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Though it made for splashy headlines when announced in late June, Google’s plunge into the systems integrator channel with its Google brand hardware search appliances is being met with a subdued response. But that may change as integrators’ understanding of the platforms increases.

On June 27, Ingram Micro announced its intent to distribute worldwide the Google Mini, a rack-mounted search appliance for small and midsize businesses, and the more powerful Google Search Appliance, aimed at corporations. The products enable users to find files anywhere on their computers and attached networks, and for Web site visitors to more easily find relevant content.

As part of the alliance, Ingram Micro will provide Google with key competencies of sales, reseller credit, marketing, technical support and logistics. Ingram Micro also is creating a campaign to recruit and train qualified partners to sell both products and provide post-sale technical support.

That may be the easy part.

“Google certainly is a recognized brand, but there is no concept for acceptance of these products in the SMB market or by systems integrators,” said Pacific Crest Securities Analyst Andy Hargreaves.

Said one analyst who asked not to be identified because of his relationship with the company: “For a $31 billion company like Ingram Micro, this certainly isn’t going to move the needle very much.”

Google and integrators currently selling the products don’t see it that way.

“We currently have 9,000 enterprise search customers worldwide, but compare that to the number of businesses out there and it’s a drop in the bucket,” said Rodrigo Vaca, channel marketing manager for Google Enterprise. “The size of the opportunity for Google and systems integrators is almost too big to measure.”

Dawnmarie Martin, director of software vendor management at Ingram Micro agreed. “Google has a healthy enterprise search business—so healthy in fact, it is entering the indirect sales channel to meet growing demand.” The relationship with Ingram Micro will allow Google to reach more business worldwide than ever before, Martin said.

The name’s the same

Both Vaca and Martin are right, but Google’s universal brand recognition, by far its strongest asset, may also prove to be a vexing liability. Integrators already selling the search appliances comprehend their power, but others simply conjure up visions of Google’s ubiquitous Web search and don’t see how it translates into a profitable integrator opportunity.

At Teknuko, a solutions provider in Philadelphia specializing in enterprise network infrastructure services, the very idea of brightly-colored boxes sporting the Google name racked-up in the server room is a tough sell. “Getting over the brand image is going to be a challenge,” said CEO Kimberly Levin. “I expect that customers will see these as consumer products. These would not be a first look for us.”

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The story is similar at Alvaka Networks, an Irvine, Calif., provider of network management, monitoring, security and integration services. To CEO Oli Thordarson, the products are “kind of a yawner” with limited appeal. He asks, “what are clients getting that they can’t get out of the current search bar that everyone has access to?” But Thordarson acknowledges that heavily document-centric businesses, such as a major law firm, might find the appliances’ search capabilities useful.

Twelve of Google’s 9,000 enterprise search customers belong to GlobalNet Services, a Rockville, Md., integrator that has sold the Google Search Appliance since its Feb. 2002 debut. Sales and marketing manager Lee Michaels has encountered little resistance from enterprises that need to organize and search through millions of documents, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration among them. There, GlobalNet has installed two high-capacity Google Appliance stacks, one inside the firewall for the FDA’s internal use and the other for public searching on

Pure play

“Bringing these products into the channel will heighten their visibility and that will translate into more customization and configuration business for us. That’s where the real opportunity is,” said Michaels.

Apparently so, at least for GlobalNet. “Even if a customer purchased the appliances from some other reseller, we are the experts who understand how to integrate them into the data center, how to design access portals, and how to filter and present customized search results. So for us, wide distribution can only be a good thing.”

But how wide is wide? And how deep is Google’s channel program?

According to Ingram Micro’s Martin, any North American reseller in good standing with the distributor is eligible to sell the Google products in the region, though the policy may vary in other geographies. No specific financial or training requirements exist. “Our goal is to help Google build awareness and market penetration in various markets, including midlevel enterprise and data-intense SMB companies.”

For Vaca, that means “acquiring customers in a scalable and efficient way,” while avoiding any potential channel conflict of Google’s direct sales force stepping on resellers’ toes. “The sheer opportunity size precludes channel conflict.”

Ted Warner, president of integrator Connecting Point in Greeley, Colo., is not concerned about possible channel conflict. “Grabbing accounts away from resellers would be a very unwise move for Google. I don’t see a problem.”

For all of Google’s power and omnipresence, analysts and some pundits have responded with a “where’s the beef” commentary on Google’s channel program, pointing out that the company has virtually no demonstrable track record. Google’s Vaca took issue with their quick dismissal, but did acknowledge that even after “working on the channel effort for about a year, we’re not going to say that we have figured it all out” even though “all senior leadership at Google Enterprise has worked at other companies in the channel.”

In part to overcome the pervasive lack of understanding about the two products, Google and Ingram Micro plan to step up its education efforts by embarking on a joint road show later this year. This follows seven pre-launch sessions conducted by Google for Ingram Micro staffers and technical support specialists. Additional training and technical resources will be available online.

The $1,995 base Google Mini searches up to 50,000 documents; it is upgradeable, and includes a year of support. Other versions that search up to 100,000, 200,000 or 300,000 documents are priced at $2,995, $5,995, and $8,995, respectively. Currently sold directly through the Web site, the Mini offers secure search across intranets, file servers and business applications. It recognizes more than 220 file formats and leverages the familiar browser interface.

Starting at $30,000 for a single-chassis 500,000 document-search capacity, the Google Search Appliance expands to 12 rack-mount chassis offering a search capacity of 30 million documents. Currently, only the 500,000- and 1,000,000-document models are sold online.

Joel Shore is a writer and editor with more than 20 years experience reviewing and reporting on technology.