Google hopes to become a major player in the enterprise space with its cloud-based Google Apps suite. But to do that, it's looking to third-party developers and resellers to help flesh out its offering and distribution.
With Cloud Sherpas, it gets both. The company is a Google Apps reseller as well as a developer offering IT management features and customization companies can't get from the search giant.
Cloud Sherpas' founders have experience as VARs in the traditional IT space working with products such as Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange that compete with Google Apps.
"When we started the company a few years ago, we saw that the cloud was going to fundamentally change the way the channel and IT worked," Michael Cohn, co-founder and CEO of Cloud Sherpas, told InternetNews.com. "Everything is much easier and streamlined in what's been called Channel 2.0 because you're not moving big iron around and developers don't have the huge startup costs they used to."
Cohn said Google Apps represented the kind of horizontal opportunity his company was looking for, specifically a focus on messaging and collaboration. The company got involved with Google before it even had a reseller program, he said.
Cloud Sherpas uses Google's cloud-based AppEngine to create custom apps and features that, like Google Apps itself, are part of the service -- so there's no installation.
For instance, the Directory Manager module lets administrators create, retrieve, update and delete rich profile information for end users, shared contacts and groups. It also provides the ability to import and export contact information in bulk. Sherpa said admins typically have to write custom code to manipulate these fields or sync Google Apps with a back-end LDAP server.
Directory Bot, another SherpaTools for GoogleApps feature, is an instant messaging client for end users designed to provide ready access to a corporate directory. Type in a name, and the bot calls up the person's contact info.
Cohn said this feature is particularly useful to mobile users. "Blackberry only lets you synch your personal address book, so this gives you access to the corporate directory," he said.
Such capabilities have resulted in Cloud Sherpas attracting dozens of customers in the upper mid-market to enterprise level with tens of thousands of users, Cohn said.
Next month, Cloud Sherpas plans to add another tool for administrators that lets them "push" settings out to users, delivering specific settings to select groups of users, such as a sales team. Current settings include "Send Mail As," "Language," and "Time zone," with more in the works.
"There are other companies with applications for Google Apps that you have to install and manage the code, but with us, as long as you're logged in to Google Apps, it's a single sign-on," Cohn said. "We're really working to reduce the barriers to usage."
Cloud Sherpas also said its getting ready to release a Compliance & Reporting tool for Google Apps.