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11/10/2011
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GM And Google Apps: Buckled In?

Carmaker has no comment on reported Google Apps contract, but watchers say leak hints at negotiating tactic by GM. Will GM CIO's wishlist from 2009 come true?

Office 365 Vs. Google Apps: Top 10 Enterprise Concerns
Office 365 Vs. Google Apps: Top 10 Enterprise Concerns
(click image for larger view and forslideshow)
Google has reportedly signed a deal with General Motors to provide more than 100,000 GM employees with its online email and productivity software, Google Apps.

The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, said that the contract is contingent upon requirements that have not been made public. If the deal goes through, it would be a huge vote of confidence in Google Apps and in cloud computing.

Google Apps has had other major customer wins, notably the General Services Administration (GSA), which completed moving some 17,000 employees to Google Apps for Government in July. But GM's size and stature would send a signal that cloud-based IT infrastructure has moved beyond the early adopter stage and that Google Apps is ready to compete for the business of the world's largest companies. It would also be a black eye for IBM's Lotus Notes, GM's current email platform.

[Go Google or double down on Microsoft? Read Google Apps Vs Office 365? It All Depends.]

Google declined to comment.

GM, on the other hand, didn't deny testing Google Apps. "GM's IT organization explores technology capabilities of various developers all the time--we have to in order to be on the leading edge," a company spokesperson said via email. "GM has not made a decision to deploy Google apps."

That's hardly the sort of declaration of commitment to Lotus Notes that IBM would presumably prefer to hear. Asked whether it was aware of GM's rumored interest in Google Apps, IBM did not respond.

Even so, IBM has its defenders. "IBM renews most of its Lotus Notes accounts at this point, and rarely loses a deal," said IDC program director of applications development software Al Hilwa in an email. "IBM's key attraction is the overall portfolio in middleware and portals and specifically what they are doing in socializing the enterprise, which is where a lot of the effort in Lotus is going. The big trumpcard they have over Google is that they can run on-premises."

Google maintains that running software on-premises is more costly, less reliable, and less secure than its cloud-based system. Back in February 2007, when Google launched Google Apps for Business, doubts about the security, reliability, and viability of cloud services were widespread. But these days, with government agencies embracing the cloud and Microsoft pushing Office 365, its cloud-based version of Office, and its Azure platform, the debate has changed.

It wouldn't really be a surprise if GM did drop Lotus Notes for Google Apps. In late 2009, GM CIO Terry Kline recounted a meeting he'd had earlier that year with Eric Schmidt, then CEO of Google, in which he told Schmidt that Google Apps wasn't enterprise-ready. Schmidt asked for a list of requirements and said he'd see that Kline's concerns were addressed. Kline asked for improvements to Google Docs spreadsheets and better data audit trails in the cloud, among other things.

Google didn't immediately respond to a request to provide an update on the extent to which Kline's wish-list has been implemented.

But Kline and other IT executives that InformationWeek have spoken with clearly see promise in Google Apps. Some no doubt welcome Google Apps as a way to negotiate better prices with Microsoft. But plenty appear to be committed to cloud services once their concerns and requirements have been dealt with to their satisfaction.

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