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Q&A: Google's Enterprise Software Plans

Google recently described its efforts in the enterprise software space, including details about its e-mail service contract win with the city of Los Angeles.

What follows is an edited transcript of a talk I had late last week with Matthew Glotzbach, product management director for Google enterprise. Google is known for providing free Web-based applications to the general public, but these free consumer apps are also key its enterprise software development strategy, Glotzbach explained.

In the interview, Glotzbach talks about the ideas behind Google Apps, Google App Engine, Chrome Frame, Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook and the mysterious Chrome OS. Some of these products are starting to gain ground on similar Microsoft solutions, or even bypassing them.

Q: Does Google have a name for its cloud computing platform?
Glotzbach: Where we really started in terms of a commercialized offering, in what I would call "cloud computing," is our product suite that we refer to as Google Apps, which is a bundle of products. Gmail is our e-mail offering. Google Calendar is our calendaring system. Google Talk is our instant messaging and voice-over-IP technology. Google Docs is our office productivity and collaboration technology (word processor, spreadsheet and presentation software). Google Sites is our team collaborative and team site capability. Google Video for Business is a "YouTube for business" [type of application].

So we bundle that group of technologies together under the name of Google Apps and we give that to organizations, small-to-medium businesses, large enterprise, education, public sector, etc. It includes…the types of administrative controls you'd expect and integration and interoperability capabilities -- so things like synchronization with on-premises directory servers, be it Active Directory or user provisioning in groups, single sign-on capabilities, archiving and e-discovery capabilities, APIs, a full administrative console, reporting, etc. That's our primary computing offering on the commercial side today.

We launched Google Apps Premier Edition, which is our for-pay version, back in February of 2007. For businesses, we charge $50 per user per year -- and that's per year, so it ends up being about $4.17 per month. The Google Apps Standard Edition is really geared towards clubs, organizations, affinity groups and families where you still have your own domain name and you have a group of users but you're not a business. The Standard Edition has most of the things that the Premier Edition has, but it doesn't have some of the APIs and more of the large enterprise integration points; it doesn't have things like archiving and e-discovery as you'd expect in a for-business offering. We give that one for free. We also have one that we call Education Edition, which is basically our Premiere Edition product, but we provide it at no cost to educational institutions, both primary K through 12, as well as secondary universities, etc.

We do have App Engine, which falls in the platform-as-a-service or the infrastructure-as-a-service-type category. Basically, it's an application hosting development platform where a developer -- whether they be an enterprise IT developer or an ISV or someone doing hobby development over the weekend -- can build an application on our platform and have it hosted by Google to take advantage of our computer resources and our storage services. We've had that in the market for one-and-a-half to two years now. And we continue to grow and expand that offering, but we don't really have a formal enterprise offering around our App Engine product at this time.

Would calling Google's cloud platform an 'experimental' platform be accurate?
I wouldn't say 'experimental.' We tend to introduce technologies into the consumer world first and use that as a maturation ground. You could say 'testing ground' to some extent, but by that measure, frankly, that's everything that Google does. We are constantly testing and iterating -- that's really the fundamental of our model that we are constantly evolving things. So, we tend to bring things out into the consumer world. And we've had great success. There are hundreds of thousands of applications built on App Engine serving millions of users, or something like that.

The city of Los Angeles last month elected to go with Gmail over a Microsoft e-mail platform. Has the contract been finalized?
It's been voted on and unanimously approved by the City Council and I believe it's in the final contracting stages.

Did Google have to meet an RFP and address security issues with hosted services?
Yes, there was an extensive RFP process conducted by the city. There were over 15 public bids across a number of vendors from which Google was selected as the preferred bid and then entered into the contracting phase. Obviously, Microsoft was one of those vendors -- although I heard at one point that Microsoft was seven of those proposed solutions. They were all scrutinized on a number of dimensions -- security was one of the big ones. I will say that the city's report, based on the findings of that process, stated that the hosted solutions from Google would be significantly more secure than the on-premise solution that the city has today.

And I think that's an important thing that we are seeing more and more. I think that as cloud computing becomes a mainstream way of doing business, what organizations are realizing is that there is a misperception of security. Just because something is in your own basement server room doesn't necessarily make it more secure than something that's hosted by a third party. The analogy that comes to mind is that of a bank. Your money is significantly safer in a bank than under your mattress. And it took everybody a few years to come to that realization a century ago. But now, you don't think about putting your money anywhere else and you don't think about going to an ATM and using technology to extract your money, and you don't care whether your or my money are all mixed together in a bank because we can go and get money out wherever we are.

What technology was the city using for e-mail?
The primary e-mail system that the city was using was the Novell one, and I think they also had some instances of Microsoft Exchange as well.

How big is Google's datacenter infrastructure?
We don't disclose much about our datacenter infrastructure. We have a large global [presence] -- what we believe is probably the largest and most powerful global datacenter infrastructure of all of the cloud providers. We really have a strong advantage in that from Day 1, Google has been a cloud provider. Google search was our first cloud computing application and continues to be the largest and most widely used cloud computing application in the world today.

Google App Engine offers developers the ability to easily deploy their applications into our cloud. They can continue to code in their native Java or Python or whatnot and use familiar application frameworks. It's very easy for them to deploy into our cloud and we take care of the rest. They don't have to worry about the operations, the maintenance, etc. And the second piece of the value proposition is the scalability. You get on-demand scalability. A great example is there's an application that's one of the top ten applications on the iPhone and it was written on Google App Engine. As that application got more and more popular, that developer didn't have to worry about his application crashing or anything like that.

