The Postini technology that lets Google Apps Premier administrators control their e-mail environments by establishing and enforcing usage policies, rules and parameters will be extended to the other applications of the suite. That way, Apps Premier administrators will gain tighter control over how employees use not only Gmail but also the other suite components, like the word processing, spreadsheet and presentation applications.
When completed, this extension of the Postini security and management capabilities could go a long way toward calming concerns from CIOs and IT managers about using Web-hosted software like Google Apps.
This could in turn boost Google's attempts to lure large organizations to adopt Apps Premier, which, as the suite's most sophisticated version, contains an increasing number of tools and services that these companies require. Apps Premier is the only fee-based edition of the suite, priced at $50 per user per year.
"Google and Postini are integrated today in that every Apps [Premier] customer gets the Postini [policy and supervisory] services layer for managing e-mail in Gmail," said Scott Petry, a Postini founder and product management director in Google's Enterprise division. "We're actively working on taking that same Postini capability and re-manifesting it across all the Google Apps."
Today, for example, Postini lets Apps administrators set a policy preventing users from e-mailing a spreadsheet with financial information during the company's quiet period before an earnings announcement. "We want to extend that to say, 'No one can collaboratively share a document that includes financial information outside the domain,'" said Petry. There is no specific timetable for when this work will be completed.
"We have a real opportunity to take [our Apps] content awareness and our ability to process large amounts of content very quickly and map that to a policy framework to create a supervisory content control layer for corporations to determine how information is being shared across those applications," he added.
Google envisions this as being attractive not only to companies in highly regulated industries, but to any organization that wants to exercise more control over how their end-users share and collaborate on hosted documents. "Every company running any sort of information system connected to the Internet knows it has information that's risky, proprietary. They have policies their employees need to abide by, but there are no mainstream tools that allow them to manage it," Petry said.
The idea isn't for administrators to lock down Apps in such a way that the suite becomes unusable, but rather to give them tools that can alert them and end-users about potential policy violations, many of which occur accidentally and not always maliciously, he said.
The ultimate goal is to increase organizations' comfort level with the cloud computing model for enterprise software and consequently with products like Google Apps. "IT administrators are going to feel like they're losing control when they move their services up to the cloud because they can't see boxes in the server racks with blinking lights," Petry said.
"The onus is on us to give them more software-based controls over that virtualized hardware instance, so that they feel they're getting better capabilities and more leverage, rather than just arbitrarily losing control," he added.
As part of this project, Google is fusing the now-separate Postini and Apps administrative consoles, so that administrators can provision services and define policies from a single place, he said.
Postini, founded in 1999, was acquired by Google in 2007, and its products and technology have been progressively integrated with various of Google's services and infrastructure.