Serena flip-flops: goes Google, then back to Microsoft

Interesting story from Serena software, an 800-employee company with 29 offices around the globe whose products cover application lifecycle management and business process management.

In June 2009 the company switched to Google Apps, meriting a post on the Official Google Enterprise Blog. Ron Brister, Senior manager of Global IT Operations talks about the change:

it was becoming increasingly clear that our messaging infrastructure was lacking. Inbox storage space was a constant complaint. Server maintenance was extremely time-consuming, and backups were inconsistent. Then we found that – calculating additional licenses of Microsoft Exchange, client access licenses for users, disaster recovery software, and additional disk storage space to increase mailbox quotas to 1.5GB – staying with our existing provider would have cost us upwards of $1 million. That was a nearly impossible number to justify with executives.

We thought about replacing our on-premise solution, but to tell the truth, we were skeptical. I, personally, had been a Microsoft admin for 15 years, and Microsoft technologies were ingrained in my thought processes. But Google Apps provided many pluses: Gmail, Google’s Postini messaging security software and 25 GB of mailbox space, as well as greater uptime and 24/7 phone support.

The overall move to Google Apps took all of six hours. We waited for the phones to ring, but all we heard was silence – in fact, we sat there playing meebo for quite a while – and still, nothing happened. We cut the cord all in one stroke to avoid the hassle of living in two environments at once. We made the switch globally, all in one day – and, due to the advantages of this cloud computing solution, we’ve never looked back.

Sounds good – the perfect PR story for Google. Until this happened, one year on – it’s Brister again:

We work closely with our 15,000 worldwide customers to deliver solutions that help them be more successful.  As a result, we rely heavily on collaboration tools for our employees to share information and work together with customers and partners. 

This is one of the chief reasons we’ve chosen to adopt Exchange Online and SharePoint Online together with Office 2010.  They deliver trustworthy, enterprise-class solutions – with the performance, security, privacy, reliability and support we require. We know that Microsoft is a leader in the providing these kinds of solutions, and in our discussions with them, it became clear that they are 100% committed to Serena’s success and delivering solutions that drive the future of collaboration.

Using Office, SharePoint and Exchange will allow us to collaborate more effectively internally and with customers and partners, many of whom use the same technologies, and we can do so without having to deal with content loss or clients being unable to open or edit a document. In particular, Exchange is unchallenged in its calendaring and contact management abilities, mission critical functions for a global company such as Serena.

Big change. Leaving aside the fluff about “trustworthy, enterprise-class solutions”, what went wrong? Did the phones start ringing?

I’m guessing that the biggest clue here is the point about many of Serena’s customers using “the same technologies”. Apparently there was friction between Office and Exchange elsewhere, and Google Apps at Serena. Of course this could work the other way, if the day comes when more of your customers are on Google.

Here’s a few more clues from Brister:

There are alternatives on the market that promise lower costs, but in our experience, this is a fallacy.  When looking at alternatives, CIOs should really evaluate the total cost of ownership as well as the impact on user productivity and satisfaction, as there can be hidden costs and higher TCO.  For instance, slow performance and/or lack of enterprise-class features (e.g., with calendaring and contact management) will torpedo the value of such a backbone system, and may get the CIO fired.

We are currently upgrading to Office 2010, and look forward to taking advantage its hybrid nature– enabling us to embrace the cloud for scale and more rapid technology innovation while preserving what we like about software, including powerful capabilities and the ability to work anywhere – even offline. 

Brister again mentions calendaring and contact management. I guess things like those meeting invitations that automatically populate your calendar and which you accept or reject with a click or two. Offline gets a plug too.

Note that Serena has not gone back to on-premise. I’d be interested to know how the cost of the new BPOS solution compares to the “upwards of $1 million” cost which Brister complained about in 2009, for staying on-premise.

Did Microsoft simply buy Serena back? Brister says no:

Since this blog posted, there has been some speculation that our decision to migrate from Google Apps to Microsoft BPOS was based solely on price, and that Microsoft, to quote a favorite film, made us an offer we couldn’t refuse.  This is 100% false.  Microsoft is not giving us anything for free. 

