Pumpkin Spice Brake Pads

Pumpkin Spice Cloud Solutions

Pumpkin Spice Brake PadsIt doesn’t just happen. It seems to become a bigger and bigger thing over time. More feel like they are missing out. More try to join in. Many see an opportunity and try to ride the perceived popularity. And many get turned off because of personal taste or even just to buck the trend.

Such is the tangential arc of fads and trends. And, unfortunately, such is the way many small and midsize businesses approach the cloud. 

There is little doubt that Cloud Computing is a trend that is quickly evolving into a “real thing” with staying power. Many “experts” insist it is the “thing to do”. And while we do not disagree with these experts — we do believe that cloud is the best strategic and tactical direction for most (not all!) businesses — approaching cloud as a trend in which we need to participate is the wrong approach. SMBs that get caught up in the “trend” will miss the long term opportunities and will do more harm than good.

Small and Midsize Businesses are Different!

Much of the hype around “Digital Transformation”, machine learning, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence focuses on the enterprise. Yes, these capabilities will make it to SMBs and cloud will help accelerate the availability and adoption. SMBs, however, do not generally have the resources to run DevOps teams and rebuild or build custom applications.  SMBs rely much more heavily on SaaS and packaged solutions.

For SMBs the challenge is to pick the application or system that fills the need, and integrate that application or system into the overall ecosystem. Microsoft, Google, Salesforce.com, and others are creating ecosystems that foster integration within the ecosystem, but offer less support for solutions outside the multi-vendor boundaries they create.

A Cloud Forward Approach

Given this reality, a forward-looking approach is critical to your cloud success.  Your IT should clearly help you achieve your business goals and objectives. Your goals and objectives are forward looking, so too should be your IT and cloud decisions. For many SMBs, the first major decision is which cloud, and the initial focus is on productivity.  Do you go Office 365 and build your ecosystem around Microsoft 365 and Azure?  Do you deploy G Suite and look to deploy apps and systems Google Cloud Platform? Are you using Salesforce.com and will you limit yourself to solutions on the force.com platform? Are you looking at services or solutions that run on Amazon Web Services, and if so, how do those fit in?

Cloud Forward starts by asking the question “Which Cloud?”.  To answer, we map business goals and objectives into technology-driven objectives that, in turn, guide your decisions. Knowing that “cloud” is not simply “what we have running someplace else”, we actively assess other factors that should guide your decision — the structure of your information, your company structure, the culture your have or want, your existing applications and systems, industry-specific solutions, mobile and remote work, and more. We look ask uses about their preferences and what tools they feel make them most productive. And, we look at the near-term and long-term integration required to create a holistic solution.

Without a comprehensive assessment and understanding, your cloud solution will behave like a fad — a trend that fades.  By looking Cloud Forward, you can avoid the hype and fluff. You will focus on substance and will realize tangible results.


Contact us for more information or a complementary Cloud Advisor Session. For a customized Which Cloud Analysis and Recommendation, please complete our Which Cloud Survey. We are waiving the $895 fee through the end of 2017.


 

Drive File Stream

Does Team Drives + Drive File Stream = File Server?

Drive File StreamLast month, Google (finally) released Drive File Stream. Unlike the Drive Sync Client it replaces, Drive File Stream provides “mapped drive” access to files in Drive. In doing so, you can browse, search, and use Drive like you would any mapped drive through Windows File Explorer and Finder on Macs. By mapping and using a cache, you have access to all of your Drive contents without having to sync all of your content to your device. While you can still select files and folders to sync for offline access, the Drive File Client gives you and your local applications access to your files in Drive.

The Real Value is with Team Drives

As a second improvement over Drive Sync Client, Drive File Stream connects you to both your “My Drive” and “Team Drive” hierarchies. The integration with Team drives, in particular, adds specific value. Team Drives provide file sharing hierarchies that include many traits of a traditional file serves. With Team Drives, the system owns the space and administrators centrally manage permissions. You can grant members of Team Drives limited administrative rights and you can control which members can view, comment, and edit files and folders. Permissions are hierarchical with inheritance pushing permissions down to subfolders and files.

Combining Team Drives and Drive File Stream gives you a “file server like” experiences. You use your local apps, browsing and searching for files in Explorer or Finder. You open, work with, and save files like you do for local files and files on traditional file servers. You manage permission by Team Drive and your folder hierarchy. And while you do not have all of the granularity with Team Drives as you do with a Windows File Server, for example, you have enough to build a managed file service. Because of the differences in permissions granularity, you are more likely to have more Team Drives than you might have top level folders on a traditional file server.

Does Team Drives + Drive File Stream = File Server?

Combining Team Drives and Google File Stream does not give you all of the features and functions of a traditional file server. By creating a managed file service, however, you do have the power to manage access and use of your data and information. And better than a traditional file server, your managed file service will server the needs of user with local, traditional applications and those working in the cloud.


