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Think Google Apps are just for consumers and the smallest of
businesses? Think Google’s channel program couldn’t possibly offer a business
model that works for an IT solution provider?

Tell that to Cloud Sherpas. The Atlanta-based IT solution provider was part of
Google Apps’ formal channel partner program when Google launched it a year ago
this week
.
Google has since built its partner ranks to 1,000.

Google’s Stephen Cho, director of Google Apps Channels, told Channel Insider
that his group’s focus in the year ahead is on building the breadth and depth
of the company’s channel efforts. Google provides Google Apps seats to the
reseller at 20 percent off the lease price, or $40 for a $50 lease. Resellers
own the billing relationship, and they can bundle professional services around
the applications or products they sell to customers.

And in the year since Google introduced its channel partner program, Cloud
Sherpas has migrated customers from Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes and
Novell Groupwise to Google Apps’ messaging and collaboration cloud-based
platform. It has taken enterprise customers that had grown tired of Microsoft
Exchange’s licensing fees to a less expensive platform during a year when every
penny was counted by company CFOs.

These guys aren’t just some upstarts. Cloud Sherpas CEO
Michael Cohn and several of his colleagues came from a traditional IT solution
provider background, having worked for a big VAR,
Optimus Solutions, in the southeastern United
States and also working as part of IBM’s
channel marketing program.

“We are channel guys,” he said. But Cohn said he saw the industry moving to the
cloud. “I saw CRM take a foothold in the
cloud and HR take a foothold in the cloud. We were looking for something more
horizontal.” Cohn looked to messaging and collaboration technologies, and when
he migrated a personal mail server he had in his basement to Google, he
immediately recognized the potential of Google Apps for the enterprise.

Cohn said the hosted Microsoft Exchange offerings on the market in the 2007 and
2008 time frame were very different from Google’s cloud-based model. So Cloud
Sherpas reached out to Google before the search giant even offered a channel
partner program and became part of its pilot program for channel partners
selling Google Apps.

And while the Google Apps solution has been a “no-brainer” for small
businesses, Cohn told Channel Insider that he is focusing on midmarket and
enterprise customers and is seeing traction there.

“We are starting to see folks from across enterprises, in industries such as
health care and city and state governments take a hard look at this solution,”
he said. “The sale is getting easier.”

A big part of Cloud Sherpas’ business is in facilitating those migrations.
Every enterprise has special circumstances and moving the data from one
platform to another is always a challenge.

Google Apps currently makes up 90 percent of Cloud Sherpas’ business, and the solution
provider also sells complementary technologies to Google Apps.

Cohn, who has worked with more traditional vendors such as IBM,
Microsoft and EMC, says that the experience
of working with Google as a vendor has provided more of an opportunity to influence
the overall channel program. While Google may be a giant of a company, it’s
still a beginner in the channel.

“We’ve helped to define the process,” Cohn said. “They’ve been receptive. In my
experience in working with some of the other vendors, they’ve got programs that
have been around for 20 or 30 years. They have a way that things are done and
you conform to it or leave.”

Cohn said that the business model of working with Google versus working with
those other traditional IT vendors has been different. It’s based on longer-term
growth as an annuity business, and revenues are based on how many seats the
company resells.

He believes that Google Apps may be getting past the early adopter phase.

“Multi-thousand seat deployments are happening pretty regularly now,” Cohn
said. “People are excited about moving to Google because of all the continuous
innovations being delivered by Google Apps.”

And yet, Cohn is familiar with why customers stay with legacy platforms. One of
them is the challenge of moving. He said that customers stay on Lotus Notes
because Domino is integrated with so many other applications. “They don’t stay
because they love the Lotus Notes client.”

Cloud Sherpas recently migrated 250 Lotus Notes users to Google Apps after
answering their concerns about their workflow process that had been built on
the Domino platform. Cloud Sherpas rebuilt it on Google Apps, doing some
application development in the process.

The holes that enterprises have found in Google Apps have created a new business
opportunity for Cloud Sherpas and other Google partners. Cloud Sherpas is
introducing its Sherpa Tools for Google Apps next week. The company has built
software to solve customer problems as it has migrated those customers, and now
it is offering that software to customers and other Google partners.

The software includes richer administration functions in terms of managing the
LDAP-based user directory. In addition, the tools include an offering for end
users that allows them to self-manage their profiles. Sherpa Tools also
includes an instant messaging bot that enables users to access their corporate
director from an IM client.

The tools are currently available for free download, and Cloud Sherpas plans to
add additional functionality over the next few months and ultimately turn on a
paid version of the product.

Google’s Cho notes that Google currently operates a solutions marketplace where
partners who have service or SAAS product offerings can advertise what they
have.

And that’s precisely what Cloud Sherpas and other Google partners plan to do.