Google Partners Prep For Cloud War With Microsoft

Google's cloud promise is "100 percent cloud," while Microsoft's cloud mantra is "all in." Both powerhouses are gunning for cloud dollars and clamoring for channel partners to evangelize their respective cloud visions.

As resellers and solution providers go head-to-head against each other for cloud deals, Google resellers are prepping for a battle in the field against Microsoft. While they recognize that it's an uphill climb against the Redmond software giant, many Google VARs feel they're at an advantage.

During this week's GSocial conference in Santa Clara, Calif., a cadre of Google VARs and ISVs shared their strategies and plans of attack against Google's biggest cloud foe, Microsoft, and its latest cloud platform, Microsoft Office 365.

Google's partners are picking up the ball in the ongoing cloud kerfuffle between Google and Microsoft, which has sparked a war of words between the tech titans with Microsoft claiming that Google's heart is not in cloud computing and several other barbs from both camps as Google and Microsoft continue to argue over whose cloud plays have the most collaboration chops.

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Some Google partners argue that Microsoft is clinging for dear life to its legacy software roots and moving to the cloud by necessity.

"This is a decision of whether you want to remain legacy or move to the cloud," said Davide Petramala, vice president of marketing and business development for Esnatech, an ISV that makes a unified communication offering for Google Apps. Petramala tells the Google cloud story this way: Google is the core, ISVs are the pieces and the VARs put it all together. That evangelizes what it means to be in the cloud, something he said Microsoft's cloud vision lacks.

"It puts us at a competitive advantage," he said.

Allen Falcon, CEO of Cumulus Global, a Westborough, Mass.-based Google reseller, also presents the case for Google by asking customers if they want a cloud that requires on-premise ties or one that is 100 percent browser-based. "Is it a cloud attached to your infrastructure that you want or do you want a cloud solution and you can use your infrastructure if you want to?" Falcon said he asks customers.

According to some Google VARs, Microsoft Office 365 doesn't count as a true cloud solution, as it requires on-premise capabilities in Office 2010 to be able to use all of its features; and thick client software must be installed. Microsoft, in an e-mail to CRN, said that full Office 365 functionality does not require Office 2010. Microsoft's system requirements for Office 365, however, recommend Office 2007 SP2 or Office 2010 for full functionality.

Google also beats out Microsoft on SLAs. Partners said Google's 99.9 percent SLA includes planned downtime, while Microsoft's does not. Microsoft also disputed that Google bests its SLA.

"We offer the industry's most rigorous financially-backed SLAs," a Microsoft spokesperson said in an e-mail. "We guarantee 99.9 percent uptime, or we give customers money back. We count issues for any number of impacted users, not just if 'enough' users are impacted. Google requires more than 5% of users to be down before they recognize any downtime, and their SLA doesn’t even cover some of the apps included with Google Apps. What's more, Microsoft offers 24x7 customer phone and community support regardless of the level of impact. We know our customers expect guarantees they can trust, and that’s what we deliver. Microsoft Online Services have averaged 99.9 percent or better uptime for the past year.

Other solution providers preach the value that Google delivers over Microsoft. That value can take several forms ranging from cost savings, to flexibility to going fully Web.

"It's more important to speak to the value," said Nicole Ballins, who runs AO: Communications business development for Centennial, Colo.-based solution provider AccuCode.

Ballins said one key area where Google brings value is in attracting users among today's young work force. She said many college grads entering the workforce now were groomed on Google and have been immersed in the cloud. That's a major selling point when a company is evaluating cloud providers, as many will soon be hiring from a pool that includes many potential hires from "generation Z."

"They run on Google, not on Microsoft," she said of current twenty-somethings.

Kevin Lalor, president of Livermore, Calif.-based Business Intelligence 101, a solution provider and Google reseller, said one of his sales tactics against Microsoft is to show prospects where Google and Microsoft make their money: Google makes money by bringing people online to generate ad revenue, while Microsoft makes money from software licenses for Windows and Office. Basically, if you're on the Web, Google cashes in, so it's in Google's best interest to be in the cloud.

Next: Overcoming Microsoft Bias

It's important to remember, however, that most customers won't be able to make the move to Google in one fell swoop, some Google VARs said. Instead, they'll have to use it in conjunction with their legacy infrastructure, which in many cases will include Microsoft products.

"They're saddled with a ton of legacy infrastructure," Petramala said, adding that may be a reason some customers hesitate to move to Google's cloud.

And being the incumbent, which Microsoft is in many cases, often keeps a vendor top of mind. "They like the Microsoft name," Ballins said, later adding that if AccuCode loses a deal and that prospect goes with Office 365, the customers are often "not willing to even look at a solution from someone else." They say "I'm comfortable with my Microsoft solution and I don't want to go with Google," she said.

Falcon agreed.

"We often find we're doing less competing with Microsoft than with the customers' perception of Microsoft," he said. To help overcome that barrier, Falcon said he points to recent cloud outages suffered by Google and Microsoft, respectively, and how Google Docs recovered after 35 minutes from an outage that was created by an existing bug revealed during a major upgrade; and how Office 365 has suffered several hours of downtime due to operational issues like DNS snafus.

But the differentiation isn't just on technology, Falcon said. It comes down to price, collaboration and capabilities as well.

Still, some Google solution providers aren't convinced that it’s a lopsided cloud war.

David Albrecht, CTO of Wishery, an ISV that makes a cloud CRM app, said the Google versus Microsoft debate isn't about one being in the cloud and the other one not being in the cloud. He said Microsoft is a "formidable competitor" and has been investing heavily and pulling out all of the stops to make its cloud presence known, from primetime television commercials to major ad pushes.

"They see what's coming," he said. "They understand if they don't get their act together they're going to lose business."

Albrecht said Microsoft sees Google and other cloud providers as an existential threat and they harbor no illusion that change is necessary.

"I don't think people are giving them enough credit," he said.

Still, Falcon said Microsoft is worried about cannibalizing its own revenue stream with cloud offerings. He said he often squares off for a deal versus two different Microsoft providers, one pitching on-premise and one pitching cloud. Microsoft has to streamline its partner programs so it's not competing against itself, he said. Microsoft also disputed those claims.

"We don't give customers a technology ultimatum. We lead with what is best for the customer, whether that's a cloud service, on-premises software or a combination of both. Knowing there is no one-size fits all solution, we provide a number of diverse choices for a diverse array of customers," Microsoft said, later adding: "Microsoft believes in creating new growth opportunities for all of our partners to reach more customers, deliver more complete services and unlock new business. Offering on-prem or cloud solutions to a customer gives them a greater variety of choices on what works for their business and as such, the type of partner they would like to work with."

Meanwhile, Lalor compared the cloud to the industrial revolution, when companies moved close to water to run the gears that powered their in-house manufacturing so they could product widgets faster. He said Microsoft is still selling the gears, while Google enables companies to move away from the water and leverage centralized power.

"Break away," he said. "Free yourself and focus on what you do and let the other guys worry about pulleys and wheels."