Google Has An Enterprise Game Plan (And Microsoft-Bashing Isn't Part Of It)

As Microsoft faces channel partners disgruntled over cloud sales incentive cuts, Google is aiming to win over corporate resellers and customers by increasing its enterprise offerings. But instead of an all-out channel blitz against Microsoft, Google partners say, the company is making smaller, targeted moves on a chess board to surround its arch rival. Google's approach is in stark contrast to Microsoft's strategy, which has included specific anti-Google marketing efforts and a Google Compete Campaign for Office 365 resellers.

"I think Google is trying to find specific areas to add value to for partners," said Tony Safoian, CEO of SADA Systems, a Google Premier Enterprise Reseller based in North Hollywood, Calif. "They're doing it a little bit at a time in very specific areas or niche markets and, before you know it, they're everywhere."

[Related: CRN Exclusive Survey: Microsoft Cloud Cuts Have Partners Embracing Google ]

Saofian uses the Chromebook as a prime example. When the form factor was introduced nearly three years ago, it was labeled as just another cheap, underpowered laptop in the same vein as Intel's now-extinct Netbook. But in 2013, according to market-research firm NPD Group, Chromebooks accounted for 21 percent of U.S. commercial notebook sales, and the form factor is now supported by all of the top PC makers.

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"Chromebooks are seeing a phenomenal increase in interest today, and not just in the K-12 education market," Safoian said.

Allen Falcon, CEO of Cumulus Global, a Google Apps Premier SMB Reseller based in Westborough, Mass., agreed with Safoian and said Google is taking an Apple-like approach to the education market. "They seed the market and then they grow," Falcon said. "I look at where Google is in education right now and they're on that same path [as Apple was]. You're going to have a whole generation graduating high school and college for which ubiquitous access from any device, simple sharing and a really integrated suite of tools [is the norm]."

Chromebooks have helped expose education customers to other offerings, such as Google Apps, too. Falcon attended a recent education technology event with more than 400 schools in attendance; of that number, Falcon said only three schools were using Office 365 or were in the process of moving to it. The rest of the schools were using or were in the process of deploying Google Apps.

Google, Mountain View, Calif., is taking a similar approach with its new Chromebox series, a small-form-factor and low-cost PC designed specifically for videoconferencing through Google Plus Hangouts. Asus and Hewlett-Packard already have unveiled Chromebox models, and Dell is expected to join the group soon.

"This is how Google works," said Aric Bandy, CEO of Agosto, a Google Apps Premier Reseller based in Minneapolis. "They make something that's ubiquitous, whether it's a Web browser or email or a device, that's not based on a specific platform. They make them simple, affordable and easy to use."

Google's objective, solution providers say, is to build an ecosystem of offerings to attract users, whether it's consumers or business users. Bandy said the company doesn't worry about whether a new product sells one unit or 1,000 units, and it isn't concerned with going head to head with a competitor around a particular product.

"Google plays the long game," he said. "They don't do two- or three-year plans. They have a 10-year plan, and they believe that if they have the right product and right technology, then adoption will happen."

By all accounts, Google's strategy with Chromebooks and Google Apps is working. But with Windows 8 struggling, should Google be working harder to push Chrome?

Atlanta-based Carceron Systems, which is both a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner and a Google Apps Authorized Reseller, has only seen a few customers move off Windows to Google platforms in the past year. Chad Massaker, president and CEO of Carceron, said making the switch to a new OS is easier said than done. "We see very, very few clients that are currently looking to move to a new OS environment," Massaker said. "It's not that Google's technology isn't good enough. It's that there are too many technical challenges to uproot your whole environment."

For Windows XP migrations, most of Carceron's clients have gone with Windows 7. "Like most of our clients, we're not satisfied with Windows 8," Massaker said.

Still, Google isn't attacking Windows 8 head on with elaborate marketing campaigns or partner incentives (unlike Microsoft's Google Compete Campaign). Google partners say that's just not the company's style.

"To me, Google's strategy is simple: get its products in as many consumers' hands as possible, and get them using the Web the Google way, and then build up that experience for business users," Massaker said. "The day that Google can improve the functionality of its spreadsheet and word processing apps and get them within 80 percent of Office is when you'll really start to see it shift to Google Apps and Chrome."

No one loses their job for going with Microsoft, Agosoto's Bandy said, and that's still the case even with the software giant's recent issues. While Google has emerged as the only other option for office apps and operating systems, he said, the company is more focused on building up the products' functionality rather than slick advertising or lucrative partner perks because nothing will attract partners more than product that customers demand.

"We're obviously pushing hard on Chrome and Google Apps," Bandy said. "And Google is pushing them too, but they do it differently. They're an engineering company and they want to make sure the product is right."

A clear sign of increasing demand for Google Apps was the recent addition of CDW -- a Microsoft large account reseller (LAR) -- as a Google Apps reseller. While the addition made big news last week, partners don't expect Google to suddenly deviate from its more measured approach to the channel (currently there are only a handful of Premier Resellers in North America).

"Google's made a lot of investments in the partner ecosystem, but they've started small," Bandy said. "They've been very strategic with how they built their channel out. It's a smaller scale, but there's better value for the partners."

Still, as Google's enterprise business grows, partners say the company will need to adjust. Part of that, Cumulus Global's Falcon said, is increasing the messaging to corporate clients about Google's enterprise readiness.

"I think there is [an opportunity] in which Google could do more awareness and brand marketing. A lot of Microsoft's marketing around Office 365 is not really pro-Office 365; it's anti-Google. And it hasn’t helped," Falcon said. "I think Google, from a marketing standpoint, will learn and will do some things differently. We see signs of that now."