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Google Apps: The Sleeping Giant?





Aaron Smith on free or low cost technology for small businessesEditor’s Note:  Please welcome our newest guest expert, Aaron Smith. Aaron will be writing about  free and low-cost applications that you may find of value for your business. His first column is about the Big Daddy of them all, Google Apps.

By Aaron Smith

It seems incredible, but just over a year ago most businesses had to pay for their email. If you wanted you and your employees to have YourName@YourDomain.com you had to pay a premium for each mailbox.

Then, one day, Google decided that we could all change a couple of zone files and point our mail traffic at their servers, and they would be delighted if came in a used their beautiful applications … for free. And it wasn’t just email. It was integrated calendaring and chat, and it was all built on open standards with easy accessibility through a set of APIs. Google decided that anyone could use their suite of online applications to manage the communications within their domain.

I’m not sure I can express how significant this is for a small business trying to manage an email server. In a simple gesture, Google is alleviating a huge strain that small businesses can feel on a mission critical system. Having access to these hosted applications means that a business can manage a large portion of it’s infrastructure through a browser, while leaving the hardware administration to the experts in the massive data centers scattered around the globe.

What this means is that, with a personal computer and an Internet connection, anyone can register a domain and setup a basic business infrastructure. It also means that a huge portion of the administrative headaches that go along with maintaining your own email server go out the window. Instead of worrying about backup sets, intrusions and spam, you just worry about protecting your own computer.

Does this mean that you don’t use offline software any more? Of course not! While you can use all the Google Domain Apps in a browser window, most of the applications can also be used with traditional, installed software. Your email can be accessed using POP and downloaded to a local mail client, like Outlook or the free and excellent Thunderbird, for offline viewing and response. You can sync your Google Calendar with applications like Outlook or Apple’s iCal, and GTalk works with a free IM client provided by Google, or any number of third-party IM applications, like Trillium or Apple’s iChat.

For most businesses, this is a paradigm shift for the IT department, and some managers might initially reject relinquishing control of something they have had a long term maintenance relationship with. This is an understandable response, as there is a measure of control that is being traded for these new capabilities. In addition, some IT personnel might see this as a threat to their job, as the majority of the service support and administration is done at the user’s desktop, not in the server room.

I think Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO, put it best when he equated Google’s services to those a bank offers. Your business doesn’t have a safe on-site where it keeps all it’s liquid assets, nor do you take your cash home to stuff in your mattress or bury in the back yard. You trust a financial institution that specializes in asset management to ensure your money is safe and sound. Why wouldn’t you do the same thing with your important data?

Visit Google Domain Apps to see what they offer.

* * * * *

About: Aaron Smith is the owner of Mixotic Technology Solutions.  Aaron started his own business after seeing so many of the businesses he had worked for struggling with their technology, trying to figure out what tools to use, how to use them, and how to train staff. He believes that companies that don’t explore new technology solutions give up a competitive advantage.

10 Comments ▼

Aaron Smith



10 Reactions

  1. Great points. Open source software helped us start our first lifestyle magazine blog and I look forward to all the free apps that will help us develop it into a booming niche business.

  2. Aaron, very interesting. In your opinion, how does open-source software challenge the companies selling college alumni websites in today’s competitive enviorment?

  3. Anita Campbell

    Neal, I assume you mean “how do Google Apps and other free services affect companies that sell online solutions as their business?” Will their business be negatively affected, because now clients can get solutions for free?

    I think that’s a very important question.

    I suspect a lot of businesses are evolving right now to deal with all the new free and self-serve products and services that duplicate parts of what they have been providing for a fee up to now. They are going to have to add more customization and enhance the value over and above the free services on the market today.

    Anita

  4. Neal,

    Like Anita, I’m not sure exactly what you’re asking.

    If you’re referring to sites like Facebook or MySpace that allow users to create personal pages, the services offered by Google are very different. Facebook users can use the platform as a communications hub, but it’s more of a forum that anyone can join and participate in.

    Google’s offering is aimed squarely at businesses, and they’re really attempting to create a new model for IT operations. Alumni associations, or other dispersed groups of users that are linked through a common interest, are probably better served by the social networking applications that are available.

    Hope that helps…

    Aaron

  5. Excellent article,
    My company recently did an install using a LiveCD running Ubuntu on the client, and a Windows Terminal Server to run the applications. The customer LOVED the financial savings, the reduction in infrastructure overhead and the flexibility that this solution offered. If I’d only known about Google Apps…

  6. Hi Aaron,
    Very Informative article, as far as I know Google Calendar still does not sync with outlook.

    Vijay

  7. Vijay,

    Its’ true, native Outlook sync capabilities don’t exist in Google Calendar or vice versa, but there are a few third party products such as:

    http://oggsync.com/
    http://www.syncmycal.com/

    …and methods for syncing with an Outlook client like these:

    http://www.jakeludington.com/ask_jake/20060818_how_to_sync_google_calendar_with_outlook_and_smartphones_automatically.html
    http://www.grinn.net/blog/dev/2006/04/incorporate-google-calendar-into.html

    I haven’t tested these options, so I can’t speak to how well they work, but they do exist. I’m sure that, given the open nature of the Google Calendar platform, expanded functionality can’t be that far off.

    Aaron

  8. Aaron, after reading your article, you just summed up what I thought when I decided to use Google Apps for Small Business.. After accidentally stumbling upon Google Apps’ welcome page , my gut tells me Google is on to something really big. And after immersing myself on the details of Google Apps, it really made my hair raise (literally) and I said to my self “Damn, Google just made a killer app!!”

    Can you imagine, if you are a small or micro business and this is the first time that you will set-up your e-mail system, web page, personalized desktop for each employee, an online document and spreadsheet editor with an audit trail of revision for effective version control, and all you have to pay for its Standard edition is a measly $10.00 for the annual domain registration of your web site’s domain name? Wow!! is the only expression that I can think of… This is not even a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of setting it up using other e-mail and collaboration tools like that of Lotus…

    Without performing a detailed feasibility study to determine the ROI of switching our e-mail and collaboration system to Goggle Apps, we have already saved a lot not just in terms of direct costs but in man-hours administering our old in-house systems. And in response to your article’s title, yes this ridiculous offer of Google Apps for small business is definitely a sleeping giant!

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