On Wednesday, the company's fan club is set to grow. That's when Google plans to expand its friend list to include 50 new resellers of its online applications.
The occasion is the commencement of Google's reseller program for Google Apps. Aspiring resellers can apply online. If accepted, they'll be able to buy Google Apps Premier Edition for 20% off the $50-per-year price and offer it to their customers for a profit, starting in March.
Google is offering support, training, and tools for sales, marketing, reporting, and customer integration, while allowing resellers to manage billing and the customer relationship.
In conjunction with the launch of its reseller program, Google is capping the free Google Apps standard edition at 50 users per organization, though existing businesses with more than 50 standard edition users, along with educational and nonprofit accounts, will remain unaffected by this change.
"This is the beginning of what is likely to be a foray into building more of a partner ecosystem for Google," said Jim Murphy, research director at AMR Research. "Relative to companies like Microsoft, they're way behind in that area. Of course they would be. They're still in the early stages of entering the enterprise market."
Google's goal is not just an external sales force. It wants to support partners who will develop value-added services and make cloud computing more appealing for businesses.
"As these resellers move up the value chain and build more solutions, you'll see more opportunities being created," said Paul Slakey, director of enterprise channel sales at Google.
Slakey suggested that Google App Engine might be one way that its partners develop custom business services, but adds that there's no reason other cloud platforms like Amazon Web Services couldn't be used.
Tony Safoian, president of IT firm SADA Systems, said his company has been providing services around Google Apps for about two years. Not only is Google gaining traction among enterprises, he said, but the economic pressure is assisting Google's ascent.
"The state of the economy is accelerating the process," he said. "We feel all organizations will have a significant part of their infrastructure in the cloud. It's just a question of who goes first and when."
Google claims that more than a million businesses are using Google Apps and that more than 3,000 businesses are signing up daily.
Rishi Chandra, senior product manager for Google Apps, acknowledged that while some businesses remain reticent about cloud computing, the issue he's more frequently confronted with is education. "Customers are asking the question now about this new opportunity in the cloud," he said. "We see growing awareness about cloud computing in general."
Murphy is less willing to characterize the cloud as a done deal. As he sees it, mistrust remains. "It's hard to bank on anything in the cloud," he said. "With Google at least it's easy to trust the viability of the company."