Google needs to boost hosted apps: analysts

Business users want more from Google Apps

Google must provide stronger data models along with role-based access and records management archiving capabilities before most IT managers will take its Google Apps hosted application suite seriously, analysts said at a recent conference.

The search tool maker's hosted offerings are getting a closer look by IT managers looking to compare them with Microsoft's Online Services hosted offering, which was unveiled last September.

"I think Google has underestimated the complexity of the enterprise space," says Guy Creese, an analyst at The Burton Group. "So far they basically have [delivered] consumer products and slapped an enterprise name on them. They talk a lot about usability, but they fall down" due to the lack of an enterprise data model, Creese says.

At the AIIM Conference in Boston earlier this month, Matthew Glotzbach, director of product management for enterprise at Google, noted that 500,000 organisations are using Google Apps, though he also acknowledged that large organisations are so far hesitant to join in.

"One challenge we've had is building that enterprise credibility," conceded Glotzbach, who added that the company expects the consumer and business versions of Google apps to maintain "90% consistency" going forward.

Creese said Google must further differentiate the versions, noting that several new features must be added to meet the needs of large IT operations. Some of those include data archiving tools to augment records management searches, email distribution list functionalities and role-based management tools.

"Somebody worried about a soccer schedule is not worried about records management — and they don't have a distribution list," Creese noted. "It's all of this underlying way of managing the business that [Google] is missing."

Matt Cain, a Gartner analyst, added that Google Apps probably won't be seriously considered by enterprises until Google can show it can support reporting, audit trails, and service-level agreements for large-scale commercial users.

"[Google] has everything else, but that's what we need to see. They need to prove it," said Cain. "There's a lot of skepticism and let's wait and see," among corporate users, he said.

Nonetheless, he expects Google and Microsoft to be the primary providers of hosted applications to corporate users when Gartner expects the market to take off between 2010 and 2012.

Google first launched the Google Apps offering in 2006 as a free service and began charging in 2007 with the introduction of a Premier Edition. Recently, it further beefed up the service by adding the Google Sites wiki service to the service's Google Docs, Gmail, Google Calendar and Talk applications.

Microsoft then countered the addition of Google Sites — an obvious competitor of Microsoft SharePoint — by unveiling beta versions of hosted Exchange and SharePoint server products. The hosted Microsoft offerings will be generally available by the end of this year.

Gartner's Cain said Microsoft will trail Google Apps' capabilities until it adds Microsoft Office applications to the hosted suite.

"If you look at the way the industry is playing out and the way Google is going, I would have to imagine that the lights are burning long and bright over in Redmond working on hosted versions of Office," he said.

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