This accounts for much of the success Google has had with its Search Appliance and Google Mini, which have disrupted the enterprise search market, where systems have traditionally been pricey and complicated to install, manage, and use. Priced aggressively and built with a low-maintenance, plug-and-play design, those products have hit a sweet spot with SMBs and schools.
The University of Florida in Gainsville has been using the Search Appliance since 2002 and currently has two of them to index its entire public Web presence -- from its main site to individual college and department sites and Web servers from specific research teams.
"The appliance has always been easy to set up and maintain. The administrative interface gives a very clear overview of how the appliance sees your Web sites, and makes it easy to update the index," said Daniel Westermann-Clark, Web developer at the university.
According to Google, more than 500,000 organizations have signed up for Google Apps, totaling more than 10 million end users, of which "hundreds of thousands" are using Premier.
However, Google has made it clear it has its sights set on large companies as well, recently releasing a newly architected version of the Search Appliance that can index more than three times as many documents as the current model and improves the product's IT management functions.
But it's the Apps Premier expectations that are riding particularly high. As CIOs warm up to the SaaS (software-as-a-service) approach of application delivery as an option to the traditional on-premise model, Google sees a big opportunity to take business away from Microsoft's Office/Exchange and from IBM's Notes/Domino and rake in big bucks.
In fact, a big motivation behind Google's development of Chrome, a major two-year project involving significant investment, was to create a browser optimized for next-generation Web applications like the ones in Apps Premier.
Google is far from alone, as Yahoo's Zimbra, Cisco's WebEx, Zoho, and others beef up their own hosted collaboration and communication suites, while Microsoft and IBM are taking steps to protect their turf.
In its enterprise aspirations, Google has other disadvantages. Unlike Cisco, Microsoft, IBM, and Salesforce.com, Google doesn't have a large list of enterprise clients, nor does it have as much experience courting CIOs and catering to their requirements, including prompt, individual attention throughout a product's lifecycle.
While Google has strengthened Apps Premier's IT control features, particularly with its purchase of e-mail security and management expert Postini, the suite still lacks features that large enterprises often require. For example, Google only offers an uptime guarantee for Gmail, not for the other components, and the company admits that the feature set of its applications lags behind Office's Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, while Apps' calendaring and contact management features are often cited as weak. Apps has only partial support for offline access to its applications, a popular request.
"Google hasn't been able to put together a set of features that are important enough to enterprises to make them shift," Creese says.