Can Google really hack it in business?

InfoWorld compares Google Apps' promises with the reality of what it delivers

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Google Apps cons: Tech support, limited capabilities, legacy integration
So what's not to like? The quality of technical support, headaches around data migration, annoying shortcomings in function and performance, and the pain of changing familiar computing habits.

"There's no one to really call if you're having a problem," says Greg Arnette, who as CTO of e-mail archiving vendor Sonian is both a Google Apps user and a competitor to Google's Postini service. While phone support is included in Google Apps Premier Edition, "They do everything they can to direct you to the online forums," he says. "You never reach a live person. Either they're totally overwhelmed, or they don't have a handle" on support needs.

Mauricio Freitas, a blogger at the tech publishing site Geekzone, abandoned Google Apps for Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite after it took Google 48 hours to contact him about problems with Google Sync for Mobile.

Google says it steers customers to its online support when it believes that will provide a faster and better answer. It also says the 24/7 phone support it offers in its paid version is aimed at administrators, and that it relies on resellers to provide phone support for users and to help companies with especially large or complex challenges using Google apps.

Then there are functional and performance issues. Ragy Thomas, CEO of Sprinklr, a Web marketing firm, is an enthusiastic user of Google apps such as Google Sites but admits its office productivity tools are "not for every company right now." The word processor and spreadsheet lack some features found in their Microsoft counterparts, and sometimes seem sluggish over the Web, he says. He's confident, though, that Google will solve these problems. (Google promises it will close the gap with Office in 2010.)

Another challenge is the integration between Google Apps and the legacy applications that are everywhere in large companies. Rajen Sheth, Google's senior product manager for Google Apps, says Google and its partners are "stepping up" to that challenge. Google, for example, has developed a SAML-based API for single sign-on and directory synchronization. He also cited Ltech, among others, for providing "a secure data connector ... between the Google datacenter and the customer's datacenter."

Google Apps: Nowhere to go but up?
Google's flood of new offerings help keep it in the news, serve as poster children for its vision of the computing future, and give it street cred, says AlertSite's Godskind. "I'm a big believer in 'ready, fire, aim.' It increases the pace of innovation."

But "ready, fire, aim" isn't an easy concept for larger enterprises to accept, notes Sprinklr's Thomas. That's why "the very largest companies, those with 100,000 employees, are not looking at a wholesale move," he says, instead using them in specific cases such as allowing employees to share documents with business partners. Still, Thomas insists the upper limit for Google's market "is a glass ceiling and it will be broken." He and other early adopters believe it's just a matter of time -- between the economy and the rise of cloud-enabled technologies -- until even the largest businesses bite the bullet, give up their antiquated PC-centric ways, and move to the cloud.

That's what Google is betting on.

This article, "Can Google really hack it in business?," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments on Google, Google Apps, cloud computing, and business applications at InfoWorld.com.

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