Best Practice: Plan your team memberships and permission, hierarchies, and management strategies before you start building your Managed File Service using Team Drives and Drive File Stream. Contact us for a Cloud Advisory session to discuss your needs and project.


 

Google Drive

Picking the Right Google Drive Client

Google DriveToday is the day that Google makes Drive File Stream generally available to all G Suite users. As of December 11, 2017, Google will fully deprecate and end support for the old Google Drive Client that has, up until now, provided users with the ability to sync and share files between Drive and their devices. Recently, Google also released Backup and Sync.

Which Drive Client is Right for You?

Briefly, Backup and Sync is a personal utility that Google has publicly classified as a “consumer” tool. Drive File Stream is a support part of G Suite and is designed for business users. For most businesses, even small businesses, Drive File Stream will be best. While Drive File Stream will not let you sync other local folders, it will provide “native drive” access to both My Drive and Team Drives. This style of access gives you nearly universal access to files in Drive from local applications, without large sync directories and large local storage demands.

A Deeper Look

Feature Drive File Stream Backup and Sync
Access files in My Drive Y Y
Access files in Team Drives Y
Stream files on demand Y
Sync only selected folders in My Drive Y Y
Sync only individual files in My Drive Y
Use native applications like MS Word and Photoshop Y Y
Sync other folders, such as Documents or Desktop Y

Better Look and Feel

Drive File Stream will have a new look on your local machine, instead of syncing between a “Google Drive” folder and My Drive, Drive File Stream will appear as a local disk:

  • Mac: Google Drive appears in Finder under Devices
  • Windows 7: Google Drive appears in Explorer as a mounted drive under My Computer and Favorites
  • Windows 10: Google Drive appears in Explorer as a mounted drive under This PC and Quick Access

Sync & Share

You will still be able to flag folders (and individual files!) for sync to the local disk for offline and high-performance access.

Office 365

The Curse and Blessing of Office 365 Licensing

Office 365If you ask IT pros about Office 365 licensing, they are likely to roll their eyes.

If you ask which license is right for you, the conversation will likely start with a heavy sigh. Microsoft has 6 primary Office 365 license options for business, several add-ons, a number of special-purpose licenses, and over a dozen stand-alone and value-add products.

The Curse is Confusion

Between the number of options and the frantic rate of new features and updates, we are not surprised when companies complain that picking the “right license” is confusing. You end up bouncing between tabs and browsers, comparing feature lists that never seem to have enough detail. You struggle to find which add-ons work with each license type. You may not even know where to look for specialty licenses that can save you money. And with the rapid growth of features and functions, you wonder if the web pages you scour for information reflect the latest updates and options.

The Blessing is Customization

You can escape the confusion. And, in doing so, you can customize your Office 365 licensing plan to best meet your needs. With “too many options”, you can mix and match licenses to the needs of your users. You can tailor the feature sets for groups of users and lower your average cost per user at the same time. You can decide when to rely on built-in features or third party solutions to meet specific business requirements. You can decide which users get add-ons and which do not.

The Key is Understanding

The good news: with guidance and understanding of the Office 365 and Microsoft 365 licensing structures, you can plan and implement subscriptions that meet your organization’s needs at the most affordable cost. By looking beyond Microsoft-only options to select third party tools, you can mix in lower cost licenses without sacrificing compliance, threat protection, telephony, and needed features. You can map out a strategy that enables hybrid computing and services and capabilities move to the cloud over time. You can integrate your cloud an on-premise environments into a seamless service.

The better news: you do not need to gbecome an expert.  Our Cloud Advisors, backed by experts from Microsoft, are ready to assess your needs, explore alternatives, and design solutions options. You gain understanding and select the option that best fits with your needs, priorities, and budget.

Your Next Step is ….

If you haven’t settled on a Office 365 or G Suite as your cloud suite, or if you think you should change from one to the other, your next step is our Which Cloud Analysis.  You complete a comprehensive survey and we provide a formal report that assesses your needs and environment and provides specific recommendations. We will also schedule a Cloud Advisor Session to review and discuss our findings and recommendations.

If you have decided, or currently use, Office 365, contact us to schedule a Cloud Advisor Session to review your environment and needs.  We will help you assess, plan, and implement a solution that delivers the value you want and need.


 

Data Protection

The Protection We Are Missing

Data ProtectionBack in 2006, the big problem with email was SPAM.  Unwanted messages pushing “healthy pills” and cell phone deals inundated our mailboxes and clogged our Internet connections.  At times, over 90% of all email traffic reaching our local servers was unwanted junk. We fought back and, for a long time, won the battle. With tools like Postini (purchased by Google and part of Gmail since 2008), we were able to block spam and email viruses “in the cloud” before they reached our email servers and services. And while spammers became more sophisticated, our technologies were able to keep up.

