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Network World - Three weeks into his tenure at Google, Rajen Sheth -- former Microsoft and VMware employee -- met with Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt to propose a way of turning Gmail into a business-class e-mail system. And he was soundly rejected.
Today, Google Apps -- which began life as "Gmail For Your Domain" -- is giving Google a small foothold in the enterprise IT world, and sparking a fierce rivalry with Microsoft.
But in 2004, Sheth's early attempts to bring Gmail into the enterprise were stymied, as Google's trinity of leaders in Page, Brin and Schmidt challenged him to come up with something better.
"At the time I was soundly rejected," Sheth said during an interview in mid-June at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. "Because at the time we were proposing the idea of bringing Gmail into an appliance and have it be an on-premise solution for businesses. They rightly pointed out that we could do that, but we're not fully taking advantage of everything we have here at Google. And at that time, too, the idea of a cloud model was very much not on the minds of any CIO anywhere."
Even before joining Google, Sheth worked on some of the most well-known products in the IT landscape, both on the consumer and enterprise side.
In 1999 and 2000 he was a program manager for Hotmail, owned by Microsoft, where he led the effort to create Hotmail's first spam filter. The Stanford University graduate later spent a year at VMware, where he was product manager for VMware's ESX Server.
The storage company EMC purchased VMware in January 2004, and Sheth helped lead integration efforts between the two companies but ultimately left in July of that year to join Google's newly created enterprise division, where he is now the Google Apps senior product manager.
"It was probably the toughest decision I've ever had to make because VMware was doing fabulous at the time, and Google was taking off," Sheth says. "One of the things that really attracted me was this idea of being able to go into a completely new market with a lot of great technology at Google."
Sheth's charter was "to figure out how we can take some of the other technologies within Google, specifically around collaboration and communication, and bring it into the enterprise."
Sheth was joined by enterprise division leaders Matthew Glotzbach and Dave Girouard when he proposed Gmail For Your Domain to Brin, Page and Schmidt. Although that first meeting ended in frustration, it was only temporary.
"In May of the following year I brought it back to them, and said 'let's do a cloud-based hosted infrastructure for businesses [instead of a physical appliance] and start with Gmail, but as we have more applications we'll bring more apps into the suite,'" Sheth says.
Gmail For Your Domain launched in an invitation-only beta in February 2006, letting organizations -- mainly small businesses and universities -- use an entirely Web-based e-mail system with a personalized domain name.