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Google’s announcement that it will launch a formal reseller program for its
SAAS-based Google Apps Premier Edition could very well be viewed as a
pre-emptive strike across the bow of Microsoft, whose own Web-based set of Office
Web Applications isn’t scheduled for release until 2010.

Google made its reseller news public Jan. 14 in its blog, saying the new
program is specifically for resellers of Google Apps. Google has had the Google
Enterprise partner program in place since 2006 for solution providers that
resell Google enterprise search appliances, Google Apps and Google Maps to
enterprise customers.

The new reseller program will focus solely on Google Apps Premier Edition,
which includes e-mail and chat, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and
security and compliance features.

The program will offer VARs a 20 percent discount and the ability to drive
recurring services revenue on the Apps suite, which in the past has been sold
directly to customers. Google partners will receive $10 per year on each $50
per-user, per-year subscription they sell, and Google states that partners can
continue to manage the billing, service and support relationship with the
customer.

While Microsoft currently offers e-mail and instant messaging via the Windows
Live Essentials suite, the Microsoft’s browser-based versions of the Office
Suite applications, such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint, aren’t expected to be
released until 2010 with the next version of Office, sources say.

That could be plenty of time for Google to strengthen its position in the
productivity suite market.

Mike Healey, CTO of GreenPages Technology Solutions,
which is both a Google reseller partner and a Microsoft Gold Partner, says the
Google program easily holds its own when stacked up against Microsoft’s
reseller program. According to Healey, Google has done a thorough and
methodical job of planning and executing its channel program strategy.

"They have done a fantastic job of actively involving partners in their
pilot program, soliciting feedback and really listening to what partners tell
them," says Healey. He says Google has a solidly built channel team that
should assuage solution provider concerns about signing up for a new, untested
program.

"In many ways I feel they have the maturity of a long-standing
program," Healey says.

Healey also says he’s not surprised Google has moved forward with and expanded
its channel program, since solution providers are key to developing and
maintaining business growth through enterprise partners.

"Google knows you can’t penetrate the enterprise space without a channel
program," Healey says.

But with such low price points, will solution providers be able to generate
decent margins on Google business?