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Analyst warns of “gotchas” with Google

The Burton Group put out a press release this week warning of some “gotchas” with Google’s software as a service (SaaS). Storage Soup caught up with Burton Group enterprise search and records management analyst Guy Creese today to chat about his take on Google Apps Premier Edition. (GAPE offers, among other things, 10 GB email inboxes, which we covered over on the news page a few weeks ago).

Storage Soup: So. Let’s talk Google. Are the issues with software as a service in general or Google specifically?

Creese: There are not too many generic gotchas for software as a service. In other words, in four to five years where that’s been available, I think a lot of companies have gone from being slightly nervous about it to realizing it’s a valid form of service delivery. You look at for example and its imitators as well as the Web analytics vendors, and there are a lot of large corporations using software as a service. So from my point of view it’s less of a generic issue with software as a service and more whether this specific [Google] application is appropriate for that [market]. [GAPE] is sort of a “ready, fire, aim” thing from a product point of view.

Storage Soup: How so?

Creese: Well, for example, a lot of the offerings in Google Apps Premier Edition are still pretty rudimentary. There’s apparently a limit on sending out emails to more than 500 people in a day, so if you do that, then your account gets temporarily suspended. A lot of this behavior is really because of the way Google has done it which is basically to take Web apps and move them over to the enterprise division. I think that’s a holdover from worries about spam, whereas typically in an enterprise you don’t worry about that with employees. The workaround that Google recommends for that, if, let’s say, you’re sending out an email to 10,000 employees once a month, is to just set up separate accounts and then you can send out 500 per account. Which I think is not quite appropriate [for the enterprise.] At the moment there’s no distribution lists, and nothing comparable to PowerPoint in terms of presentation capability, although I’m sure they’re working on that.

Storage Soup: What about records management?

Creese: They do offer email archiving via a partner, Postini. But there’s silence–I’ve asked and never received an answer–on archiving for documents and spreadsheets. So that’s a bit of a worry, because you’re thinking, okay, two years from now the SEC calls me up, and says hey, what about this? And so then let’s assume everybody’s filed tons of documents, although you may be able to get at the documents, part of electronic discovery is only giving over the pertinent ones and not handing over everything. So you can do search, but it’s not always that great. You’re kind of stuck, because Google has your documents, but there’s no possibility of Google sending a really huge file transfer so you can then take those documents and use whatever electronic discovery software you want on them. They haven’t really thought about that.

Now, to be fair, this seems to be a blind spot with a lot of software as a service applications. The emphasis has been on a service that’s quick to put up and easy to maintain and so on, but for a short while there has been a lot of legacy thinking. When I talk to software as a service companies, one of my stumper questions is often, “So how do you handle records management?” And there’s often a long silence.

Storage Soup: What about concerns about privacy and security?

Creese: In the security spectrum of things, for me a higher concern is still the records management part as opposed to the intrusion part. They do this day in and day out and have dogs and armed guards and all kinds of stuff. for example certainly has corporate information that’s pretty valuable to people, and companies who’ve gotten used to the idea that Salesforce is their agent and it’s not going to march out and sell their information. From an intrusion point of view, I certainly haven’t heard people worry about that.

Storage Soup: Anything else that’s related to storage that you feel is important to bring up with software as a service?

Creese: These companies will eventually get to the point where they can’t save everything. Even with storage prices dropping, as more and more corporations put their data into software as a service there’s going to be a tipping point coming, where either it starts to become expensive to save everything for the service and the service therefore raises its rates, or it’s just too difficult to find what’s there. It’s sort of like having an 8 million volume university library and no card catalog. The information is there but it’s as if it weren’t there because it’s not retrievable. I just think it’s something that enterprises should ask about. When they host this in internal software, they worry about that.

Storage Soup: But doesn’t their search engine answer that concern? Wouldn’t that be Google’s answer?

Creese: Yes, but it’s keyword search, so ultimately you run into the problem of what if you didn’t use the same term to describe the same thing? That’s what often comes up in electronic discovery, where somebody calls something one thing and someone else in the business calls it something else, and you sit there racking your brain trying to think of all the different ways somebody could refer to something. There are search engines that are much more concept-based, so for example if you have a physician saying “myocardial infarction” and a lay person saying “heart attack”, that those are viewed as documents of the same thing, even though the keywords are completely different.

The good news is that with Google getting into this, they’re going to be putting tons of resources into it, and the service will improve by leaps and bounds every month. But at the moment I would say it’s still a work in progress.

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