Channel partner programs, CSPs

Google SMB Cloud Partners: “Remember That Guy?”

Diane Greene
Diane Greene

Most headlines say Diane Greene is preparing to shake up Google's enterprise cloud business. But what about the SMB market? Just a hunch... I wonder if Google needs to track down Jeff Ragusa's DNA -- and clone it across the IT channel.

Greene and Ragusa come from different worlds. One recently joined Google in the executive suite. The other left Google in early 2014 after holding a mid-level position. Both types of people can be difference makers for Google's overall cloud strategy.

First, for those who missed the headline news: Former VMware CEO and co-founder Diane Greene is now leading all of Google's cloud businesses -- including Google for Work, Cloud Platform, and Google Apps. It sounds like the right reorganization and leadership at the right time.

Although Google's cloud business is growing, the company has recently been overshadowed by Amazon Web Services (IaaS) and Microsoft (Office 365 for SaaS, Azure for IaaS). And things are particularly challenging in the IaaS market, as these Wikibon market share estimates show:

Source: Wikibon

It sounds like Greene is gearing up to accelerate Google's enterprise cloud business along with IaaS. But I keep coming back to the SMB market, where IT channel partners are so darn important.

Google Apps Gains Early Channel Lead

Rewind to 2010 or so. Microsoft was struggling to transition from lousy hosted applications (called BPOS, short for Business Productivity Online Service) to Office 365. Microsoft's early efforts hit multiple bumps. A channel partner program, at least initially, lacked the pricing and billing capabilities that Microsoft partners craved.

Meanwhile, Google Apps had a simple partner program that allowed resellers to manage billing and pricing. At the Google I/O 2008 conference, Google Apps SMB Lead Jeff Ragusa was way ahead of the market, describing early cloud partner opportunities.

Former Google Apps SMB Lead Jeff Ragusa

From about 2009 through late 2013 (my estimate; the dates could be slightly off), Ragusa was on the road at partner conferences like IT Nation. On the one hand, Ragusa was busy evangelizing Google Apps to SMB channel partners. But on the other hand, he was a very good listener -- constantly gathering partner feedback and sharing it with Google's leadership.

But by early 2014, Ragusa exited Google (according to a long-lost anonymous blogger I used to know). And I've always wondered: Has the search giant managed to retain and clone Ragusa's DNA, especially when it comes to engaging SMB partners?

Google Cloud: Current Status?

I could be wrong, but I sense that Google has lost -- rather than gained -- cloud market share vs. Microsoft and Amazon over the past two years. The Information estimates Google's current cloud revenues at about $400 million. In stark contrast, Microsoft's annual cloud run rate to businesses is about $8 billion. Ditto for Amazon.

An August 2015 CRN article suggested that Google channel partners couldn't make money anymore, and were heading for Office 365. I don't fully believe that spin -- especially since most of the disgruntled sources in the article were quoted anonymously.

Overall, Google for Work's various offerings are now deployed in more than 5 million businesses; more than 1 million Chromebooks were deployed in schools in schools in Q3 2014; and 64 percent of Fortune 500 businesses have gone Google, the company indicates.

Still, there's the SMB segment. And there's an old saying: "Eighty percent of success is just showing up." During my last go-round as a channel blogger (2008 to 2013 or so), Google's Ragusa always showed up at third-party channel partner conferences before he exited the company in early 2014. He answered partner questions.

Admittedly, I don't know if Ragusa and the SMB team managed to drive meaningful channel revenues for Google. But he was a real face, a real name, and a reliable contact for channel partners who wanted assurances that Google was truly more than a website with a search box.

Hello, Again

Fast forward to the present, and I don't see the Google team at partner events (is it just me)? Some of my PR contacts have left the company or moved onto new positions. Still, there are new contacts to be made, and new relationships to be built. Yes, a Google representative and I are trading email. Yes, we're pursuing a briefing with Google's channel leadership. And yes, I'll be sure to ask: Who is driving Google's SMB channel partner relationships these days?

No doubt, Jeff Ragusa is a tough act to follow. But everyone is replaceable. Especially if their DNA was truly injected into the company.

Joe Panettieri

Joe Panettieri is co-founder & editorial director of MSSP Alert and ChannelE2E, the two leading news & analysis sites for managed service providers in the cybersecurity market.