So Google wants to become the top enterprise applications provider, a move that would displace not only Microsoft and IBM in the office, but do away with the on-premises software industry altogether.
It's an interesting idea, and one that only Google could seriously promote at the moment, but here's another question that has not received nearly as much attention: Does Google have an infrastructure -- that is, hardware -- strategy to go along with its application-delivery plans?
In terms of dollar signs, there's no question that Google stands to make a far greater profit from software than hardware. Eric Schmidt threw out a cool $1 billion as the potential revenue stream from platforms like Google Apps and Chrome. And indeed, the fact that the company is already targeting a worldwide audience, much of which does not have a whole lot of legacy infrastructure to deal with, gives the company a better-than-average chance of persuading a critical mass that it can deliver robust enterprise services with minimal on-site infrastructure.
Still, the company is not without a few hardware cards to play. The most obvious is the Search Appliance, which just got a dose of intelligence in the form of the Self-Learning Scorer that helps predict users' search patterns by analyzing past behavior. And in a nod to the fact that Microsoft and IBM do, in fact, own the enterprise for the time being, the device provides native integration for SharePoint and new-found connectivity to Lotus Notes, not to mention broader support for CIFS, DFS, NFS and other file-sharing formats.
And then there are the servers. Those infamous, proprietary devices that Google has commissioned for itself, rather than simply deploying commodity machines, are almost the stuff of legend at this point. After all, a company like Google wouldn't bother designing its own infrastructure unless it could come up with something vastly superior to what's already on the market. The company supposedly lifted the lid on its server architecture last spring, showing Gizmodo a series of shipping containers with more than 1,000 servers, each with its own 12v battery backup.
While readers may take sides over whether the demo was real or fake, the point is that Google has built a unique infrastructure for itself -- one that it now hopes to leverage in such a way that enterprises in general can start dismantling theirs. The only kink in the plan is the traditional reticence on the part of CIOs to entrust their data to the care and safekeeping of someone else.
If that resistance proves insurmountable, Google may have no choice but to add a more significant hardware component to its $1 billion plan.