The first thought that comes to mind when one hears the name Google isn't exactly "enterprise IT vendor".
And yet, the company qualifies as such. True, it's a recent and small entrant, but Google seems intent on becoming a powerful player in this space.
"It's not a major focus area for Google but yeah, why not? I think it has had limited traction in the corporate enterprise market, but that could be very interesting," Citigroup financial analyst, Mark Mahaney, said.
Google has enterprise products for search, Web analytics and mapping, and the company said it was committed to all of them. But how credible a provider is Google today in this market?
"It depends on how you define enterprise. If you say enterprise and include small- and medium-size businesses, then Google does have some pretty credible offerings," Ballardvale Research analyst, Guy Creese, said. "If you are talking Fortune 1000 companies, I think it will have to change its stripes in a lot of ways to serve that market."
Long way to go
For example, Google's enterprise products are generally very easy to use and set up, which makes them appealing to companies of all sizes, but they tend to offer few options for customisation, a turn-off for large organisations.
"Many large companies expect that as a given," Creese said. "That's the thing that's going to keep Google from doing a lot of business with really large corporations." A way to change this is for Google to aggressively open up these products to external developers via application programming interfaces (APIs) so that these partners can customise the products and extend their capabilities, Creese said.
Google seems to be moving in this direction. For example, it already provides some APIs for enterprise search products, such as the Search Appliance and the Google Desktop for Enterprise, as well as for the Google Earth mapping products. In September, Google also unveiled a partner program to sign up independent software vendors (ISVs), resellers, consultants and systems integrators to provide complementary wares and services for its enterprise search products.
The Search Appliance is designed to index information stored in a variety of server-based data repositories, such as intranets, public websites, relational databases, enterprise business applications, content management software and legacy systems.
A simpler and less expensive version of the Search Appliance, called the Google Mini, is designed for use by small and medium-size organisations that want to make searchable the information in their intranets and public websites. Both products are hardware boxes with Google software in them, and both use the core technology that powers the company's search engine. Google Desktop for Enterprise is a free, downloadable software application that indexes and makes searchable the contents of PC hard drives.
Meanwhile, one of Google's most attention-grabbing products has been its free, downloadable application Google Earth, which it released earlier this year. Based on technology and products it acquired when it bought Keyhole in 2004, Google Earth lets users fly around the globe, zipping from destination to destination and zooming in and out of cities, thanks to a multiterabyte database of satellite images taken at some point during the past three years.
Google Earth is for more than doing virtual flyovers. Road maps and the Google Local index of business listings are available for US, Canada and the UK. This means that Google Earth identifies on its maps points of interest such as airports, train tracks, city borders, churches, hospitals, bars, hotels, banks and parks. It also provides driving directions. For 38 major US cities, Google Earth even provides 3D images of buildings.
While Google Earth can be useful to mainstream consumer users for a variety of tasks, such as planning trips, finding a restaurant or getting acquainted with an area before moving there, there are other members of the Google Earth product family designed for business use.
Google Earth Pro can import GPS and spreadsheet data, lets users print in a higher resolution than the consumer version and has the ability to measure areas. Its functionality can be extended with optional modules.
It is designed for professionals in industries like commercial and residential real estate, architecture, construction, engineering and insurance. There is also a server-based version called Google Earth Enterprise, designed to support hundreds or thousands of simultaneous users.
Google is looking at ways to integrate the Google Earth business products with the enterprise search products. "There's definitely a lot of potential for integration between the Google Earth products and the Search Appliance and the Google Mini. We're starting to look at what might make sense," general manager of the Google Enterprise unit, Dave Girouard, said.
Finally, Google plays in the Web analytics market with its Google Analytics hosted service, which monitors website usage and tracks the performance of online marketing campaigns.
Google recently shook up this market when it started offering Google Analytics for free. However, Google got pie on its face when the service experienced serious performance problems due to the avalanche of new subscribers that signed up for it after it became a free service.
Google Analytics had problems for about 48 hours, and a few days later Google temporarily stopped accepting new subscribers, saying it had been overwhelmed by the demand and needed to increase server capacity before it resumed signups.
This is the type of snafu that Google has to avoid if it hopes to convince CIOs at large companies that it is a credible provider of enterprise IT products.
"The meltdown of Google Analytics won't help things," Creese said.
"It shows Google not quite thinking things through, and that doesn't fly with CIOs."