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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.”