Dave Girouard first joined Google seven years ago, back when the search company wasn’t even on the radar of corporate customers. Girouard now serves as president of Google’s (GOOG) enterprise division, a fast-growing (though still tiny) part of the company’s business. Over three million corporate customers subscribe to Google Apps, a suite of web services that includes customized email addresses, shared documents and calendars. And Google is determined to make its successful Android mobile operating system a viable competitor to RIM’s (RIMM) BlackBerries and Apple’s (AAPL) iPhones in the workplace. I recently caught up with Girouard to find out how his division is tackling reliability and security issues (not to mention competition from Microsoft (MSFT), Android’s prospects as a business-ready device and what the upcoming management changes at Google could mean for the company’s enterprise business.
Fortune: What’s Google doing to address concerns about storing data in the cloud?
Girouard: Our belief is that your data is safer inside Google than it is inside your own computers. But we are doing all sorts of things to make sure our user data is protected. A simple example is we now have for every Google Apps user what’s called two-factor authentication. That means in case someone gets your password you can actually block that by requiring a special code you get off your mobile device to access your account. On the reliability side it’s a similar story. There’s no system that’s prefect and no company that’s perfect and we certainly aren’t. In 2010 Gmail had 99.984% uptime. What that means is statistically the average user had 7 minutes of downtime per month in Gmail. Some were worse than that; the vast majority never saw any but that’s the average. That is an order of magnitude better than what on-premise traditional systems can do. Now, are we perfect? No. Will you ever have glitches? Yes.
Google obviously competes with Microsoft on many different aspects. On the enterprise level how do you go about competing with Microsoft’s sales teams?
Well, Microsoft is a great company and they react very well to competitors so they’re never somebody we take lightly and they certainly have more people and presence in the market than we do. Having said that we think we have some very unique capabilities and the nature of the technology change suggests there’s an opportunity for somebody new to drive this market. We do think in the realm of cloud computing we have a lot of advantages. On the sales side and the marketing side and operational side we have been building a team of folks that come fromt the industry – places like Oracle (ORCL) or IBM (IBM) or Microsoft – that are really steeped in enterprise experience but also fit with the DNA of Google. We’ve been building that team now for seven years. We also are really focused on building an ecosystem of partners. We’ll have a reach that I think can be comparable to Microsoft. It will take us time. And we want to do it in a different way.
What do you see as the advantages of Google’s cloud-based services versus Microsoft’s?
We have the advantage of being born of the cloud. We are a 100% web company. We’re not trying to retrofit anything of the past. Microsoft is a great company but their applications were built in the world of a single PC and a single user. What that amounts to is we can go faster. We are pure web. We only have one email system. We only have one code base and it allows us to be more nimble. We are putting features out to our customers that were only conceived of a few months ago or maybe even a few weeks ago. So we don’t have a to wait for the next big bang upgrade. There’s no such thing as a big bang upgrade in our world. The applications just continue to get better every week. That model of delivery is really hard for Microsoft and others to replicate.
Android’s been growing like crazy on the consumer side but on the business side there doesn’t seem to be a lot of uptake yet. What are you doing to make that happen?
Actually there’s been a lot of uptake. We hear it mostly through the companies we talk to about Google Apps. We’ve done a lot of work to make it [Android] the best experience for our apps and also make it work in a secure manner. We’ve made great progress. We already are in a situation where you can bring your Android phone to work and they can force you to have a certain policy, use a certain type of password and wipe the device in case it was lost or stolen. Android adoption is actually quite rapid in businesses and as we continue to mature the feature set with respect to device management from a business perspective it will only accelerate.
Do you expect there to be any changes in the enterprise business now that Google is undergoing management shifts with Larry Page coming on board as CEO?
Larry has always been a great supporter and advocate of our business. I interviewed with Larry when I joined a long time ago and I remember having a great conversation about enterprise computing so I have nothing but excitement for what Larry’s going to do for the company. [Outgoing CEO Eric Schmidt]’s always been a great supporter as well. So I don’t see a shift in that way. Larry is probably going to be a big advocate to giving more autonomy to businesses within Google and I think that will be a good thing. As we prove ourselves and grow we’ll probably accelerate in terms of the resources we get and the hiring we do. That’s one of the things I look forward to.
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