Google Apps Marketplace: A Double-Edged Sword For Cloud Providers?

The Google Apps Marketplace has been a runaway success, and a host of cloud providers are getting in on the action launching cloud apps and tools in the Marketplace.

The Google Cloud Marketplace, which officially launched in March 2010, offers Google Apps users access to a host of various third-party tools ranging from productivity apps to management apps that supplement Google's own offerings. It has grown by leaps and bounds in just 18 months, amassing hundreds of apps and services.

And in that short time, a host of cloud solution providers have stepped up and created apps of their own to be offered in the Google Apps Marketplace, a move that both boosts their cloud profile and gives Google Apps users the world over access to their wares.

Despite the exposure, some solution providers see Google's Apps Marketplace and other marketplaces as a double-edged sword that creates a new level of competition for cloud providers in the cloud computing game.

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Google Apps reseller and cloud provider Salvair started with a migration tool to move users over from Exchange to Google Apps and later launched an IMAP tool to handle other migrations. The cloud provider developed utilities that it put into the Google Marketplace. The rationale was "we need to get [Exchange users] over to Google Apps with some sense of continuity," said Tom Cooper, Salvair principal and founder.

The problem, Cooper said, was that Google was often one step ahead.

"What we found is we couldn't out-guess Google sometimes," he said. "We didn't know if Google was going to come out with the same thing as us."

Cooper said as a reseller and cloud provider Salvair has always viewed the Google Apps Marketplace as a critical mass body that brings a focus on good solutions. He said Salvair's apps drove regular and consistent interest, but not enough that it made it worth trying to compete head to head with Google on the next big thing.

"We made a decision to go away from the Marketplace for a specific reason," he said. While Cooper wouldn't cite the exact reason it left the Google Apps Marketplace, he said the competition grew between Google and other cloud providers and it was no longer as viable a business driver as before.

"We just didn't see the future in outguessing Google and racing against competitors," he said. "It became a race to the bottom."

Next: Google Discusses Competition With Cloud Providers

Being in the Apps Marketplace, Cooper said, is a double-edged sword. The exposure can be rewarding, but spending big money to build out an app just to be beaten to the punch by the competition can be tough to swallow.

Google Product Manager Scott McMullan said "Web app collision," or two vendors creating similar features or products for Google Apps, is the biggest hurdle cloud solution providers face when developing for the Google Apps Marketplace.

"That's probably the biggest challenge our partners have," he said, adding that many times it happens with "hot-button feature gaps" or a highly coveted feature that leaves several players clamoring to create in the Marketplace.

McMullan said Google is working to quell some of the competition with proposed roadmap sharing and more communication between Google and its Apps Marketplace contributors.

McMullan said Google is diligent about creating an environment where partners can flourish via the Google Apps Marketplace whether they offer apps and integration tools for Google environments or offer services through the Marketplace.

"We clearly are trying to bring visibility in the Marketplace not only to the apps themselves, but to the partners," he said. He added that in one search a Google app user can find a cloud service offered up by a partner, and in another search can find an app that they can put to use within just three clicks. McMullan said Google is looking at better ways to connect discovery on the customer side and make it easy for customers to find not only cloud provider services but also apps and support around those apps.

McMullan said Google wants to create an environment where both Google and its more than 3,000 resellers can work together to provide products and services to Google Apps' more than 30 million users, 4 million of which have access to Marketplace apps.

Next: Cloud Providers Find Success In Google Apps Marketplace

And in the 18 months since Google launched the Google Apps Marketplace, there are a host of solution providers that have found it a great distribution vehicle through which to drive business.

Atlanta-based cloud provider Cloud Sherpas has done dramatic business with its SherpaTools app, which is ranked the No. 1 admin tool in the Google Apps Marketplace. Cloud Sherpas offers managed Google Enterprise solutions and aides organizations in migrating legacy messaging systems to Google Apps, leveraging cloud-based collaboration with Google Docs and Sites, and building custom apps with Google App Engine. SherpaTools, which adds a host of IT management functions for admins and new features for end-users of Google Apps has helped drive more than 3 million users from more than 16,000 domains in 114 countries to Cloud Sherpas.

Others, like LTech, a Bridgewater, N.J.-based Google Apps reseller and cloud provider, said the Google Apps Marketplace fuels business and gives LTech more opportunities to offer implementation and support around its products.

"We don't see the Google Apps Marketplace as any kind of competition for us as a value-added reseller," said Russ Young, executive vice president of LTech

LTech also uses the Marketplace as a sales tool, pointing customers to the Google Apps Marketplace to look at reviews when they're interested in LTech's offerings.

The key to being successful is to augment the apps with services and support, and to give customers a single throat to choke.

"We have never, ever lost a sale because someone went online and bought from the Marketplace instead of from LTech," he said. "It makes more sense to have the Marketplace than to not have the Marketplace."