It’s important not to make too much of one case study. Who knows, Brister may be back a year from now with another story. But it shows that Microsoft cannot be counted out when it comes to cloud-hosted Enterprise software. I’d be interested in hearing other accounts of how the “Go Google” switch works out in practice.

10 thoughts on “Serena flip-flops: goes Google, then back to Microsoft”

  1. I’m sorry but the main thing I take away from this story is an appaling lack of due dilligence before the first decision. The quote about playing “Meebo” is priceless. A good example of why so many IT leaders lack credibilty in the ‘C’ suite.

  2. I’m sorry but the main thing I take away from this story is an appaling lack of due dilligence before the first decision.



  3. Serena is one of many customers who after about a year on Google Apps have found it to lacking. You can find more examples on the page below or on my TechNet blog. I think JMurray’s comment is perceptive but I do see why after the last 24months of macro economic climate, IT leaders were asked to ‘do more with less’ and Google marketing hype appealed to them that it would save money and despite it’s warts, Google claimed it would only get better.

    Customer Examples:

  4. Well, as an SME we started using Google Apps experimentally a few months ago. There’s a lot to like – the collaboration thing is very cool, and Sites also work fairly well (although they have a nasty tendency to lose links to uploaded files).

    But… there’s a lot to hate. First and foremost, in my view as a CIO, is the misnomer that is Google’s “sharing”. Unlike any other network system, if you specify that a particular folder or file should be “shared” with a user or group of users (yes, that includes users in your own domain), you WON’T find that their accounts are automatically, efficiently and seamlessly populated with the relevant folders and/or files. Nope, you actually have to send out an e-mail to these users inviting them to join the share. Once they’ve confirmed that they’re interested, they’re allowed in – but there are all sorts of little bugs. Some users won’t be able to see the folders/files even after they’ve accepted the invitation. Or they may briefly and gloriously be allowed to access the folders/files when they first accept the invitation, only to find that they’ve disappeared again the next time they log on. Other users simply don’t appear in the contact list that’s used to populate your invitation. Groups may not appear at all, ever, in anything (invitations, main contacts list, anywhere except the admin console).

    We’ve experimented with a couple of different domains, and there are copious threads on the Help forums trying to get Google to show any interest in this issue (multiple issues, actually). A couple of Google employees have acknowledged that there is an issue – but they very quickly dry up and vanish, although many threads have been running for months! For me, and apparently for other senior IT managers, it’s a big deal-breaker: how can you conceivably run a proper IT service in an environment like that? Google’s big problem? Lack of support – clearly even paying Apps users aren’t receiving very much; it’s next to impossible to contact Google directly. It’s why their smartphone didn’t do so well, by all accounts. And unfortunately it’s an area where Microsoft are very good – their knowledge base is awesome and more or less comprehensive.

    I’d love to see Google succeed, but a fundamental shift in corporate strategy is required…

  5. As an avid user of Google Apps I agree that the way “sharing” and users invitations are configured is a little annoying. It could/should be simpler and smoother. But that’s the only problems I’ve seen. On every other count, I’m extremely positive.

    Also, it is true that some companies are getting back to Msft, but I wonder if they have any specific interest as partner or got particular deals. I personally know of dozens of companies (from one man shops to international organizations with thousands of account) that moved from “client side” Office to Google Apps and are not getting back!

  6. @Marco

    Yes – my impression is that Microsoft is more likely to win where there is existing Microsoft platform infrastructure.


  7. @MadaboutDana

    I assume your complaints about sharing are no longer valid? I’ve been using Apps for about a month and haven’t seen those issues. It sometimes takes a minute, and the user may have to refresh their view, but shared docs do show up – without any sort of invitation.

  8. I don’t get why there are not more SMB customers using Msfts 100% free Live services. Our 25 employee company uses hotmail custom domains, office webapps, live calendar, and has recently invested in wp7. Performance and concistrncy from this trumps google apps, in particular spreadsheet browser experience. Excel is three decades ahead of google.

    Price 0$ …

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