known as Google Apps for Edu, is the hosted email service that Google offers free to colleges and universities. Google is not shy about its to-market strategy -- the service's website features links to contact Google's sales team or sign up directly through an online form. But the online giant is also emphasizing the role of partners in helping education customers customize the service and integrate it with their back-end systems.

"Google's never really been a professional services organization," said Jeff Kelpner, business development manager for Google Apps.

Google also announced 13 new education customers yesterday, including George Washington University, the University of Virginia and Indiana University. The company is doing some outreach to attract more channel partners, but customer wins like these are more responsible for attracting solution providers, Kelpner said.

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"The partners start coming to us," he said. "We're seeing more and more of that."

SADA Systems, a North Hollywood, Calif.-based solution provider, has been a Google Apps partner since 2006 and did its first work with Google Apps Education Edition early last year. It requires some adjustments for integrators, but it also brings rewards, said president and CEO Tony Safoian.

"It's a nontraditional engagement," he said. "Most VARs are used to doing on-premise implementations, very client/server-centric implementations. … It's about fulfilling business needs, being much more of a consultant."

Google Apps features open APIs that partners can use in their integration work. SADA Systems has used the APIs in many different ways: to automatically generate Google Apps accounts for students when they enroll, or to let students use their Google Apps accounts to check their grades online, for example.

"For us, it's been extremely successful," Safoian said. "It's opened doors and opportunities with customers that we wouldn't be able to reach otherwise."

LTech Consulting, a Google partner in Tinton Falls, N.J., has had similar success, according to chief technology officer Ed Laczynski.

"The margins are comparable [to on-premise], without having the management and overhead complications," he said. "So we've been pretty happy with it."

The fact that Google Apps is a hosted service also helps, Safoian said.

"Ninety-five percent of the time we never have to go on premise, so it's a huge cost savings for us and our customers," he said.

Kelpner did not disclose how many partners have signed up to work with Google Apps Education Edition, but he said about 10 interested solution providers approached him at a recent conference.

Most schools are drawn to Google Apps Education Edition because the email system they offer students is typically a homegrown or open source system that doesn't offer as much storage space or a strong user interface, he said. The service also offers Google Calendar and Google Documents, which include word processing, spreadsheets and online collaboration.

"Students have never really had access to that," Kelpner said.

Most Google Apps Education Edition deployments are just for student email systems, although some customers also use the service for faculty email. In those cases, Google migrates schools from Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Domino and other enterprise systems, Kelpner said.

Back in May, Microsoft began offering hosted Exchange on college campuses through its Live@edu service -- a move some saw as a direct response to Google's success in the higher education market. Yahoo is also pushing to entrench its Zimbra email and collaboration desktop in higher ed. It's part of an overall trend toward hosted email services on college campuses, Laczynski said.

"We're seeing interest in this space in general and specifically with Google Apps," he said. "There's a lot of excitement. … These are students that are used to Gmail. They love Google. They're used to hosted services. They're not corporate email users."

And as Google continues to grow in the market, Kelpner said the company will continue to develop relationships with the partner community.

"You've got to bring them in and get these partners engaged, and they'll believe it when they see it," he said. "It's a trust thing, and trust is always built over time."

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