Microsoft: Could It Lose the Enterprise to Google?

As Google Enterprise explodes along with personal tech in business, Gina Smith wonders if Microsoft has the gusto to hang on for the ride.

Gina Smith, Contributor

September 20, 2011

5 Min Read

The report arrived in my IT-issued Microsoft Outlook box via BYTE's private teamBYTE Google Group today.

It's ironic. Just a day after BYTE's deep dive into Windows 8, BYTE's technologist and consumerization of IT specialist Dino Londis sent around a a two-part report from analyst firm Gartner Inc. It said Google now is emerging as a significant threat to Microsoft in the enterprise.

The implications here for the old guard in software and, especially, for IT tech pros are profound. In many respects, Microsoft is backed into the same corner as IT, which is facing a sea change driven by a new generation of tech-savvy workers. These are workers for whom work is no longer "a place, but an activity," as one Google exec detailing Google Enterprise plans explained it to an Australian Google global roadshow audience.

The following Google Apps roadmap smells like the future. Can IT pros deal? Is Microsoft capable of matching such a vision?

The second report Dino pointed at was even more telling. Google's Gmail for Enterprise now is a real alternative to Microsoft Exchange Online and other services, it said.

"The road to its enterprise has been long and bumpy, but Gmail…now…is a mainstream cloud email supplier," said Garter analyst Matthew Cain in the report.

Gmail owns only about 1% of enterprise email marketshare overall, but Gartner reports say Gmail now comprises nearly half of cloud-based enterprise email overall. Sure, cloud email is still a fledgling IT phenomenon--only about 4%t of enterprises embrace it--but in five years it will reach 20% of the overall enterprise email market, the report said.

On the heels of Microsoft Windows 8 unveiling this kind of report serves as a wake up call not just to Microsoft -- but to anyone fruitlessly hanging on to some old school legacy mentality.

The consumerization of IT--or what analysts at IDC call the "consumer-powered IT" trend"--is no longer a theory or prediction. It's here. So-called iWorkers, according to an IDC analysis I read today, "are investing their own resources to buy, learn, and use a broad range of popular consumer technologies and applications tools to get things done in the workplace…bringing down the…old barriers around the workplace." So true.

From smartphones to tablets to Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, iWorkers aren't storming IT demanding change. They're driving it regardless of whether IT likes it, wants it or allows it.

I should know. At BYTE, we don't just talk personal tech in business, we live it. We've been using shared Google documents, Dropbox, Gmail and a host of other services outside the corporate firewall since February, months before our July launch gave us the resources we needed to access internal servers and systems.

Microsoft appears serious in its effort to get with the program and offer a tablet-to-desktop ready version of Windows 8. But it needs to offer serious tools to help IT grab the reins and protect corporate data.

Microsoft made a strong showing with its Windows 8 unveiling last week at its BUILD developer conference and talked a lot about enterprise features. But does it truly understand what IT faces in terms of the personal tech explosion in business. It had better.

With personal tech and cloud services invading the workplace, data is of course at risk. Without adequate planning, tools and services, IT risks employees just walking away with personal devices and the proprietary data on them.

According to Gartner, iWorkers don't really understand the security risks forcing in personal tech entails. I'm not sure they care. We all just want to get our work done in an always-on environment.

Enterprise needs to find a way to manage consumer tech, secure data, defend against viruses and "handle the expected four-fold increase in transaction load that these new interactive experiences (via personal tech) will impose on IT," one IDC analyst wrote.

The success of Windows 8 and associated services will largely depend upon whether Microsoft's technology helps IT ride and roll with COIT, a revolution in computing by all accounts

VirtualWorks Group, headed by Citrix cofounder Ed Iacobucci, told me he is trying to work with Microsoft and other enterprise vendors to do just that: help IT secure data as a result of its consumerization and put an end to data sprawl.

The firm is working with Microsoft and other enterprise vendors on a standards-based system for this. That's a development worth following.

Now, with Windows 8 freely available as a pre-beta, Microsoft has an opportunity over the next few months to help IT find its way. Or Microsoft could choose to do things legacy-style. The latter is a losing proposition.

Call it the consumerization of IT or, as IDC does, "consumer-powered IT." Call it whatever you want. But it's here.

Business and personal boundaries are blurring with social networks, cloud services and personal device use. It's happening. Microsoft and IT shops need to take a cue from Google and get with the changes.

More than three million companies have taken up Google Enterprise, say Google execs in the first video I embedded above. And that's just one example from just one company. The revolution is just beginning.

Expect huge changes and upsets in coming months. Hang on. Resistance is futile.

Based in San Francisco, Gina Smith is launch editor of BYTE. Follow her @ginasmith888 or email her at [email protected]

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