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Google Apps brings opportunities to cloud-focused VARs

While Google Apps isn’t seen as channel-friendly, some VARs make hay with implementations.

Despite the growing pains evidenced by its management transition and lackluster first-quarter earnings, Google is finding a following among technology solution providers eager to build on its stable of cloud-based applications.

For its first quarter, Google Inc. reported net income of $2.3 billion, which was up 18% but below analysts’ expectations. One factor in the earnings miss was the company’s investments in services and areas beyond its core Web search and advertising business, according to Google’s first-quarter earnings report.

Those investments are precisely what have more solution providers teaming with Google to represent its technologies and services, particularly Google Apps. Google’s focus on improving administration and support services for partners that need to tie Google Apps—such as Gmail, Docs, Calendar and Google Cloud Connect—into other applications and infrastructure has been especially helpful, Google partners said.

Google Apps vows lower license cost, flexibility
At $50 per-user, per-year, the Google Apps license is attractive for businesses looking to get a handle on their software licensing costs. Google Apps can be accounted for differently on a company's books than traditional enterprise software licenses. What's more, Google Apps is attractive for businesses looking for more flexibility when it comes to provisioning. Google Enterprise partners can receive margin on licenses that they recommend and implement. The bigger money-making potential, however, lies in integration services that help tie Google Apps with a company's legacy applications as well as customizations that might be related to a customer's unique workflow.

“Google has done a great job of making tools available to facilitate integration, although change management and training remain the big challenge,” said Mike O’Brien, manager of the Google enterprise business practice for Appirio Inc., a cloud service provider based in San Mateo, Calif.

Appirio, which employs more than 220 consultants, is completely focused on cloud computing, so it doesn’t deal with Google’s on-premises enterprise search appliance, O’Brien said. The company started its Google practice in May 2007, and Appirio has handled some of the biggest Google Apps enterprise projects in the world -- including big implementations for Genentech and Motorola. (A big and well-publicized  Google Apps deal for the city of Los Angeles, has been seen its share of problems, it should be noted.)

O’Brien said email is where his customer prospects see the potential return on investment initially, but the collaboration capabilities associated with Google Apps, such as Google Docs and Google Sites, are a game changer for many of his customers. “It really changes the way they do business,” he said.

Cory Vander Jagt, vice president of product marketing for another cloud solutions provider, Astadia Inc., said one of the biggest selling points for Google Apps is its ability to cut legacy maintenance costs associated with on-premises email servers. Astadia got its start in 2002 with and is today one of its largest deployment partners. It started building out its Google practice in 2010.

Gmail as entry app
Once businesses migrate to Gmail, Vander Jagt said they typically want to check out other pieces of the suite, particularly collaboration. “When they first get onto Google Apps, they will usually continue using their traditional productivity apps, but then they slowly migrate online,” he said.

Most business users still want to hang on to their core Microsoft Excel and Word applications, but now Google even has an app for that: Google Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office, which lets people collaborate on documents for these applications more easily than is otherwise possible.

Rhett Place, systems architect with Data Technique Inc., a solution provider in Pittsburg, Kan., that sells both on-premises and cloud solutions, found a receptive following for its Google-driven solutions among education customers. Data Technique’s ConneXcloud offers a way to connect Google apps with existing identity management and provisioning tools.

Data Technique has found a niche by addressing the security and identity management concerns of schools that have been considering the free services offered to education customers. “We are basing our partnership with Google around identity management,” Place said.

Although it has been tougher for Data Technique to penetrate commercial accounts with the ConneXcloud solution, Place said the latest version of Google Apps makes it easier to manage multiple domains from a single dashboard. That can be especially useful for businesses integrating technology infrastructure from acquisitions that are looking for a way to move to common communications and collaborations quickly and cost effectively, Place said.

Of course, Google Apps is nearly always positioned against Microsoft Office, which is seen as much pricier and restrictive. But Microsoft isn’t standing still. First it launched its lower-cost Business Productivity Online Suite and is now morphing that into Office 365.

About the expert
Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist in the New York area with more than 20 years experience. Her articles have appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and The New York Times. Clancy was previously editor at Computer Reseller News, a B2B trade publication covering news and trends about the high-tech channel.

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