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10/12/2006
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Google May Force Tough IT Decisions

A little over a month ago, Google formally announced the availability of Google Apps for Your Domain  (GAFYD). Their product website talks about using Google to support your "organization" and has a page devoted to using the service in support of academic institutions.  But, what would it look like if a "Google Apps for Your Enterprise" was released?

Many criticized the GAFYD package as being primitive and not nearly as rich as Microsoft Office. But let's not forget that Office has been around for many years and this is release 1.0 for Google. What will GAFYD 3.0 look like? Actually that may not be the right question to ask because we probably won't be waiting three plus years between major software releases (with version numbers) since Google is delivering software as a service (SaaS).

Microsoft saw this coming over a year ago when Ray Ozzie sent his famous Internet Services Distuption  memo. Since then we have seen an explosion of Windows and Office Live services, some of which compete directly with features in Office 2007. It is often said that Microsoft's toughest competitor is itself in reference to customers holding on to older versions of Office and Windows.  In the not too distant future we may be saying this about Windows and Office Live as well. Perhaps Microsoft recognizes that the weakest part of their software in a box value-chain is the reliance on someone else installing and upgrading their product. Many new Office features require a server component so it is no longer a simple matter of someone inserting a CD and clicking "I Accept". Server installations take serious effort, time, and money.

From an intranet strategist's perspective, GAFYD and Microsoft Office provide fundamental capabilities (Gartner calls them Birthright Tools) and there are good arguments for provisioning these functions both inside and outside of the Intranet. However, modem collaborative technologies have already incorporated the network architecture required to make SaaS work. Therefore, I think SaaS is an application delivery model that complements the growth of collaborative technologies.

Connecting the distributed team to intranet-based applications is challenging to say the least. Firewalled perimeters make it impossible to extend the rich connectivity intranet applications have enjoyed. Virtual private networks (VPNs) can provide unfettered network access but it comes at the cost of complexity; which is either borne by the network administrator or telecommuting employee with a laptop. SSL-VPNs and other reverse-proxy solutions have come closest to simplifying the problem. As a result the standard Internet protocol connecting companies is not TCP/IP, but rather it is HTTP.

Early collaborative technology innovators recognized this and thrived in a seemingly inhospitable application environment where firewalls separate team members. Instant messaging and web conferencing services that supported HTTP-tunneling were the first to succeed in penetrating enterprise networks. Google engineers learned from these products and supported enterprise internet connectivity right from the start. Add to that a Google-in-a-box appliance and you have a company delivering popular SaaS collaborative technologies with a physical presence on many (and a virtual presence on most) corporate intranets.

But Microsoft still has a few advantages. The pervasiveness of Microsoft Windows and Office cannot be taken lightly, but perhaps their biggest asset is Active Directory. I think cross-enterprise identity will become a hot topic since this is what we truly need to support a robust collaborative environment. Perhaps Google will address this gap in the future but, today, they don't have any identity management solutions. Although, there is some really cool work going on with OpenID  they could eventually leverage.

So tell me: what you think about the future of your intranet? Will it be a place where both application servers and desktop computers operate, or will it simply provide connectivity to services on the Internet?

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