Google Apps Certification Program Gives Cloud VARs An Edge

Google on Wednesday launched the Google Apps Certification Program, a program designed to differentiate cloud VARs selling and deploying the Google Apps cloud productivity application suite from the rest of the pack and show their expertise.

And for cloud VARs selling Google Apps, the certification program will act as a key differentiator as they look to get their feet into the doors of large enterprise contracts.

Google Apps has been growing out its reseller program and has amassed more than 3 million businesses leveraging Google Apps and more than 2,500 resellers offering the cloud application suite. Google Apps Channels Director Stephen Cho said as Google Apps continues to grow and VARs become more integral to Google's strategy, partners are looking for ways to highlight their expertise to their growing customer bases while customers are seeking out solution providers with proven know-how in the cloud.

The Google Apps Certification Program, Cho said, recognizes IT professionals and solution providers for the demonstrated abilities to sell, deploy, develop and support Google Apps, which comprises a host of cloud apps like Gmail, Calendar, Docs, Sites and more. The first certification is the Google Apps Certified Deployment Specialist, which certifies IT pros and resellers who demonstrate the fundamental knowledge and skills required to migrate to, configure and deploy Google Apps, Cho said.

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Cho said the Google Apps Deployment Specialist certification is recommended for VARs and IT professionals with three to six years of industry experience and for individuals who have completed at least three Google Apps for Business deployments. Preparation for the cloud-focused certification include instructor-led Google Apps Deployment training classes and online resources like study guides.

Obtaining the certification requires passing the Google Apps Certified Deployment Specialist exam, attending regular Google Apps product and deployment update webinars and re-taking the certification exam annually, Cho said.

Cho said he couldn't put a specific number on the amount of hours partners would have to devote to be able to pass the test, but said that building Google Apps deployment expertise is a process that could take months or quarters and requires real world experience.

"The exam is designed to be a test of the individual's expertise," he said, noting that it gauges factual knowledge and deployment know-how. "It's really more the expertise developed from actual client work."

The test is available to any IT pro or partner with a browser and an Internet connection. The online, proctored exam costs $100 and requires a $45 Webcam. Test results are available immediately following the test, Cho said. Those who pass the test receive a certificate and logos for use to illustrate they are Google Apps certified.

Google launched the Google Apps Certified Deployment Specialist exam on Wednesday, Cho said. He anticipates Google Apps will launch more certifications throughout the year, including sales and support and developer certifications. Also upcoming are certifications geared toward different levels of Google Apps expertise, such as an advanced certification.

"This is something that our customers have been asking for," Cho said, adding that "partners want to distinguish themselves in the market. It's now a designated marker and signifier of someone who has Google Apps expertise."

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Karl Lamberth, vice president of services for Atlanta-based cloud solution provider Cloud Sherpas, said being certified to deploy and offer Google Apps will be a critical component for Cloud Sherpas' business and for its clients.

"We want clients to know that what they're buying are good services," he said, adding that it gives a new level of confidence to clients.

And being Google Apps Certified gives cloud VARs an edge, especially when it comes to large enterprise accounts that won't trust their cloud environment to just any solution provider. David Hoff, vice president of technology for Cloud Sherpas, said there's a misconception that anything done in the browser is simple, but large enterprises want to move to the cloud and to Google Apps with zero downtime and few hiccups, especially when migrating e-mail systems.

"These are the organizations that clearly see the value [of working with a certified partner]," Hoff said.

Hoff said the goal is to have every member of Cloud Sherpas' migration team receive the Google Apps Certified Deployment Specialist designation. In the future, Hoff said the company is looking forward to certifications around development and around sales to differentiate it in an increasingly crowded market.

"The development area is probably our next heavy focus," he said.

The Google Apps Certification Program also differentiates itself from other cloud players and vendors in that certification holders must be re-certified each year due to the dynamic material and the exam offers flexibility in testing times and locations, since it's Web based.

"It definitely lends a lot of credibility to the Google solutions being ready for primetime and being ready for the enterprise," Lamberth said.