Google improves 'Apps', offers organizations clear path off Exchange, Notes, etc. to GMail

Google improves 'Apps', offers organizations clear path off Exchange, Notes, etc. to GMail

Summary: Although the company doesn't like to position itself as competition to the likes of Microsoft, the announcements made by Google today -- particularly the one about a way for organizations to siphon the e-mail out of any IMAP-compatible server (including Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes) into GMail -- clearly reach into the lion's den in Redmond.To get a run-down of today's announcements, I recorded a podcast interview with Google director of product management Matthew Glotzbach.

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Although the company doesn't like to position itself as competition to the likes of Microsoft, the announcements made by Google today -- particularly the one about a way for organizations to siphon the e-mail out of any IMAP-compatible server (including Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes) into GMail -- clearly reach into the lion's den in Redmond.

To get a run-down of today's announcements, I recorded a podcast interview with Google director of product management Matthew Glotzbach. To hear the interview, you can press the play button above. Or you can also download it to your desktop and play it at your convenience. The interview is a part of my IT Matters series of podcasts. To find out more about subscribing to these other podcasts in a way that they automatically show up on your PC, MP3 player, or both, check out my how to.

If you could point at a single on-premises solution that has many corporations and other organizations tied to other Microsoft technologies, that solution could very well be Exchange Server (mostly used for e-mail and group calendaring). Without an Exchange server, the need for a bunch of other Microsoft technologies from Windows Server to Active Directory to Outlook and even Windows on the desktop (I know many an Entourage user who isn't happy with their so-called Mac compatibility with Exchange) is easily questioned.

However, moving off of Exchange Server to a substitute is no easy task. The first question is what substitute and why? There are substitutes like Lotus Notes and, more recently, Scalix's on-premises solution that promise to offer improved scalability, better total cost of ownership, or both (claims that some question). But overall, to the extent that one on-premises solution is being swapped out for another, they may not be the game changers to organizations that they promise to be. For organizations that are really ready to re-think their approach to those on-premises solutions, Google today announced a migration tool that in one fell swoop (at least after all the accounts are properly mapped), uses the IMAP protocol to suck all the e-mail out of an IMAP compatible server like Microsoft's Exchange or Lotus Notes and deposit it into an organization's instance of Google Apps.

For organizations, Google Apps is a hosted, branded service consisting of several applications and services that for each subscribing organization, run in a private partitioned context behind what can best be described as a virtual private firewall (where your intranet is essentially hosted and outsider inaccessibility to it is secured by the hoster's firewall). What are the benefits of turning off an on-premises server in favor of a hosted service? Well, keeping those e-mail systems running and performing well are no longer your headache. They're someone else's (in this case, Google's). No more upgrading complicated server software either. As Google adds new features to its services, its customers basically inherit those features without having to do much. Particularly the customers that use the Web-based interfaces (as opposed to local clients like Thunderbird or Outlook).

What are the downsides? Some companies haven't developed a comfort level with keeping their sensitive data -- particularly their e-mail -- anywhere but behind their own corporate firewalls. Additionally, in the case of this announcement, GMail is unlike most other e-mail solutions in that it doesn't use folders as a means of organizing e-mails. Instead, it uses a tagging system that's very much like foldering, but that could take some getting used to. In fact, when migrating accounts from an IMAP-based server to GMail, e-mail that's stored in some folder ends up getting tagged with that folder's name instead. One benefit to this way of organizing emails is that they can be tagged with multiple tags (sort of like being able to store one e-mail in multiple folders). Another problem with GMail is that as e-mail clients go, it can't go into an offline mode. But now that Google has introduced Google Gears (a technology that makes it possible for Web-based applications to work even when the Web is inaccessible), it will only be a matter of time before this problem goes away.

The bottom line on the migration tool announcement is that this is not to be underestimated as a move to win businesses over to the hosted e-mail model and the purveyors (Microsoft and IBM) of the two leading on-premises solutions (Exchange and Notes) are the ones in Google's crosshairs.

In addition to the migration tool announcement, Google also announced some other improvements to its portfolio of apps. One of them is that GTalk now supports multi-person chat. However, the functionality is not yet baked into the downloadable GTalk client. Instead, the capability is only available with the browser-based GTalk widget which, according to Glotzbach is based on Adobe's Flash technology. I gave the new widget a glancing try today and it seemed to work pretty well.

Another welcome addition is what can best be described as the beginning stages of a directory service for users of Google Apps. For example, today, if you want to share a document with someone else in your Google Apps domain, you have to address them with their entire e-mail address even though their domain may be the same as yours. Now, so long as the people you want to collaborate with are in the organization's shared address book, they are addressable by their alias instead of their entire e-mail address.

There were a few other features that Glotzbach taked about. Be sure to check out the podcast to get the complete rundown.

Topics: Servers, Collaboration, Google

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98 comments
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  • Don't underestimate the hatred of Exchange

    Although it's less of a management headache than it used to be, don't underestimate the desire of many companies to shed Exchange management. If there's a viable alternative out there from a trusted source it will get a warm reception.

    I've heard some people object on the grounds that if the internet connection is down you can't get to your email. Well, if your internet connection is down, Exchange server can't send or receive mail either. So all you're really gaining is that it will store outbound until the connection is back up. For what you pay for Exchange and the overhead to support it, that's not much of a win. Google Gears may solve that problem before long anyway.

    I could see very rapid adoption of Google Apps as a groupware and productivity solution. I'm using Gmail and Google Checkout in my new business, which is built on Ubuntu...Kubuntu, specifically. So far not a hitch but a small business built on Linux from scratch and converting an enterprise are entirely different animals.

