22 January 2010
Is Google Apps the solution startups are searching for ?
Today Google offers much more than the ubiquitous search engine that it started with. With Sketch Up, Google Maps, Google Earth, the Android operating system and the release of the Nexus One smartphone, it is positioning itself to be an integral part of everybody’s computing experience
While many of Google’s offerings enrich the experience of the web, with Google Apps it also offers the potential to fulfill broader business requirements.
Gmail and Google Apps are a classic example of “cloud computing”. Email, calendar, contacts, intranets, video publishing, text, spreadsheet and presentation document editing are all provided through one web-based interface.
While any web browser will work, it provides an ideal opportunity to try out Google’s own web browser “Chrome”. No additional software needs to be downloaded.
Investment in software
The typical model for the IT infrastructure of a business is to have servers in its own offices running data storage server software such as Windows Small Business Server. Software (for example, the Microsoft Office suite) is then purchased and installed on individual workstations and laptops. The internet connection is then configured to allow remote access.
This model requires a significant investment in computer hardware, software, maintenance and skills. It is a tried and tested solution for small and medium sized practices, but does it still stand up against Google Apps as a cloud-computing alternative?
For a 10-user office Gmail and Google Apps would cost just $500 (£307) per year. For that you get a total of 250GB of mail, calendar and contacts storage, 15GB of documents storage, a 24/7 support line and a 99.9% service level agreement. Maintaining a Microsoft Small Business Server and 10 copies of Microsoft Office would be many times this cost.
Architects are hungry users of document storage. Unfortunately Google Apps’ default capacity, at 500Mb per user, is far too small to be anything other than a combined portable desktop and glorified ftp server. It is difficult to envisage that a practice could avoid running a file server in its offices to maintain the size of data storage required.
In addition, software needs to extend to cad, image editing and desktop publishing, all areas where the Google Apps concept does not currently extend.
It is perhaps by using Gmail as an alternative to running your own Exchange Server that the Google offering is most competitive. The lack of an ability to set up shared public folders is a significant limitation, but it is a substantial step up from individual POP accounts.
Creating a local backup
The internet-hosted nature of the solution has an attraction in that it provides its own offsite copy of the data. What, however, it misses is a local copy, essential in the event that your internet connection, or Google itself, has a problem. To accommodate this it would be wise to look at third-party software such as Gmail Backup (www.gmail-backup.com).
Similarly, if you are tempted to use the Google Apps suite and online documents storage, Ltech Consulting (www.ltech.com) has a solution for creating a local backup of the Google documents area.
Gmail and Google Apps is certainly impressive and attractively priced, but it may not be for all practices. For a small startup of up to five people it might have its place, however for larger practices it would need to substantially extend its functionality and storage capacity to avoid being a bolt-on to the traditional model most architects’ offices still rely on.
The dream of cloud computing is that you will never have to buy and upgrade a software application ever again.
You don’t have to remember to take a portable hard drive or memory stick when travelling, or even your laptop. All you need is access to the internet and the username and password for your “cloud”.
All the data and all the software that you need to read view, edit and distribute your data and documents is available to you online. Computers can be simpler and cheaper —potentially a mobile phone is sufficient —and your data is always available to you.
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