Google adds Postini e-mail services to apps suite

Google Inc. will add e-mail security, compliance and recovery services to Google Apps Premier edition at no extra charge, boosting an area of this hosted communications and collaboration suite that is key for its adoption by large organizations.

The services — from Postini, which Google acquired last month — include e-mail controls for Apps Premier administrators like configurable spam and virus filtering; setting and management of usage policies; and recovery of deleted messages.

The Postini services will be available on Wednesday in the English-language version of Apps Premier and next month in the international version, available in 27 languages.

Apps Premier competes against traditional, on-premise communication and collaboration suites, like IBM Corp.’s Lotus Notes/Domino and Microsoft Corp.’s Office and Exchange, both of which are generally considered to be more powerful and sophisticated but also pricier.

Google argues that its Apps Premier’s Web hosted architecture, in which Google houses the software in its data centers, saves customers from having to install and maintain it, different from rival products. Google also touts Apps Premier’s capabilities for letting users share documents and collaboratively edit them.

However, Apps Premier is far from being the only option for hosted collaboration and communication suites. Other well-known ones include Cisco Systems Inc.’s WebEx WebOffice, Zoho and Zimbra, which Yahoo is in the process of acquiring.

Prior to its acquisition by Google, Postini offered these services as add-ons to Apps Premier edition for an additional fee.

By bundling these Postini services at no extra charge, Google makes clear how serious it is about extending Apps Premier’s adoption beyond small and medium size companies, an analyst said.

“This shows Google is willing to sacrifice revenue opportunities in exchange for [enterprise] market share,” said Matt Cain, a Gartner Inc. analyst.

Over half a million organizations have signed up for Google Apps, which translates into “millions” of active end users, according to Google. However, few customers are large companies, which make up the so-called “enterprise” IT market.

Having “first-class spam and anti-virus filtering” like Postini’s is mandatory in the enterprise, along with compliance and recovery capabilities, Cain said.

Apps Premier has had spam and anti-virus filtering features in Gmail, but the Postini technology is sharper and more sophisticated, and should offer a marked improvement for current users, Cain said.

The ability to centrally set and manage usage policies lets administrators add footers to every message and block messages with specific keywords or attachments.

They can also create policies that apply to user groups or individuals, and monitor all e-mail communications for compliance auditing purposes. Regarding restoration of messages, administrators can recover e-mails in the last 90 days.

Other Apps Premier improvements: a new email routing feature that lets organizations run the suite in parallel with a different e-mail system; and an increased e-mail storage to 25G-bytes per user, up from 10G-bytes. Google Apps Premier customers who bought the Postini services now included in the suite will not get reimbursed for the time left in their Postini agreements.

There are more Postini services Google could integrate with Apps Premier, which is the workplace version of the suite and costs $50 per user per year.

One Postini service that remains an add-on at extra charge is for archiving and e-discovery, designed for helping businesses comply with legal and industry mandates to archive, discover, and produce electronic communications.

Other Postini add-on services available to Apps Premier include Web content filtering, instant messaging security and message encryption.

All these add-on capabilities are also important to large organizations, and would be good additions in the future to Apps Premier’s core functionality, Cain said.

Other improvements that would make Apps Premier’s Gmail more attractive to enterprise customers include a redesigned user interface and more reporting capabilities that gave administrators more granular views of e-mail activities, Cain said.

For example, Google should revamp Gmail so that it works more like a regular e-mail program like Microsoft Corp.’s Outlook, something Yahoo Inc. did in the consumer space with Yahoo Mail’s new version, Cain said.

Google also should provide offline capabilities for the Apps suites. That way, Gmail users could perform e-mail activities while disconnected from the Internet, Cain said.

In addition to Gmail, Apps Premier includes instant messaging, calendar, as well as word processing, spreadsheet and presentation applications.

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