Google Apps Premier Edition Gets Key Improvements

Google has officially removed the beta label from Gmail and other apps, strengthened customer data backup, and improved enterprise Gmail's e-mail retention policies and compliance options. The changes add up to significant improvements for large enterprise customers, analysts say.

In its ongoing efforts to make its software more appealing to enterprises, Google took some key steps today, starting with removing the "beta" label today from some of its core applications, including Gmail, Google Calendar, Docs and Talk. That longstanding beta tag had sometimes affected business buyers' decision whether or not to buy the Google Apps product, industry analysts say.

"Many enterprises were asking the question, 'why would I want the beta tag for my most mission critical enterprise app [e-mail]?" says Matt Cain, a Gartner analyst who has researched businesses' use of Google Apps.

On this question, Google has long maintained that its definition of beta — a term in the software industry normally reserved for products in their infancy or early iterations — differs from most.

"We have a different definition of what we think brings something out of beta," says Rajen Sheth, a senior product manager at Google Enterprise, the division of the company that manages Google Apps. "It's been a question we continually got from businesses, and now this answers that question. Google Apps has matured greatly during the past year."

Google announced other additions to its Google Apps premier edition, which businesses may purchase for $50 per user per year. For starters, customers will enjoy the live replication of data, so that if the primary data center that hosts their e-mail goes down, they can instantly access their information from a different data center location. While Google has always backed up data many times over, this new feature will prevent any latency time and improve disaster recovery, the company says.

In addition, Google boosted enterprise Gmail's e-mail retention policies. In order to adhere to compliance regulations in certain industries, many companies prefer to delete e-mail automatically after a certain period of time (say, 60 days). Now customers can set their company-wide Gmail to perform that task.

These latest moves show Google Enterprise's increasingly pragmatic approach in selling its software to enterprises, even if that means making it work with legacy technology, says Gartner's Cain. In May, Google added a connector that wedded Gmail with enterprise BlackBerry e-mail clients. In June, it announced that enterprises who purchase Gmail can enable their users to access their e-mail via a Microsoft Outlook client on their Windows Desktops.

"Google has shown a willingness to listen to concerns of potential commercial clients," says Gartner's Cain. "And they've responded very quickly."

Enterprises have appeared to take notice. Google recently landed a new customer in Fairchild Semiconductor, which recently migrated more than 5,000 users to Gmail in just three weeks. According to Google, the company will see a projected savings of $500,000 a year. In June, JohnsonDiversey, a cleaning supplies company, moved 12,000 users over to Gmail.

According to Cain, Google's ability to respond quickly to customers has stemmed from its cloud computing model. Google delivers software by hosting the applications and having customer companies (and their employees) access them via a web-browser. Google updates its software using an agile development model, making changes frequently and rolling them out to most customers. This differs from on-premise computing, a model used by many incumbent software vendors, where changes happen in yearly (or multiple-year) periods.

"If it was Microsoft, they'd have to wait three years to put out new version of Exchange or one and half years for an update," says Cain. "Adapting quickly is the beauty of the cloud."

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