Google is building a reseller program for its online suite of enterprise applications as it seeks to push its productivity tools and software-as-a-service model deeper into corporate computing.
The company Wednesday said it has 50 resellers in a pilot program that will allow them to sell and support Google Apps Premier Edition (GAPE) with a host of corporate features such as directory synchronization and end-user provisioning.
The Google Apps Authorized Reseller Program will formally open in March and is available to services companies, value-added resellers, ISPs, integrators, consultants and others worldwide who must qualify.
GAPE is the vendor's US$50 per user productivity suite targeted at businesses that has proven worthy in certain situations, most involving universities or small and midsized businesses looking to cut costs.
Now Google wants to build a reseller channel, including system integrators, and third-party support infrastructure to handle GAPE for companies who may not think that Google has the chops to provide add-on services, such as 24x7 support.
Google, however, will continue to sell directly to corporate customers.
"The reach we can get through partners is far bigger than Google has today," says Rishi Chandra, product manager for Google Apps. "We need to have a more formalized program with the resellers that can help them be successful in building a business around Google Apps as well as help customers bridge the needs they have for making Google Apps customized for their internal environments."
The reseller program is Google's biggest move to court business users since July 2007, when it laid out $625 million for e-mail hygiene vendor Postini, which provided the compliance, archiving and e-mail protection GAPE lacked.
Over the past year, Google has been adding tools and APIs to satisfy customer demands, and it has added Web 2.0 tools such as video that put a new twist on collaboration.
Google is battling with Microsoft and others to provide productivity applications and collaboration as an online service.
Microsoft, with its powerful channel, is attempting to establish editions of its productivity applications for cloud computing. Office Web Applications are already in private testing and are slated for inclusion with Office 14. Microsoft already has its toe in the water with Office Live Workspaces and with Exchange and SharePoint Online Services.
GAPE's suite of communication and collaboration tools includes Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Sites, Google Talk and Google Video for business.
Google's reseller program will include a set of integration APIs that are REST-based and allow resellers to support directory synchronization, migration, reporting and single sign-on from corporate networks. There also will be tools for setting up business accounts, provisioning, users, management and reporting.
In addition, Google will maintain a portal with business and technical data and a discussion forum. The program will include sales and technical training and marketing materials.
Google plans to offer U.S. resellers a yearly 20% discount on the sale of GAPE, which will continue to be run from Google's back-end infrastructure, which was hit with a series of noted outages in the waning months of 2008.
Google says resellers will "own the customer relationship" and handle all the billing.
Google today has two other channel programs around the Google Search Appliance and the Postini service. "We took a lot of lessons away from those," Google's Chandra says.
Google claims to have more than 1 million businesses and 10 million users, but it does not disclose how many of them are paying customers other than to say it is "hundreds of thousands." A version of Google Apps is available free.
To go along with the reseller program, Google said going forward it would now impose a 50-user limit on those deploying the free applications.
Google is now accepting applications from resellers who want into the program, which will formerly launch in March.