Groove for small businesses?

Consultant stresses simplicity - and Groove - for small businesses

US Corporate Networks, a new consulting and services firm in Atlanta, makes an interesting promise to customers: It will deliver enterprise-level service priced for small and medium businesses. The first product the company has become authorized to sell is from Groove Networks.

Brooks King, president, says Groove may seem an odd choice for small businesses, but he believes businesses that consider Groove a big-company product are missing something special.

"The Groove client software eliminates the need for servers," King says. What’s more, the distributed file system handles critical features like backup automatically. “Adding a remote office is as simple as putting a user with Groove in another office, and as long as they have an Internet connection, even dial-up, and they can stay connected to everyone else."

King designs solutions for customers with "an extreme bias toward simplicity." That's a great line I may have to steal.

What does Groove do for King's clients? Groove Virtual Office software ($69, $179 or $229 per computer, depending on included modules) shares files between users; tracks project details; provides encrypted instant messaging, contact information and threaded discussions; and also provides peer-to-peer voice calls between Groove clients (with a headset plugged into the computer).

Have a tight relationship with a customer or supplier? Give them a Groove client, and share the appropriate project files and they'll be just as up to date as everyone using Groove in your company.

Groove does not include an e-mail client, but Microsoft Outlook messages can be sent to a Groove database or project file with one click. Groove does not share a calendar directly but spits out data to Outlook's shared calendar.

Microsoft invested in Groove early on when developer Ray Ozzie, the man who brought Lotus Notes to market, split from IBM/Lotus to create Groove. This past April, Microsoft officially gobbled up Groove, although the company remains separate right now. No one at Microsoft will say exactly what their plans are to integrate Groove into Microsoft products, but all signs point to Groove getting woven deeper into the next version of Office.

King has a great reference for how well Groove manages the "virtual office" features. One of his clients -- a professional services company that did training, graphics design and publishing -- had to leave their old office three months before their new office was ready. They were afraid no office meant no business (this for a $10 million company with about 50 employees). After three months of everyone working at home with Groove, the company actually increased their business.

Groove keeps all files and project information synchronized between each client, although configuration choices keep traffic down for mobile users or those stuck on dial-up. You can archive Groove files from every client, but keeping copies of files on every workstation provides some backup automatically (but changes, good or bad, get replicated, so you still need backup). If you grow to a certain point, a Groove server can handle more data and centralize backup. But companies that don't want a server can put off one for a long time by running Groove client software only.

In fact, Groove's file transfer capability bypasses the maximum e-mail message size put in place at many ISPs (they often only allow messages smaller than 10M bytes). Groove can transfer files up to 25M bytes using its own file-sending features and bypass e-mail altogether.

The biggest technical pain King sees in his clients? They worry the technology they add today won't work with the technology they will need tomorrow. Since adding a new Groove client is simply a matter of loading one application, King says placing Groove in small-but-growing companies eliminates that concern completely. US Corporate Networks believes small businesses need an application that shares data and grows with them, and King says Groove is it.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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