When Google Apps first came out in 2006, we didn’t take it very seriously. We couldn’t. Gmail had been out for a couple of years and was a fantastic service for personal use -- and free -- but it wasn’t ready for business use. We thought that it’s lack of Outlook support would be a non-starter for our business customers, and Google Apps itself, touted as an inexpensive, web-based alternative to Microsoft Office, was primitive and clumsy.
We were looking for an economical alternative to Microsoft Exchange for our small-business customers, many of whom were still using basic POP mail services, with all its limitations. Exchange 2003 was the gold standard for business messaging, but it wasn’t designed to be used in a hosted, multi-tenant environment, even if we could stomach Microsoft’s cost-prohibitive and bureaucratic partner program. So instead we evaluated and adopted Zimbra (now owned by VMWare) as our standard email platform.
Fast-Forward Seven Years
In case you haven’t been watching, Google Apps has matured into an incredible product and is growing rapidly in market share in businesses large and small. Many Fortune 500 companies, large government organizations, and top universities have migrated to Google Apps, primarily at the expense of Microsoft Exchange. We’re witnessing that directly, as well. Many of our current and prospective customers are either using Google Apps already or asking about it. We still have a lot of Exchange customers, but we're doing very few new Exchange deployments any more. Google Apps has become the de facto standard for business messaging. There are several reasons for this:
Google Apps is dirt cheap, plain and simple. For $5 per user per month (free for schools and non-profits), you get a huge 25 gigabytes of email storage, unlimited storage for Google docs, plus 5 gigabytes of Google Drive file storage. There is no additional software to purchase, maintain, and upgrade every few years. You can compete with that, running your own local Microsoft Exchange installation.
Google Apps offers Broad Functionality
The feature set that comes with Google Apps is quite amazing. For that $5 per month, you get nearly everything you would use on a daily basis to run your business:
- Email (Gmail)
- Word-processing, spreadsheets, presentations (Google Docs)
- Instant messaging (Google Talk)
- Mailing lists and forums (Google Groups)
- Cloud-based file storage (Google Drive)
- Survey forms (Google Forms)
- Intranet websites (Google Sites)
- Video conferencing (Google Hangouts)
There’s no required software to install, and it works on PCs, Macs, tablets, smart phones, from the office, home, Starbucks, you name it. If you get Quickbooks Online for accounting and a business-class VoIP phone service (see me about that), your business is off and running with very little up-front investment.
Simplicity and Efficiency
To me, the appeal of Google Apps is not just its feature set, but how well those features have been designed. Google Apps is not just an alternative to Microsoft’s solutions, it’s the next generation. The conversation views in Gmail, the real-time collaboration in Google Docs, the integrated chat and search capabilities, and the back-end redundancy of the Google Cloud are all examples of that. Even though Google Apps now supports Outlook sync, we think the Gmail web interface is superior, and we encourage customers to adopt it.
As a pure cloud-based solution, Google Apps is mostly free from traditional software release and maintenance cycles. Small changes come frequently and are deployed across the Google infrastructure almost immediately. In 2012 alone, Google made over 250 enhancements to the Google Apps suite. The changes are so gradual that you hardly notice them, but the product suite steadily gets better and better. Contrast this with Microsoft Exchange, Office, or even Office 365, all of which have traditional client-side software that has to be maintained and supported for years.
If I'm going to put my business data in the cloud, it must be secure. Google is a leader in both physical and electronic security. Google Apps uses strong encryption and two-factor authentication for all its services, and Google Apps data is replicated across multiple locations for redundancy and reliability.
Ease of Use
In our experience, Google Apps comes very naturally to end-users, in part because so many people are already familiar with Gmail for their personal email. We’ve been surprised at how little training is required for new Google Apps customers. They catch on to Gmail, Contacts, and Calendars quickly, and then branch out to using Google Docs, Google Talk, Google Drive, and other components of the product.
Here at IT Freedom, we migrated our internal itfreedom.com domain to Google Apps about 18 months ago. We’re now a Google Apps Reseller, and we are in the process of migrating our existing POP and Zimbra email customers over to Google Apps. The reduced life-cycle costs allow us to offer Google Apps to our managed services customers at no additional charge. We love what Google Apps does for us, and we are busily integrating it into the rest of our infrastructure. All of the system programming that we do under the guise of "network integration" has become "app integration" in this new cloud-based world.
I would encourage you to take a look at Google Apps for yourself. Google has a wealth of documentation on the product; a good place to start is here. If you'd like a hands-on tour, I'd be happy to share my screen with you and walk you through it.