Although migrating to Google Apps could benefit many companies, there are some that may not reap the advantages of moving to the cloud. “The disadvantages are primarily related to large business investments in IT,” said Shey. “Part of the economics analysis is the sunk cost of data center infrastructure. Why use cloud services when you already have a fully functioning and scalable data center?”
It’s more than just a money question. The incremental cost of adding a new IT software package and server is relative to the data center investment, since a company can leverage existing IT managers as well as data center floor space. However, migrating data to a new location can prove a huge endeavor, and some IT managers simply may not want to take on that task due to the possible disruption of company operations, not to mention the loss of data during the move.
Another potential drawback of working with data stored in the cloud is the inability to access important files when service outages occur. In fact, several major outages throughout 2009 left many Google users confused and frustrated, and brought about widespread criticism of Google’s uptime. “The question of reliability is valid because when Gmail goes down, it goes down in such a public way,” admitted Google’s Kovacs. “It’s a lot different than when you’re managing e-mail in-house; when it goes down, nobody knows.”
Google provides a partial remedy with Google Gears, which lets users access files when they’re offline. Any changes made to those files are automatically synced to Google’s servers to update them once the Internet connection is restored, so data always remains fresh. Kovacs cited a Radicati Group study in which Gmail was found to be four times more reliable than Microsoft Exchange when it came to unplanned downtime; when planned downtime (such as maintenance) was factored in, Gmail’s reliability trumped Microsoft tenfold.
“Planned downtime is even more important because people are working longer hours and dealing with international clients, where our Sunday is their Monday,” said Kovacs. “The idea of always being able to access your mail is a great benefit.”
Google guarantees 99.9 percent uptime on all of the Apps in its premium package (the basic option does not offer such an agreement, but Google claims it maintains a similar uptime). If it’s unable to achieve that reliability within a given month, penalties are applied in the form of credits that clients can use to get extra days of service added to the contract. Google can guarantee this uptime for Premier customers through its use of servers scattered across the country. This multiple data center approach is one that large enterprises typically employ, but for most companies (particularly in this economic environment) Google may prove to be a more frugal alternative.
“These requirements will become table stakes as cloud computing competition heats up,” said Shey. “I think what is important to point out, in relation to any outage by a cloud vendor, is that the favorable economics of cloud services lessens the potential disadvantages of connectivity and data security. Loss of data is completely unacceptable, but any respectable hosted service will have backup systems and redundancy.”
Moving vital data from a hosted solution to the cloud naturally raises the issue of security. Google recognizes this area of concern and aims to assure potential switchers that they have nothing to fear.
“Security is our business; we have world class experts,” said Google’s Kovacs. “Because of the cloud, we can instantly deploy patches across all of our servers, so they’re not as vulnerable as on-premise solutions.”
Kovacs mentioned that Microsoft is well known for its Patch Tuesdays (when Redmond releases fixes to the community). It typically takes IT administrators anywhere from 30 to 60 days to deploy patches across their systems, giving hackers the chance to prey upon vulnerable companies.
Because online criminals may welcome the challenge of penetrating Google’s defenses, ABI Research’s Shey believes moving to Google could cause a company to inadvertently become a hacker target. The recent attacks on Google from within China, which prompted the company to consider no longer doing business there, is just one high-profile example (even though many blamed a security hole in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer).
Shey isn’t the only one questioning Google’s security; Jan van Glabbeeck, head of IT at Ziekenhuis Amstelland Hospital in Netherlands, considered switching to Google Apps, but instead chose Microsoft Online Services because of privacy concerns. “We simply could not use a system like Gmail,” she said. “There may be private information involved, and we needed a guarantee that the information would remain secure. It needs to stay within the domain of the hospital, and we can do that with the Microsoft Online Services solution.”
Should You Make the Switch?
There are various advantages that come with using Google Apps; while smaller businesses benefit from service reliability usually afforded only to larger companies, others can dramatically cut their expenses. Before deploying a cloud-based solution, large businesses would be wise to first compare the costs associated with running their own fully functioning and scalable data center against what Google offers.