Can Google really hack it in business?

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

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To Google, all these technologies aren't spaghetti thrown against the wall to see what sticks. They're strategic bets in a multifront campaign to build a Web-based replacement for Windows and Office. And people are listening.

[ See how Google's Android stacks up against the iPhone in InfoWorld's comparison. And discover what challenges Google faces in making Android the mobile king. ]

But is Google Apps delivering? InfoWorld decided to find out.

Google Apps pros: Cost and uptime
Resellers, customers, and analysts agree that the paid version of Google Apps delivers on its core promise of costing a third or less than a similar lineup of Microsoft products.

Because e-mail is a huge expense for large companies, it's no surprise that Gmail is a popular draw. Upgrading from Microsoft Exchange 2003 to Exchange 2007 is often a trigger to considering cloud-based e-mail because it forces many customers to also buy new 64-bit servers and operating systems. For such reasons, Forrester Research analyst Ted Schadler says that cloud-based e-mail (whether from Google or a rival) is almost always cheaper for companies with fewer than 15,000 users.

Although its uptime isn't perfect (and its outages get big play), Google says it consistently meets its 99.9 percent uptime guarantee. It also quotes a Radicati Group study that found Gmail four times more reliable than Microsoft's Exchange messaging server when considering only unplanned outages, and ten times more reliable when taking into account planned downtime for maintenance.

Google Apps maybes: Data security
The fit to business is less clear when it comes to data security, especially for big corporations. Data security in the cloud is an issue "enterprises are going to have to reckon with," admits AlertSite's Godskind. A prime example: In moving to Google Apps, the city of Los Angeles insisted on penalties from Google if any of its data was compromised. Many other customers aren't worried, trusting that bigger (and presumably more tech-savvy) customers will hold Google's feet to the fire on security.

Google says it has many customers in highly regulated industries such as health care. It also says its proprietary encoding of data, its dispersal of data among physical and logical files, all help keep customer information safe. As for regulated data, Google punts: "We recommend [companies] follow their regulations, and we don't give specific advice on how to follow those," a spokesman says carefully.

Rivals hint that Google's storage architecture, in which different customers' data may sit on the same array, pose a security threat. The question of where data sits is also important for organizations that must comply with geography-specific regulations, such as those protecting customer data in the European Union. "We make sure we're matching the regulations customers need," says a Google spokesman, adding that administrators can control which enterprise data various users can see. Google also assures customers they own their data and will always have easy access to it, rather than using its custody of that data to lock a customer in the Google cloud.

E-mail is another regulatory challenge, but Allen Falcon, CEO of Google Apps reseller Horizon Info Services, says the Google's Postini e-mail archiving and recovery service stores e-mail in the write-once, read-many format required by regulators, as well as provides the needed auditing capabilities. Google says it plans to extend the usage policies, rules, and parameters provided by Postini to the rest of its apps.

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