Google bundles communications tools for corporate users

Google Monday released in beta a bundle of online communications tools that corporate users can customize for their domains, including e-mail, instant messaging and calendaring.

Google Monday released in beta a bundle of online communications tools that corporate users can customize for their domains including e-mail, instant messaging and calendaring.

Google Apps for Your Domain lets users customize the interface with their own logos and offers a collection of tools for free through a Web-based interface that is tagged to a company’s Internet domain name. The service is advertising supported meaning users will see a list of links within their e-mail messages, but Google says it plans to offer a fee-based premium service.

Google is pitching the service as an alternative to installing local infrastructure to support these services.The software-as-a-service offering sets up a direct competition in terms of basic communications tools and infrastructure with the likes of Microsoft and IBM and with smaller vendors such as CommuniGate, Gordano, Ipswitch, Mirapoint, PostPath, Rockliffe, Scalix Sendmail and Zimbra.“What Google is saying is ‘look, today we are going to build out more advertising inventory, but tomorrow maybe it even turns into a real subscription revenue source,’ ” says Whit Andrews, an analyst with Gartner. Andrews says advertising at some point always goes flat and that is a bad thing for media companies like Google.

“You can see them thinking wouldn’t it be nice to have this revenue stream that is self-renewing,” says Andrews. “Where they say if you want access to these apps it will cost you this per month. Google is saying we are going to try and create a bulwark against a potential slowdown in ad revenue.”

But Andrews warns Google is a far cry from competing on corporate applications with major enterprise players such as IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP that do not rely on advertising for the bulk of their revenue.

Google Apps for Your Domain, which users AJAX programming techniques to provide a rich feature set within a browser, is the evolution of Gmail for Your Domain, a service that went into beta in February. Although Google does not give out exact numbers it says the Gmail offering has hundreds of thousands of users and tens of thousands of registered domains.“A segment of those domains where we found this is a great fit is the university segment,” says Matthew Glotzbach, head of products for Google’s enterprise division.“We definitely see a target market there, as well as, the small and medium sized business market.” Glotzbach says branch office deployment and rollouts to employees who may not have a dedicated PC, such as those on a factory floor, is another interesting segment Google hopes to attract.“We also have received inquiries from larger enterprises for mobile workforces being able to get Gmail on mobile phones or SMS calendar notifications,” he says.

Google Apps for Your Domain includes Gmail with 2GB of storage per account and integrated instant messaging and search tools, Google Talk for IM and VoIP services, Google Calendar which can be private or shared, and Google Page Creator for creating and publishing Web pages.

Last week, the company re-opened registration for its Writely online word processing application and company officials said the productivity and sharing tool would be a likely candidate for integration with other collaboration services down the road. “Writely is not part of the announcement but you could absolutely see that being part of the Google Apps For Your Domain in the future,” says Glotzbach.The first version of Google Apps for Your Domain is free for domain administrators and users, who can mix and match the hosted applications they want.A premium version is slated for beta later this year for users “with more advanced needs.” The company did not provide many specifics but said the premium service would be fee-based and include specific service level and support agreements. It will not include any advertising.Gartner’s Andrews says Google will face a huge challenge in developing service-level agreements (SLA) around hosted services just as many online application providers experience.“How do you write the SLA for this? How do you guarantee up time? What does the guarantee look like? It is very hard to do this with Internet-based applications,” he says.Andrews says the other challenge will be building a developer community around its collaboration platform that can support the needs of users. Google plans to offer versions of Google Apps for Your Domain designed for specific organizations such as non-profits, large enterprises, and ISPs.

Google Apps for Your Domain includes a Web-based set-up panel for domain administrators where they can configure the service, manage user accounts, set up aliases and create distribution lists. Initially, the set-up panel is available only in English.

The service is available here.

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