Will Postini help Google win over businesses?

Search specialist hopes acquiring the email security service provider will assuage enterprises' concerns about hosted applications

Google's $625m (£308m) acquisition of email security specialist Postini appears to be further proof that the search giant wants enterprises to buy into its vision of hosted applications.

While there has been some interest in the potential of applications such as Google Mail and Docs & Spreadsheets to provide the kind of collaborative working opportunities currently unavailable in Microsoft Exchange and Office, IT professionals are still extremely cautious about putting company data in the hands of a third party — especially one with a limited track record of catering to business customers.

"Its email service, Gmail, is the most attractive component of the fee-based Google Apps suite aimed at businesses, but the initial incarnation [released in February 2007] lacked enterprise control and security services, diminishing its appeal to the corporate audience," analyst Gartner claimed in a research issued after the Postini acquisition.

Google is aware of the issues it faces around security and compliance, and the Postini acquisition can be seen as a reaction to this, at least in terms of addressing fears about the solidity of its messaging — Google Talk and Google Mail — services.

Founded in 1999, Postini provides a range of products and services in the communication security and communications compliance areas — including secure archiving and encryption. Analyst Gartner describes this service as "email hygiene" and claims that Postini has been one of the leading players in this growing area.

"By buying Postini, Google will now own a strategic platform for offering sophisticated message hygiene services to commercial accounts, a business necessity for multiple types of messaging, including instant messaging and VoIP services," Gartner claims.

Dave Girouard, vice president and general manager of Google's enterprise division, claims the company is taking security and compliance very seriously.

"Google has always been very focused on the end-user experience — one that is simple and intuitive," he said. "But security and compliance are a must in bigger business. That's what Google wants to take advantage of. We are fundamentally here today because it's a business we believe we should be in. It will accelerate software as a service."

Previously, Google had tried to get over security fears voiced by businesses through partnerships, but eventually realised that an acquisition was the only thorough way to integrate the necessary security measures into its applications.

But a straw poll of ZDNet.co.uk members following the Google/Postini announcement reveals that IT professionals still have some fundamental misgivings about trusting their data to a hosted applications provider — even Google.

"Trust a service provider with confidential data?" asked David Healy, ICT manager for Mater Dei College in Edgewater, Western Australia. "What's that outside the window? It's a bird, no, it's a plane... no, it's a pig."

Data compliance issues were an issue for Peter Nikolic, a contributor to the Suse Linux community. "This is a practice that needs to be promptly terminated. Who in their right mind leaves their data in the hands of a service company that is just as liable to sell it on as keep it secure?"

Tony Bull, an IT professional who works in the automotive industry, said that, given the information commissioner's criticism of security and privacy breaches at large corporations, he would be surprised if any company would entrust business processes to external providers.

"I find it hard to imagine (especially after this morning's report of the likes of Barclays and NatWest being sloppy with other people's identity details) that any large corporation would entrust sales, marketing, R&D, and payroll to a remote server — however good the promises of fealty and security," he said.

Soeren Bech, European business director for Tumbleweed Communications, a messaging security vendor, claims that IT managers are not comfortable with "outsourcing critical data to someone not in their control, as they have to make sure they can audit exactly where that data is going".

Shlomo Kramer, chief executive of security-software-as-a-service company Imperva, believes the IT community is broadly split into those that have or want to embrace software as a service, and those that fundamentally mistrust it.

"We hear both voices," Kramer said. "Some of our customers think that companies like Salesforce.com are fantastic, because they don't need to implement complex CRM systems in-house — but others say 'Absolutely not', as they still need to be convinced they won't be exposed."

However, as Google's chief executive recently reiterated, the search specialist sees the business market as a key area of growth for the future and appears committed to seeing this next stage in the company's development through.

"Small businesses and universities are likely to become a significant business for Google as [they] use our leverage in terms of sales and infrastructure," Eric Schmidt said.

Analyst Gartner claims Google has its sights clearly set on not only the small business and academic market but the lucrative enterprise market as well. "Key to Google's long-term expansion plans is its drive to generate substantial revenue from enterprise customers. It has been successful with its search appliance, and it is now looking to sell personal and group productivity applications to businesses."


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