Googling The Channel

Last week, the company unveiled its formal Enterprise Professional Program, which targets solution providers and integrators with expertise in legacy mainframe and Microsoft applications, and the government market.

The goal is to entrench Google&s search technology in businesses and open up troves of corporate data heretofore off limits. The bulk of business data still resides in back-office and other applications, not in Web pages where Google Search reigns supreme, partners said.

Michael Cizmar, president of Michael Cizmar and Associates (MC+A), a Chicago-based portal expert, is a perfect fit. “Our skill set is around the Microsoft platform, and we&re working with Google to develop simple ways to get them into Microsoft SharePoint [sites] and get the content out,” Cizmar told CRN. “The current crawler can&t get into those folders. We&ll release a WebPart that will allow someone with the search appliance and Google Mini to get in there.”

There&s no doubt that this is a fruitful market. There is untold amount of data in the SharePoint workspaces that have sprung up like kudzu across the corporate landscape, partners said.

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Google will promote the effort and WebPart on its new partner Web site, and Cizmar said he hopes to glean leads as a result. Asked how Google and Cizmar found each other, he said: “We ran a Google ad.”

Microsoft is doing its own SharePoint-based corporate search tool, but the company now fields a confusing array of search technologies, partners said. What Google brings is a proven talent at search, and an extremely familiar and easy-to-use interface. In short: Everyone already knows how to Google. Neon Systems, which specializes in accessing data in mainframe applications, is another natural and another of Google&s flagship partners.

“Google is capitalizing on the value of its brand to extend the reach of search inside the firewall,” says Mark Cresswell, CEO of Houston-based Neon. It&s a bonus that the people who want to find that information also are used to Google. “Why not use the tool you&re familiar with?” he asked. Neon will sell tools to bridge the Google indexing and search to back-end data, he said.

“Most corporate data does not manifest itself on a Web page. There are all sorts of arcane forms. Thus far they&ve been impenetrable. So Google needs someone to do these adapters, for lack of a better word,” he said.

Google is mum on how much money it&s putting into its program, which seems to rely more on free gear and training than traditional tools like market development funds (MDF). What&s more, the program requires partners to pay Google what is by most channel program standards a hefty $10,000 annual fee for being part of the program.

David Girouard, general manager of Google&s enterprise group, said the program is aimed at integrators and ISVs rather than partners looking to sell Google&s Enterprise Search Appliance, which costs from $30,000 to $600,000, and the Google Mini, which costs about $3,000 and targets small and midsize businesses.

There is no target number of partners, Girouard said. “It&s not really a numbers game. We&re looking for coverage and expertise we can rely on and deliver business to,” he said. “In our view, it&s not about having a big number but having a manageable number of partners with expertise.”

In particular, the company is looking for partners with deep knowledge or customer bases in the intelligence community and with legacy applications. “If you look at the way you can now get UPS tracking info out of, you can see that there&s plenty of room to take data from SAP [or other applications] and make it available,” Girouard told CRN.

Of course, whatever Google is spending, it is likely a piddling amount compared with the billions Microsoft has made in channel investment over the years. In addition, while Google and IBM teamed on Google-enabling Lotus Notes for corporate customers, IBM itself has positioned its own search as a “Google for the enterprise.” Some say it&s only a matter of time before those two allies butt heads.

“IBM is a competitor in enterprise search, Verity is another, but what you gain from Google is that a lot of users know it,” says Matt McNight, president of LMN Solutions, Herndon, Va., another of Google&s chosen few partners. Some partners say Google&s ubiquity in Web search means it has been well-tested for business use.

But one large integrator said he sees “cognitive dissonance” in Google&s attempt.

“Google wants to have more of the ‘dark& data in their search space. Corporations want to get better targeting from search without opening up information boundaries that are not as good as they should be once you&re inside the firewall. Good ideas here, but actual implementation will be a bear,” the integrator said. “If the enterprise market really does buy in, it will be great for systems integrators and VARs—lots of data clean up, security architecture. I remain skeptical, but no question, this is an area that the majors—IBM, Microsoft, Yahoo—are all targeting,” he said.

Yet other partners love the fact that Google, unlike IBM or Microsoft, does not field its own services group.

Girouard clearly plays that card. “We don&t offer any professional services ourselves. The good thing is we ship and people have it running in days, but as [customers] want Google search to go into other silos of data, you get beyond our expertise,” he said. “That&s a real goal for us—to help customers entrench our products and make the search more comprehensive.”