Posts Tagged ‘Google Apps

Quest has just made available technical preview of it’s just-in-time access provisioning provider. The idea is that instead of granting cloud services accounts to all your users, you set up a framework for users to request access if they need it.

The demo below shows how this works for Google Apps. User tries to access Google Apps but does not have an account. The system detects that and allows to user to request the account from her manager. After the approval, she can goes to the exact same Google Apps site and gets to the service with no issues. This all is integrated with corporate Active Directory so no usernames or passwords are ever being asked:

This is pretty cool because it lets each company save money by not over-provisioning accounts for SaaS services, yet keep everyone productive by letting the users request access and get approved without necessarily having IT involved.

Read more about the system in Bob’s post here.

An important milestone just got passed by Google – one of the big enterprise identity management vendors out there – Quest Software (full disclosure: I work for the company) – has added Google Apps as a directory to which they can provision identities and access.

One might argue that this is a small thing considering that Quest is by far not the first vendor to enter Google’s ecosystem. Google Solutions Marketplace lists a few hundred solutions and services around Google Apps and Enterprise Search.

However, Quest is the first among the big systems management (Quest, HP, CA, BMC, Symantec) and identity management (Quest, Oracle, Sun, Novell) vendors to get in there and this is a very important milestone for Google’s acceptance in the enterprise.

Technically, what Quest did was adding a Google Apps “connector” into their identity management and provisioning platform – ActiveRoles Server. This is an AD-centric platform which helps enterprises keep all their systems in-sync with Active Directory and automates the necessary identity management operations (provision or deprovision access, invoke associated approval workflows, check relevant policies and so on). Here’s a quick graphics from their whitepaper:

QuickConnect for Online Services

Obviously similar functionality is provided by Quest for multiple other enterprise platforms ranging from mainframes to Lotus Notes. Now Google Apps is one of them. Google becoming just yet another enterprise platform people want to get integrated with Active Directory, HR databases and their identity management systems. Boring. For Google, obviously, in a good way. 😉

See a little bit more information in this whitepaper (requires registration.)

Are online services ever going to be 100% secure? If not should the insurance industry kick in?

A few days ago Google Apps had an issue with some Google Docs became accessible to other Google users beyond the security set on the docs. To quote from Google:

As we noted in the Google Docs Help Forum yesterday, we’ve identified and fixed a bug where a very small percentage of users shared some of their documents inadvertently. The inadvertent sharing was limited to people with whom the document owner, or a collaborator with sharing rights, had previously shared a document… We believe the issue affected less than 0.05% of all documents…

This obviously is not fun, and 0.05% can be a pretty big number of documents and who knows how these got spread across customers. However, what I wonder is whether this is actually an insurance industry rather than just technology opportunity.

Seriously, you install fire alarms, etc. in your house but you probably still insure it against fire (and not, say, live in the middle of a field because houses can burn). Does this make sense?

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google_apps_logoGoogle has finally made Gmail and Google Apps for Enterprise their focus area – these are no longer just one of their experimental areas.

Within just last couple of weeks there were a few significant updates to Gmail/Google Apps (probably more than we’ve seen for the whole year before that!):

* [Update] The push calendar and contact sync might actually be not as exciting as some reported initially. First of all, it does not include email. Secondly, calendar and contacts are synchronized via Microsoft’s ActiveSync protocol. Which basically means that Google on the server side pretends that it is Microsoft Exchange. The problem is that if in fact you have corporate Exchange server and want to keep getting your email from it, but also your private data from Google – you won’t be able to do that. There’s just no way to specify two ActiveSync servers in Windows Mobile or iPhone.

And consider other improvements introduced within last couple of months such as:

Some of these were so obvious shortcomings that you can’t help thinking “what took them so long?”

My guess is that what we are seeing is the result of Google internal resource reallocations. When the economy downturn started, Google started closing many of their projects and imposing restrictions on Google’s famous 20% time projects (it used to be: spend 20% of your time on anything you like – not any more).

The fact that Gmail and Google Calendar are getting so many updates lately is a clear sign that these were identified by Google as their priority area. Erik Schmidt seemed to confirm that on their quarter results call:

“By focusing on the one million Google Apps business customers, [you] can get enterprise-quality applications hosted by Google at a dramatically lower price,” Google’s Schmidt said.

I guess for us this means that 2009 can be the year when Google really tries to push harder to make Google Apps a success. And by the way, the talk of how they are complimentary to Microsoft seems to be over. This Thursday they are holding a customer testimony webcast on migration from Exchange to Google Apps.

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Folks at Google have released another set of APIs for Google Apps and like the previous drop in September this one is for administrative tasks.

This is actually a big deal deal because unlike earlier user-oriented APIs these give you programmatic administrative access to all users’ data and settings.

Here’s the key difference in what we had before and what we have now:

A strong move meaning that the enterprise folks at Google are really starting to think about enabling the ISV ecosystem around their technology. After all, this is what made Microsoft so successful.

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Looks like my recent Google Apps customer base estimates need corrections and the current growth is far smaller than the one we were seeing earlier this year. What’s happening? Are they stuck getting all the technology enthusiasts and visionaries they could get, and having no way of attracting the bigger mainstream market?

Let’s look at the numbers again:

Last week Steve Ballmer quoted some private comScore research stating that Google Apps customer base stopped growing:

“Let’s look at the facts,” Ballmer said. “Nobody uses those things. And the usage data hasn’t grown in seven months. They’re just flat, comScore. Just like this,” he said moving his hands side to side. “It’s just like flat line. Exactly flat line.”

What a chance for Google to surprise the world with new usage data and all they could produce in response was:

…there are now more than 10 million active users (Granted, that’s the same stat Girouard provided in a May blog post).