What is the pricing on Google's cloud platform services?
With App Engine, we provide initially a set of free quota. Traditionally, you look at the bandwidth -- inbound and outbound -- and you look at the amount of storage that your application is consuming and you look at the CPU time (the processor cycles). We give our developers a pretty hefty bit of free quota that for a lot of applications is plenty. So, on a monthly basis, it's actually free to run those applications. And over and above those quotas, we charge $0.12 per gigabyte for outgoing bandwidth; for incoming bandwidth, it's $0.10 per gigabyte. It's $0.10 for CPU hour, and it's $0.15 per gigabyte per month for data storage.

What can you tell me about Chrome OS? You also have a browser named Chrome.
Chrome is our browser -- it's open source. The goal behind Chrome when we launched it was to move the state of the browser forward. We felt that the existing browsers were a little bit stuck in the mud. So part of our effort was to open source the whole thing. So we wrote a completely new JavaScript engine that we call V8 from the ground up, and we open source that to help drive the speed and performance of these Web-based apps. And we also added some pretty interesting things about running each tab…in independent processes so that if one Web app was misbehaving it didn't take the others down. From there, we thought about what's the next step.

The netbook model is something that's popular today. It's the only segment in computer hardware that's actually growing and thriving currently. And so the netbook model is really a pure cloud computing model -- there's no permanent hard drive, everything's on the server. The interesting thing from an enterprise standpoint is that this is really an attractive model for CIOs. We've been talking about terminal computing and thin-client computing for 20 years now and now finally the technology is such that that vision can be realized. The question is at what point in a corporation could you substitute a netbook or a netbook-like model for what you have today.

What about the Android OS and how does it diverge from Chrome OS?
Android is really primarily focused on the mobile environment. I think I've seen out in the wild people who've run Android on a netbook-type device as well. But Chrome [OS] is really in a different dimension. In this kind of pure cloud computing environment, what could the hardware look like? A user still needs an input device and a screen, but do they need a hard drive? Do they need a local application? It's really about rethinking that.

Will Google eliminate the OS as we know it?
With the Web as the platform, it's really a fundamentally different model in terms of the kind of computing you do and the kinds of capabilities you need. Obviously, you still need an interface to the Web. And so the browser is that today. But it really allows you to take a fresh look at the operating system as we think of it and as we know of it today.

Obviously, you still want to access local devices, like a camera, like speakers for audio playback. But [there's a rethink on] the idea that my data resides locally on this particular machine that I'm sitting in front of, the idea that my applications reside here, the idea that this laptop that I carry around is actually the biggest security risk. If it's stolen, someone can get all of the data off it. When you change your thinking and change the paradigm to say that the Web is really the platform, it allows you to rethink the role of the operating system and therefore what the operating system needs to be and needs to do.

What about Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook? It lets an organization bypass Microsoft Exchange Server and connect to Google's cloud. It uses Microsoft's user interface to connect to Google's Gmail servers. Is Google working on this kind of sync technology to work with other applications?
The reasoning for that product was the recognition that within organizations, Microsoft has a strong installed footprint. As we are seeing larger and larger enterprises adopt Google Apps for their primary communication and productivity solution, there's a small number of users within an organization -- I'd characterize it at about 10 percent or so -- who really want to hold onto their existing user interface and user experience. They like Microsoft Outlook and want to stay on Microsoft Outlook. And so rather than forcing those users off the paradigm they are comfortable with -- you know, Google is really about choice over control and our mantra is always putting users first -- we thought the right thing to do was to make sure that that solution worked and that there was compatibility.

So we built the connectivity so that the user could continue to use that Outlook front-end that they were familiar with and their company could have all of the benefits around scalability, reliability, uptime, as well as security and cost, that Google could offer over and above the traditional Microsoft solution. So that's the rationale.

In terms of, is there more of that to come? Well, we're pragmatic. And we'll continue to listen to our users and bring out solutions. More and more users are growing weary of desktop applications and they like the always-on, everywhere-available capabilities that are offered by the cloud. And companies, CIOs, like the reliability and the cost benefits, and the security benefits of hosting your applications in the cloud rather than maintaining their own servers.

Microsoft said that Google's Chrome Frame -- which causes Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser to use Google's rendering engine -- was insecure. Is that true?
Really, again the motivation here is that HTML5 is the emerging evolutionary standard of HTML and the HTML5 standard offers a whole new set of benefits for Web developers to take advantage of the power of browser in this Web-based application model. And IE is not standards compliant -- so it's not an HTML5-compliant browser -- whereas all of the other major browsers (including Firefox, Safari and Chrome) are HTML5 compliant.

So what we did is made it such that people who are using IE could get the benefits of standards-compliant browsers (i.e., Chrome) running inside -- without changing out their browser and without changing out their workflow. In terms of security -- I don't know what the reference is. What I can say is…earlier in the year, in one of these sessions where security professionals get together and they try to find security flaws and break into technologies, Chrome stood up against all of the other browsers (Firefox, Safari and IE) and was declared the most secure of all of those. Security was at the center of the development model when started out on Chrome.

HTML5 isn't a standard yet, but development is still ongoing for it?
The standards are constantly evolving. Thinking of technology as static in this age is probably not a good model. Google continues to play a leadership role in terms of helping set the course and direction for the Web and for the cloud-based environment.

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