Google has been hosting the haughty Atmosphere conference since 2009 - it's when they trot out all of the CEOs, CIOs and CTOs that they can round up, to do a dog-and-pony show of the benefits of moving to their cloud-based app infrastructure, keeping them entertained with A-list geek speakers and a host of Google insiders.
Some of the speakers, like Google Enterprise Sales VP Amit Singh, and Google Engineering Director Astro Teller stuck to meat-and-potatoes IT topics at this week's show (Singh's "A View From The Cloud and Teller's "Building The Impossible" got good reviews from the couple of attendees I chatted with.) Other speakers did not fare so well.
"There was this one talk," one attendee said, "where they had Head of Enterprise Marketing Kate Swanborg from Dreamworks come out, and basically talk about how they do a lot of stuff in the cloud - like using 50 million files every time they make a movie, and how Google does a lot of stuff in the cloud. That was pretty much the only connection."
To figure out if a conference like Atmosphere is really successful, Google has to ask themselves two key questions:
- Did Google and their partners net any new deals from the show?
- Did any substantial product improvements to Google Apps result from this conference, or from the Atmosphere events of past years?
And attendees have to ask themselves, "Am I really comfortable with the direction that Google is going in, with Apps, social media, and all?"
You may recall Google's London 2009 show, when they hinted at this direction, by featuring Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and pioneering tech author Geoffrey Moore (Crossing The Chasm). That event was the very public beginning to the sometimes-cozy, often-confusing relationship between Google and Salesforce, and the beginning of Google's slow-but-clear alignment with Salesforce's apotheosized vision of social enterprise computing.
The goal of the conference is to get Google reference customers to sell to one another, and to introduce prospective Google customer CIOs and CEOs to Google Apps leadership like Google VP of Product Management Dave Girouard.
In one article on Atmosphere 2011, Wired's Jon Stokes reported that Girourard said, "email isn't dead yet," emphasizing that much enterprise workflow still lives in inboxes. (Stokes also makes a very sharp point in his piece about how and why Metcalfe's law - about the value of communication networks - is working against Google Apps.)
Atmosphere is Google's attempt at a mini-economic forum for senior IT decision-makers, and you can't fault Google for trying. Since the first Atmosphere conference, Google Apps has changed dramatically, and they need to convey this near Beatlesque sense of progressive growth to their emergent customer base.
Just two years ago, Google Apps was an immature product, 60 days out of "beta" status, and has just integrated Microsoft Outlook support. But a lot has changed since '09. For example, Google has scaled back their "freemium" model for Apps in recent months, cutting back the number of free accounts for Google Apps (what was previously known as Google Apps Standard Edition) from 50 to a measly 10.
It's no surprise that Microsoft got in the game this week, taking a potshot on TechNet this past Monday with a post entitled "Google Atmosphere or 'Admosphere," where Microsoft senior product manager Tony Tai smartly touted Microsoft's work with the State of California (Microsoft beat Google in 2010 in a large bid to consolidate state-level IT functions under a single-agency model).
In the article, Tai skewers Google as not much more than an advertising vendor duping smart-guy enterprise CIOs into what is basically an ad platform with a couple of software applications on it. Tai's article features cute infographics showing that 96% of Google's earnings come from ad revenue, with a scant 4% coming from the remainder of their line-items.
Points like this are poignant, yes, but they'd be a lot sharper coming from an analyst firm than a Microsoft PM. (That said, Tai is on Google+ if you want to add to your circles.)
The one compelling point Microsoft has made about the "hidden cost" of Google Apps, a May 2011 TechNet blog post, is dulled somewhat, because it's missing a comparative statement for the equivalent costs of Microsoft's Cloud Apps.
It's highly likely that Google Atmosphere 2012 will feature an even larger scope of speakers, and most likely some even-bigger name reference customers, as the war for market share in enterprise cloud computing will be only more fierce a year from now - as this growth curve from a GigaOm article on cloud storage outlines really clearly. As if you needed another chart to validate the assumption, right?
From a PR perspective, Atmosphere was bigger than in previous years - the competition appeared to have a harsher reaction and the blog and social media buzz was higher, but time will tell if Google got the sales bump they hoped for with Atmosphere 2011.
Susan Cline is the Director of Training and Change Management at Google Apps Parter Ltech. She is also the author of several Google Apps courses on Lynda.com. Visit Susan at her website http://susancline.com/ or follow her on Twitter @GoogleAppsSusan.