But Girouard said that with the start of the new school year there had been “fairly huge growth” in the use of Google Docs.

Obviously if they were approaching 15 million or another significant number they would call it out.

To make things even worse they are back to providing confusing information about their enterprise wins. Bloomberg is reporting that this June they one $500,000/year Google Apps contract with Washington, D.C. Hmm… Weren’t they telling CNN recently that this contract was signed last year and for $1.9 million? Both stories quote the same number of user accounts (38,000) so this must be the same deal they are simply reporting as a new one again. Does not help their credibility really…

It really looks like they had been enjoying significant growth up until a few months ago (and were happy to report the numbers and customer names) and then the growth started to slow down leaving Google’s PR confused. Hmm… I sort of heard of such things before. Isn’t this a classical trend from Moore’s chasm diagram:

Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers" by Geoffrey A. Moore

Basically, Moore argues that the needs and usage patterns of the early technology enthusiasts and visionaries groups are radically different from mainstream users, so once you get the first two groups to adopt your product you get stuck in the chasm not letting you penetrate more lucrative mainstream market.

Is that what we are seeing?

I have a few ideas of the possible reasons here:

Docs and Spreadsheets are too geeky and incomplete: I sort of think that the Gmail part is probably more acceptable to consumers – after all Hotmail, Yahoo mail and others made the concept of web mail widely popular with consumers. But editing documents and spreadsheet in the browser is still way beyond the regular user grasp. Maybe if the browser pretends it is just a local app (like Chrome presumably will be able to do for some sites) and is able to open the document you doubleclick on your desktop – but they are not close to that, and their poor ability to import doc files (I tried to import a simple doc with a clipart picture in it and the import failed altogether) is making the transition from Microsoft Office tough. They tout integration with Gmail, but just try editing the attachment you got in an email and sending it back with your reply – this is not any easier than in Microsoft Office.

Reliability concerns: I would think that Gmail is a far more adoptable concept, the recent outages have probably made a lot of the folks in the enterprise decide to put their evaluations on hold for now.

Poor transition path: Finally, most companies already have some IT infrastructure in place, and if you have more than a couple hundred of mailboxes, and would like to seamlessly go from your Notes or Exchange to Gmail without impacting the email flow and loosing any data – that can be a significant endeavor. For now I am not seeing crowds of system integrators (anyone besides Capgemini?) and ISVs rushing in to solve the problem.

[Update: added this fourth reason]
Sales/Distribution channel: Google’s consumer-oriented “built it and they will come” mentality is not working with enterprises – these guys expect vendors to be building relationships with them – something Microsoft’s direct sales force is doing and Google is not. A good distribution channel (Dell, HP, IBM, etc.) could help but Google does not have that either.

Without these problems addressed, Google might well get stuck with the “more than 10 million active users” for quite some time ahead…

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Google Apps (including GMail) were out (again) for commercial customers this week. Considering the August outages not that long ago, this can be a significant PR blow for Google’s enterprise efforts. Or this could be a great opportunity for 3rd-parties to get in and make Google Apps enterprise-ready.

Here’s a quick summary from Slashdot:

“A prolonged, ongoing Gmail outage has some Google Apps administrators pulling their hair out as their end users, including high-ranking executives, complain loudly while they wait for service to be restored. At about 5 p.m. US Eastern on Wednesday, Google announced that the company was aware of the problem preventing Gmail users from logging into their accounts and that it expected to fix it by 9 p.m. on Thursday. Google offered no explanation of the problem or why it would take it so long to solve the problem, a ‘502’ error when trying to access Gmail. Google said the bug is affecting ‘a small number of users,’ but that is little comfort for Google Apps administrators. Admin Bill W. posted a desperate message on the forum Thursday morning, saying his company’s CEO is steaming about being locked out of his e-mail account since around 4 p.m. on Wednesday. It’s not the first Gmail outage.”

The discussion mostly revolves around half of readers saying that on-premise systems are even more susceptible to failures, and another half (proud IT people) saying that their systems are never down and they can do their jobs better than any folks at Googleplex. No surprise.

However, this comment caught my attention (I am leaving everything as it is in the original post):

“The problem is not downtime- it’s lack of any way to mitigate the problems, and a complete and total lack of any customer service from Google. There is NOBODY you can call when there’s a problem. PERIOD.

Compare and contrast. Google:

  • If Google hoses someone’s account, they’re completely fucked. Google will shrug and say “meh, whaddya gonna do?”, and point to their user agreement.
  • If someone breaks into their account or changes the password, they’re completely fucked. Google won’t block access, can’t prove who is who, getting logs will be a slow fight to the death, etc.
  • If the user deletes a bunch of mail (or someone else does) or there’s a bug with their email client (ie if they’re using IMAP or POP access), they’re completely fucked. Google won’t do a restore. Their backups (if they even have any) are for “oh shit” system-wide fuckups (like, I’m guessing, the current one- I bet the accounts got deleted and they’re restoring from backups.)”

If you carefully read between the lines you will see that these are valid concerns and they are not something you could not fix technologically. Will it be too long before we get applications providing such fault-tolerance and administrative control for Google Apps (and competing platforms)?

  • Archiving/backup/recovery outside Google (on-premise or in a competing cloud),
  • Dial-tone availability to maintain email flaw and possibly some (most recent?) data,
  • Access auditing,
  • Offline access (probably will be provided by Google Gears eventually).

The list could go on and on. Sounds like the more outages Google has the bigger is the potential demand for external safety bags other vendors could provide…

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The posts on this blog are provided “as is” with no warranties and confer no rights. The opinions expressed on this site are mine and mine alone, and do not necessarily represent those of my employer Jelastic or anyone else for that matter. All trademarks acknowledged.

© 2008-2012 Dmitry Sotnikov

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