This past week Google announced that they have new tools to help organizations migrate their inhouse email servers like Exchange, Notes, and GroupWise to GMail. David Berlind has written a great article about the announcment. You can read it at http://blogs.zdnet.com/Berlind/?p=580
The tools are limited to Premier and Education Editions.
Should Microsoft, IBM, and Novell be worried? I spoke with an email administrator with the University of California this morning and asked him about GMail and their plans. He said that they will continue to use GroupWise inside the school for the faculty but have been in serious negotiations with Google about moving all their students email over to GMail.
Informally I have spoken with other University Admins and I’m hearing the same thing. GMail is something schools are looking at for their student bodies because of the lower cost. It isn’t just lower cost for acquisition, it is significant lower cost for administration as well.
But Microsoft, IBM, and Novell have never made a lot of money off of students anyway, so why should they worry?
They should worry because these are the first signs of a major disruption in the email market. There hasn’t been this big of a disruption since cc:Mail knocked off IBM Profs email in the 1980s and 1990s. Back then large organizations relied on Mainframe email systems like PROFS to handle calendaring, scheduling, and emailing. cc:Mail came along and stole the show by changing the playing field. You didn’t need heavy expensive hardware tied into the OS tied into the desktop. cc:Mail let you run on DOS with minimal hardware requirements. Even though cc:Mail couldn’t do all the cool things that PROFS could do, it was easier and cheaper, which meant small organizations could deploy it without incurring the high costs of the Hardware and software normally needed.
Today we are seeing the first signs of the very same issue. The first step is to find a niche that is underserved by the current offerings in the market. Higher education is such a market. It has large numbers of users, often dwarfing corporate systems, numbering in the 10s of thousands, but they have tiny IT budgets and minimal staff to manage the system. For Google to offer to take the pain of managing student accounts away from the IT staff and actually reduce their budget needs is a perfect match.
Now that the niche is established more and more Universities will begin to trust Google with the email for their student body. Soon, large organizations with similar needs will use the Universities as reference accounts to begin looking at outsourcing a segment of their users. Some prime candidates will be Insurance companies, Real Estate, organizations with large number of field sales, care dealerships, and anyone else with a large number of users who are unable to easily take advantage of a centralized email system.
Then small business will begin to make the move. Currently, Google’s tools for migration probably won’t meet the needs of many organizations because of limitations in the way GMail handles the email. But this limitation is not a show stopper and soon Google, through trial and error, will figure out what works for small businesses and will begin to offer exactly what they want. And what many small business want is an cheap and easy. They don’t want to be experts in email servers and message storage. They just want their email to work.
Larger organizations will take longer to make the move due to a wide range of issues. These include privacy of data, compliance, integration with 3rd parties, etc. But it will happen, just like the mainframes took some time to be replaced by the cheap and easy cc:Mail, Exchange Server’s days are numbered. It won’t happen this year, and it won’t happen next year, but in about 5 years the flood gates will open and companies will begin to divest themselves of their legacy Exchange 5.5, 2000 and 2003 systems.