    Still, I would look for many companies to abandon Exchange at their earliest convenience.
    Chad_z
    • Can't email?

      On Exchange, when internet is down, I can't email outside of the company, but I can still email within the company. Not so on GMail. And I can do email and they will queue until the internet connection is up, and off they go. Internal emails don't queue, they go now.

      Also, Google needs to fix loosing things. I made a calendar appointment, (just one appointment) and Google lost it. How reliable is that? Never had that happen on Exchange.
      sordito
    • Don't forget SOX compliance

      (nt)
      fr0thy2.
    • wishful thinking

      You quite overestimate hatred of Exchange. Been using Exchange for years and very rarely have problems with nearly 97% uptime. Usually down for scheduled maintenance upgrades. It, in conjunction with outlook, already has a Cached mode, for mobile users, so you don't need a constant network connection. Good luck intrepreting your cryptic Linux. When it gets all growed up, it may be a competitor to MS. ;) I guess when you use an application and user-friendly weak OS, you need hosted services so your employees can make sense of things.
      Khyron
      • And, it can cost $75,000 a year to administer a small group of email users

        that would be about 100x cheaper with Google Apps.
        DonnieBoy
        • cheap

          $75k is cheaper in the long run, if Google eventually outsources their support to India and asks you to pay more for support to keep your support in the US. It's cheaper to have in-house people, that know your business model and can respond quickly to your needs, rather than relying on another company that has it's own issues to deal with.
          Khyron
          • also

            Every employee you add to Gmail, you are paying extra for a license and their support costs. With an in-house employee, you could add 100 employees for free - Minus significantly cheaper license fees, before your engineer(s) begins to twitch uncontrollably ;)
            Khyron
          • Up to 2.5 gigabytes per employees is FREE. And, even at $50 per year, you

            would have to reach 2,500 employees before you paid $75,000 per year, and supporting 2,500 employees on Exchange would cost a whole lot more than that.
            DonnieBoy
          • HUH!!!!

            Exchange does not require a FULL TIME person in a setting that small. You are crazy. And you've not counted the cost to maintain those desktops running Google apps and help desk to help them and increased infrastructure costs....you'll need Gigabit to every desktop and the additional ISP fees which could be another 50K a year. You are dreaming Donnie boy.
            xuniL_z
          • Let's see, 100 employees x $50 per employee, is $5,000.

            You could have up to 2,500 before you paid the same as Google. For small to mid size companies that can not afford security gurus 24x7, they should NOT try to run exchange servers.

            Also, you will not get 24x7 security for $75,000.
            DonnieBoy
        • ha.

          you are ridiculous Donnie. A small windows network can be taken care of by IT generalist who do many other projects. In one case the data com guy does it on top of taking care of all healthcare monitoring equipment, TVs etc.
          <br>
          If I could make 75K for JUST handling exchange for a SMALL group, I think I'll get out of working for myself. <br>
          Where do I sign up!!!!????????????
          xuniL_z
      • No overestimations involved.

        I've never, ever, met any admins that actually liked Exchange. Ever. I've known quite a few that would have taken great pleasure in spending some time alone, in a dark alley, while well armed, with the designers and coders of the overpriced abortion. In fact, quite a few are convinced that Murphy was one of the key players in the design and coding.

        If it weren't for a addiction that so many exec's and managers have to Outleak, Exchange wouldn't even be an also ran right now.
        Dr. John
        • How many have you met?

          Exchange is alright, I'd rather have exchange than Domino any day.
          rtk
      • 97% uptime? Ugh.

        That means that you have almost 11 *days* of downtime per year. I'd say that was pretty bad.
        mosborne
    • alternatives....

      If people want out of being tied to Exchange, Windows, and all the other Microsoft products that are dependent-upon each other then the obvious solution is to use Lotus Notes.

      A major part in Notes' growth this past-year is due to people being able to run it on other os', particularly Linux.

      Plus with Notes you can ditch not only Exchange, but Messenger, Sharepoint, Office System, etc, etc. Exchange is a mail-server but Notes has a mail-server, mail just being part of the collaborative experience it offers.

      With Notes 8 you even get to ditch Microsoft Office as an enhanced version of the OpenOffice applications comes built-in!!
      sj_z
      • Yes, Notes is an excellent alternative for those that want for Google

        Apps to mature. Much more secure and functional than Exchange, AND, you can run it on a trusted OS. You have only one choice with Exchange, and it is NOT secure.
        DonnieBoy
        • What are you two smoking?

          Domino (Notes is the client) is a wonderous database app, but it's a horrible email client. 7 is at least usable, and 8 is beta.

          Not only that, but IBM's licensing is ungodly for everyone excluding massive enterprises (with 10s of thousands of email accounts).
          rtk
          • update

            Notes 8 is no-longer beta as-of Aug 17th...

            so now Notes is both a "wonderous database app" and a wonderous email clinet too :o)
            sj_z
    • Don't underestimate the usefullness of Exchange

      In reading many of the posts here I tend to see patterns associated with particular people, and you Chad_z look to fit into that group of the [i]predictable[/i].

      Of course droves of people will [i]abandon Exchange at their earliest convenience[/i] in your mind as it is a product produced by MIcrosoft, so unbiased thoughts on your part will never be used to form your opinions. If you did you would see slow to no adoption of Google Apps as a groupware and productivity solution.
      GuidingLight
      • There's a correlation

        between those that think Exchange can be replaced in the enterprise with google apps and those that think an IMAP checkbox can make an iPhone as functional as a blackberry.
        rtk