Google Apps provides a variety of benefits for small and medium businesses. One of the most critical elements, however, is one that the businesses probably never considered when selecting Google Apps as a productivity or messaging platform: disaster recovery.

Disaster recovery may have come up in discussion, but probably not as a benefit. On the contrary, for many businesses weighing the options and exploring the possibility of leveraging Google Apps, the disaster recovery equation is often viewed from the other side - "what do we do if Google Apps is unavailable?"

Given the number of times that various web-based services provided by Google have suffered outages, or incidents like the data loss debacle experienced by mobile customers using the Sidekick, it seems like there is enough anecdotal evidence to make that a credible concern. But, a temporary outage of service has much less impact on a business than a permanent loss of data.

As Rajen Sheth, senior product manager for Google Apps, points out in a blog post, "No one likes preparing for worst-case scenarios. When you use Google Apps, you have one less critical thing to worry about."

Sheth also explained "One of the most compelling advantages of cloud computing is its power to democratise technology," adding "Google Apps gives companies of all sizes access to technology that until recently was available to only the largest enterprises. And it's available at a dramatically lower cost than the on-premises alternatives, without the usual hassles of upgrading, patching and maintaining the software."

Granted, the fact that Google is synchronously replicating data in real-time to multiple servers in geographically diverse data centers is more for Google than Google customers. Google gets some CYA (cover your "backside") protection to ensure it doesn't make headlines for losing customer data, and it can improve the service overall--reducing latency and improving overall performance by being able to retrieve data from the nearest data center.

The reasoning behind it, though - whether altruistic or not - does not negate its value. Businesses need to back up data and have a plan in place to recover it in the event of a disaster. Like most information technology concerns, small and medium businesses have the same needs as larger enterprises, but lack the resources to implement it properly. A managed service just makes sense.

Traditionally, messaging and productivity applications are installed and maintained locally. Leveraging Google Apps is itself an example of basically outsourcing those duties to Google. Now Google is also throwing in the data backup and disaster recovery part of the equation.

Compared with the cost of purchasing, deploying, and maintaining the necessary hardware and software internally, and the expense of hiring and training the personnel to invest the time and effort in configuring and administering the technology, there are many aspects of business - IT in particular - that make sense for small and medium businesses to outsource to a managed service provider.

Tony Bradley is co-author of Unified Communications for Dummies. He tweets as @Tony_BradleyPCW, and can be contacted at his Facebook page.