Google Gmail Loses Functionality

Problems with accessing the online e-mail's IMAP feature fuel concerns about uptime and reliability as well as business adoption of software as a service.

Mary Hayes Weier, Contributor

April 17, 2008

5 Min Read

Google had technical difficulties with its Gmail Wednesday, which prevented users from accessing IMAP, an interface that provides access to e-mail from multiple devices, for at least 30 minutes. Users also experienced problems with Gmail's chat feature.

Google's press team issued a statement to InformationWeek that read, "The issue is now resolved. We know how important Gmail is to our users, so we take issues like this very seriously, and we encourage anyone who is having technical difficulty of any kind with Gmail to contact the Google Apps Support team through the Google Apps Help Center." Google also issued a notification to Google administrators through its Admin Panel.

Google Apps isn't storming into businesses worldwide and replacing Microsoft Office on the desktop. Its presence is more like a quiet swell. But as Google grows that presence, it may need to get more sophisticated in its approach to cloud computing to gain the trust of CIOs.

Concerns about uptime and reliability remains a top obstacle to business adoption of software as a service. In reality, while SaaS providers have the occasional rare outage, most have strong records of reliability.

Yet the perception of responsibility goes a long way in ensuring confidence among CIOs. Salesforce has strived to do that, providing user-friendly transparency around system outages for its on-demand software. Its site, for example, lets users view daily performance and availability via a multi-colored traffic light system.

Google, meanwhile, is working to grow recognition for Apps through various partnerships. Earlier this week, Salesforce and Google announced a new software service that lets users open Google applications, including Gmail, Docs, and Spreadsheets, within Salesforce applications. Google also is working with Panorama, a business-intelligence software company, to make its spreadsheet a tool for analyzing data from other systems, including Microsoft and SAP data warehouses and applications, similar to how Microsoft Excel is used today.

Another of Google's partners, SaaS consulting company Bluewolf, announced yesterday a certified classroom training course for Google Apps users and administrators in major cities, an industry first, starting with one in New York City on May 15.

About 500,000 businesses are using the year-old Google Apps, and between 100 and 200 "Fortune 1,000" companies are running pilots, including some names Google's been dropping for months, such as Procter & Gamble and General Electric.

But it's slow-going progress. Cap Gemini, which signed a partnership with Google last September to offer companies implementation and integration services, has only signed on one, a 600-user customer, who wishes to remain unnamed. Cap Gemini, however, is preparing to announce the win of a large European company, with tens of thousands of users, within a few months. That win "will prove to be a tipping point in the industry," serving as a proof of concept that Google Apps works for large companies, said Richard Payling, a Cap Gemini VP.

Glen Stoffel, a VP at Bluewolf, won't disclose the number of companies its consulting with on Google Apps, as "it wouldn't be an impressive number." But the pilots are managed by CIOs, and Stoffel calls that significant. "It's not the case of a couple of lackeys running them. They're taking it very seriously," he said.

A good deal of interest is coming from companies that are considering Gmail as they look to migrate off of IBM Lotus Notes, since the latter has caused "so much business pain," Payling said. He added that Cap Gemini is also seeing good interest from customers in distributing Google Apps to call center employees, and said the integration of Salesforce and Google apps creates a new target market the three companies can approach together, particularly in the industries of financial services, manufacturing, and retail distribution.

Still, it's clear some CIOs are taking a wait-and-see approach to Google Apps. They could be looking for a more systematic approach for system uptime notifications, for example, to ensure they're not trading in any problems they've had with one e-mail platform for another. Google has taken a relatively soft approach to marketing Google Apps to businesses, letting its partners do much of the work and putting much of its faith in the "consumerization of IT," in which consumers of cloud computing grow its presence within businesses and ultimately overthrow traditional software. Most of the Google App revenue comes just from $50-per-year seat subscriptions, representing just tens several hundred of millions of dollars a year for the $17 billion company. But that's nothing to downplay, said Google spokesman Andrew Kovacs. "If we were separate from Google, we'd be a very successful startup that probably would have gone public by now," he said in an interview earlier this week.

Panorama is among Google's partners. It's announcing on Thursday a new service to move data for customers using SQL Server Analysis Services, Microsoft's OLAP engine, and port it into its own BI software, on which users can analyze data using Google's spreadsheet. It plans to offer similar services this year to let users access data from Salesforce, SAP, and Netsuite systems. Most business users classify BI as "the basic capabilities in a spreadsheet," not the BI tools used by financial whizzes, said Panorama VP Oudi Antebi. But so far, Microsoft is the only game in town. After IBM/Cognos, SAP/Business Objects, Oracle and Microsoft, "Panorama won't be the fifth largest BI company, but it definitely will be Google," Antebi predicts.

The Schumacher Group, a management company for 2,500 contracted physicians, is using as a SaaS platform: some of its employees use Salesforce CRM, but it also uses software services through Salesforce's AppExchange program and runs some of its internally developed apps on Salesforce's infrastructure. The company has chosen Google Apps for its physicians, many of whom may not be using Microsoft Office in their private offices. CIO Doug Menefee also is considering the new Salesforce/Google Apps offering for some of its clerical workers using Salesforce.

Yet there's work to be done on Google's part, and Microsoft's legacy remains in other areas. The company won't exchange any patient information in Google Apps. "Until Google can say 'this is our approach to HIPAA, and we're HIPAA compliant,' where going to use it for more back-office communications," Menefee said. Schumacher Group continues to use Microsoft Sharepoint and Exchange; Menefee calls them "proven solutions," adding he has the in-house expertise for leveraging those apps for communications and collaboration.

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