Google Eyes MSPs as It Crafts a ChannelBy Carolyn April | Posted 2009-09-11 Email Print
In its latest move, Google signed on as a platinum sponsor of the MSP Partners organization as it tries to expand the reach of its Google Apps suite to a broader set of partners.
There's no question that Google is a giant in the search engine and cloud computing markets, yet the company remains a neophyte when it comes to formally partnering with the solution provider community. Unlike more established channel programs, Google’s two programs, in particular the new Google Apps Reseller Program, are still a work in progress.
But the company is making strides, having signed up approximately 400 partners to the Google Apps Reseller Program since launching it in January. Those participants came with little to no recruitment or promotion on Google’s part, a planned tactic the company says enabled it to gain early feedback and work out as many kinks in the program as it could while having a manageable number of partners in the fold.
But company executives say that initial phase is coming to an end, and going forward Google will be looking to raise its visibility in the channel with more partner outreach and recruitment and greater participation in channel-facing events.
In its latest move, Google this week signed on as a platinum sponsor of MSP Partners, an alliance of leading IT companies including Cisco and Microsoft that provides education and training to a membership of managed services providers. Google sees MSPs as a natural fit to resell its suite of Google Apps, including e-mail, productivity software, analytics and Web platforms that reside in the cloud.
"The great thing with this partnership is it helps us to build awareness among MSPs, and we look forward to exposing our early partners to [MSP Partners] educational programs to ramp them up," says Jeff Ragusa, channel manager for Google Apps.
Ragusa told Channel Insider that MSPs have a natural synergy with the Google Apps cloud-based model. Its low-cost, low-maintenance nature helps strip operational costs out of the MSP’s business, crucial for a business model where as much process automation and repetition as possible is prized. Because the Google Apps suite resides in Google’s cloud-based data center, MSPs don’t have to manage the applications internally. They resell the suite of services, but gain the real business benefit from building their own solutions and integrations around those services, much like the partner model used by Salesforce.com.
"MSPs can wrap Google Apps into their existing services bundle but push off to the cloud e-mail and other application-level services that are horizontal," explains Ragusa. "In doing that, they’ll see their help desk tickets go down and have extra time and resources to focus on higher value projects."
Practically speaking, MSPs sign a contract with Google and are billed annually on a prepaid basis. From there, the MSP owns the customer and the responsibility for pricing, billing and collection, and support services. "One great thing about MSPs in particular is their focus on the end user’s business interests, which is in line with Google," Ragusa says.
But it’s not just MSPs that Ragusa and his team are looking to attract to the partner ecosystem. Solution providers, ISVs and integrators are all targets for the juggernaut as they look to rise to the top of the cloud computing heap above Microsoft, Amazon and a whole host of smaller players eyeing their piece of this market. It’s going to be a dogfight. Consider the statistics on e-mail alone: A recent survey by analyst firm Forrester found that only 14 percent of respondents planned to keep their e-mail systems in-house next year. The rest needs a home.
Ed Laczynski, founder and CTO of Bridgewater, N.J.-based LTech, is betting on Google. LTech joined the Google partner fold early on as one of the first to resell Google Apps. LTech is a professional services firm historically, but through the Google relationship now has joined the ranks of ISVs. Using the Google Apps APIs available to partners in the program, it has created its own line of software products that builds upon the Google applications residing in the cloud, augmenting them with additional functionality.
LTech’s Power Panel for Google Apps comprises modules that exploit functionality in Google Apps that regular users would not typically be aware of or know how to take advantage of, Laczynski explains. The modules are hosted on the Google App Engine cloud platform and install directly into an organization’s Google Apps domain.
The first module, Shared Contacts, provides an interface to manage organizationwide contacts such as clients, business partners and vendors. The second module, Users and Groups, targets advanced management and user administration functionality. It allows help desks to delegate administration access to individual users, and change user e-mail settings and other provisioning features.
Laczynski says the market for Google Apps in a corporate setting is expanding rapidly beyond the education space, where Gmail has gotten much traction, to midsize and enterprise organizations.
"We’re seeing enterprise clients with major compliance issues looking to move whole hog to Google Apps because it cuts costs so much and it’s so cheap to maintain," he says. "It can be a tenth of the spend, and it’s being taken seriously now."
Laczynski says many of his customers are simply weary of things like legacy e-mail that resides on-premises, and requires regular server upgrades and license renewals and daily management and maintenance. LTech counts among its customers Southeby’s Realty and WildBlue, the high-speed satellite dish company.
Partnering with Google has been smooth-sailing for Laczynski, in part he believes because he got in at the very beginning. Not all partners or prospective partners have been as pleased with the company’s communication skills and support, however.
Ragusa acknowledges that building a channel has been—and continues to be—a learning process.
"We really spent the first six months handling inbound interest in our program, getting early partners up and running, and making sure we had our feet under us and properly supporting everyone," he said. "Now we are getting feedback and assessing what has worked and what hasn’t with the program."