Google Apps has gained a directory tool designed to simplify and accelerate the setup of this hosted collaboration and communication suite.
With the new Directory Sync, Apps can tap into existing LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol)-based user directories, such as the ones in IBM's Lotus Domino and Microsoft's Active Directory, so that administrators don't have to set up a separate directory in the Google suite.
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This functionality will likely appeal in particular to a segment of the collaboration market that Google is very interested in attracting: enterprise IT departments.
Google Apps has mostly been adopted in small and medium-size companies, and groups within large organizations, although the suite has nabbed large deployments in universities and government settings.
The new tool, which comes from technology Google acquired when it bought Postini, runs behind customers' firewalls and offers a one-way delivery of directory information to Google Apps.
"The utility offers many of the customization settings, tests and simulations originally developed and refined for the Postini directory sync tool," wrote Navneet Goel, Google enterprise product manager, in a blog posting Thursday.
The LDAP component is available at no additional cost for administrators of the Premier, Education and Partner versions of Apps.
It will be available as a software download that can be loaded onto an on-premise server, said Rajen Sheth, Google Apps senior product manager.
Until now, administrators have had several ways of loading user directory data into Apps, including a user-provisioning API, a Web-based interface for manual data entry and a bulk-uploading capability, Sheth said.
However, the new tool is tightly integrated into Apps and offers more directory management features than the other options, he said.
LDAP support is a basic requirement for any enterprise software-as-a-service offering, Gartner analyst Matt Cain said via e-mail. "Organizations want to manage as few directories as possible and they want a secure one-way upload to the cloud. It’s another example of Google gaining enterprise prowess from the Postini buy."
"It's good to see Google taking steps to show they are serious about the enterprise IT administrators. Certainly, LDAP is how they do a lot of management of enterprise accounts," said Rebecca Wettemann, an analyst with Nucleus Research. "There's still more that Google needs to do, but this is a strong step forward."
In enterprises, Apps is often a complement, not a substitute, for collaboration platforms like the ones from IBM Lotus and Microsoft, so this directory utility will come in handy for IT staffers in those situations, she said.
With this now in place, Google would do well to give Apps administrators a tool to manage the content that the suite's users create, something that other products, like Microsoft's SharePoint, offer for their own platforms, she said.
"It's not just about managing the user accounts, but also managing what continues to sit out there in terms of content," Wettemann said.