Google is to partner with Capgemini to provide IT services to those large businesses that adopt the Google Apps Premier Edition suite of software.

A new member of the Google Enterprise Professional programme, Capgemini will offer training, support, integration and other services for Google Apps Premier Edition customers.

Google said that the partnership with Capgemini will make Google Apps more palatable to large organisations, who prefer IT services providers to assist them with changes and additions to their large, complex IT architectures.

"Our overall partner strategy is to make sure that those customers that come on board have the services they need or request," said Kevin Smith, Google's head of enterprise partnerships.

In the case of Google Apps Premier Edition customers, some may hire Capgemini to help them with email migration, with adding the suite to an existing single sign-on system, or with making sure that the Calendar component synchronises properly with employees devices, Smith said.

Meanwhile, Capgemini, which generated revenue of US$10.4 billion in 2006, added Google Apps to the portfolio of products it supports because it believes that demand for software-as-a-service (SAAS) collaboration and communication suites will grow strongly in coming years, company officials said. For Capgemini, offering services for a SAAS suite like Google Apps Premier Edition is a natural extension of its broad expertise providing outsourced desktop support to more than 1 million users worldwide, they said.

Google Apps Premier Edition, is a fee-based version of the Google Apps suite that is tailored for workplace use in organisations of all sizes. For $50 per user per year, it offers phone technical support, software interfaces for integrating suite components with other systems and more email storage than the free Standard Edition.

As CIOs and IT managers in large companies warm up to the idea of these web-hosted suites, global IT services providers like Capgemini are drawn to develop services for them, said Rebecca Wettemann, an analyst with Nucleus Research.

"We'll likely see services providers start to recognise the opportunity to help implement these applications within enterprises, going beyond desktop management and delivering a heterogenous desktop to an organisation," Wettemann said.

Google has decided to broaden its scope and become a provider of IT products for enterprises. In so doing, it is locking horns with established players in markets like collaboration and communication software, and in enterprise search.

Google Apps, with its web hosted approach to collaboration and communication software, is seen as emblematic of the threat this SAAS model presents to Microsoft's Office, the quintessential fat-client software suite.

With an installed base of about 450 million users, Microsoft Office doesn't have a hosted version that is comparable to SAAS suites like Google Apps and others from companies like Zoho, Zimbra and WebEx.

Google Apps includes word processing, calendar, web page creation, spreadsheet applications, Webmail and instant messaging communication services.

Among the advantages of web-hosted applications is that, by holding documents in a central server, they allow users to share files and collaborate on them. Also, because vendors host them, customers don't have to worry about installing or maintaining the software nor about issues with the server hardware in which they run.

Downsides include security concerns over the hosting of sensitive data with a vendor outside the corporate firewall, server downtime problems and feature sets that often are less extensive than the ones from packaged software products.