Are corporate IT managers customers ready to trust hosted products with their data?
Matthew Glotzbach (MG): We have tens of millions and hundreds of millions of users who trust us with their data, be it search history, Gmail or credit card information. It's easy to believe that our systems for managing and storing data are going to be as secure, or in most cases more secure, than your average enterprise system. It's really more of an emotional argument than anything else. This cloud is an intimidating and somewhat abstract idea. We're quickly dispelling this myth that these cloud-based or services-based applications are somehow lightweight versions of traditional apps. Because these apps are connected up in the cloud, they facilitate a collaboration and sharing that is nearly impossible for traditional apps.
How do you get disgruntled packaged software users to consider hosted apps?
MG: Cloud-based applications are just built differently. One benefit is ongoing maintenance support and upgrades. They're not thought of as versions. You're not on version 1 or version 2 - there's a constant stream of updates. From an IT perspective in a large enterprise, it's even less about the cost associated with that than it is the hassle. It's difficult to upgrade to the latest version of some application. You may have customised so much that upgrading to the new version is nearly impossible. That is definitely one thing we hear a lot. There are things you can do in a cloud model that you can't do with traditional software. On the email front, we give 25GB of storage to our business users and 6GB to consumers. That's just not something you can do with Lotus Notes or Microsoft Exchange.
Why aren't hosted products widely used in large organisations today?
MG: One peace of mind IT departments have when they run things in-house is that they can go look at the servers and hug them. When we move to a cloud model, there's an arm's length attachment along with all the benefits. You can't point at the server that's holding your data. Google is one of the strongest global brands, but you tend to think consumer. One challenge we've had is building enterprise credibility.
How is Google dealing with that challenge?
MG: Our group's job is to learn from the consumer space and apply it to the enterprise. It's a myth that the enterprise user is fundamentally different than the consumer. All users are just people. Users that [deploy] our consumer products are the same as the IT people we're talking about. They don't walk through a phone booth and put on an enterprise user cape when they go into work every morning. From a user point of view, you'll see 90 per cent consistency between the enterprise and consumer versions of out applications - and that's [done] on purpose. We learn a lot from consumers, and try to drive that ease of use and simplicity. The enterprise dimension comes into play around administration controls. It's making our applications organisationally aware. We can make sharing among your company very easy and straightforward. We can put protections that ensure you don't share things outside. And there are APIs to integrate with directory systems.
How does Web 2.0 and social networking affect hosted apps?
MG: Social networking is really going to find its home in the enterprise. That's not to disparage Facebook or MySpace or our own social network. But when you think about work and business, it's all about the network. It's about who you know and who you're connected to. The existence of a social network and the leveraging of that network is really key as cloud applications continue to evolve.