Over the past year or so, however, we have clearly lost ground. It feels like we are back to square one.

Spam and malware attacks via email are on the rise. This time around, the consequences can be disastrous. Blocking unwanted emails about supplements is still needed, but cryptolocker, ransomware, and destructive malware can destroy your data and your business.

What happened?

We see a convergence of several factors leading to the increase in successful malware attacks.

The IT Industry Became Complacent

Antivirus and email security vendors wrongly assumed that their existing models of protection were capable of keeping up with new types of threats.  For nearly a decade, this assumption held true. Cyber-criminals study and understand how to exploit weaknesses in our existing protections; they build malware that goes undetected by our traditional methods of discovery. Our industry was slow to recognize that systemic changes were needed to stay on top, and ahead, of the game.

We Face New Threats

To stay ahead of anti-virus protections, malware has grown up. A new class of malware, known as Advanced Persistent Threats, exists. On average, APTs sit on systems and networks for more than 4 months before activating. During this time, they periodically test the system security and protections. They learn how to act to avoid detection. While our legacy protections are watching the doors and windows, the threat is hiding under the bed.

Humans Deliver the Goods

Cyber-criminals have learned that human nature is easier to exploit than technology. They now send us messages and present web pages that look and feel valid. We are willing but unknowing accomplices when click links and install malware on our systems from fake emails and web sites. The human instincts to help and trust readily betray us when we are not careful.

We Assume our Vendors do the Work

Both Microsoft and Google tell our customers that their email and other information in the cloud gets backed up. What they do say is that these backups are to maintain service reliability and not to protect us from damage or loss due to application or human error. We hear “data backup” and we assume our protection is greater than the reality. This assumption holds true when we are told about built-in protections against cyber-threats.

We focus on Cost not Value

Cloud computing drives down cost perception faster than it drives down cost. Major cloud players wage periodic price wars. Cloud services like Office 365 and G Suite continually add new capabilities without increasing prices. We do not expect, and do not want, to pay for extras. You are as likely to fall victim to ransomware from a corrupt or hacked web site than by clicking on an email attachment. While nearly all of our customers protect email, fewer than 5% protect web traffic. Web protection is added cost that does not appear to have value until after the cyber attack.

Good News: We Have Solutions

While we have created a bit of a mess, we do have options. Innovative vendors have built new solutions that affordable confront and address the new wave of threats. Using the power of cloud, some vendors have radically improved their solutions while others have taken a step back and built new, strategic solutions. To protect your business, you need to protect your email service and your web browsing.

  • Web protection should scan and analyze all web traffic, intended (page you click) and unintended (the auto-start video stream, cookie update, etc.) for all web traffic from any device you use.
  • Email protection should pre-screen (open and validate) links and attachments in a sandbox (safe environment) before allowing messages to reach your inbox.

The solutions are affordable, are easy to manage, and can be up and running in no time. A dollar of cost can protect against thousands of dollars loss.


For more information, or a free assessment and set of recommendations for your business, contact us today.


 

How You Work ...

How you Work Influences Which Cloud is Right for You

How You Work ...Both G Suite (Google Apps) and Microsoft Office 365 provide cloud productivity tools and a foundation for a productive cloud ecosystem. Several factors influence which cloud is best for you. Having discussed culture clash and line of business apps in past posts, I want to focus on how you — and your team — work.

  • How much work is on-site? How much needs to be on-site?
  • How often is work done while mobile/remote? How critical is this work?
  • What is the balance between individual and team assignments?
  • Are teams a collection of individuals working on their own assignments or a collaborative group?
  • Are teams organized according to the organization hierarchy or by purpose, goal, or function?
  • Does your team need, or have, access to data from line of business systems?
  • How often is “copy/paste” or data re-entry a part of your workday?

These questions, and others, highlight that how we work as individuals and teams can vary greatly.

Organizations with higher numbers of mobile users, for example, tend to prefer ease of individual access to files over hierarchical organization.

Collaborative teams thrive when they have ready access to chat, video conferencing, co-editing, and social tools, whereas teams of individual contributors tend to rely on email and periodic meetings.

When work roles require access to data across line of business apps, integration is seen as more important than advanced features.

When deciding which cloud, consider how you and your team work now, as well as how you want to work in the future. Map these requirements to the cloud ecosystem you intend to build to ensure that you do not create roadblocks to your own success.


Complete our Which Cloud Survey and we will provide you with a custom Assessment and Recommendation report.  Normally a $895 service, it is yours free and without obligation through August 2017. Click here for more info and to start the survey.

Office 365

SMBs Benefit from Office 365 Business Premium Enhancements

Office 365One of the value propositions we see with Microsoft Office 365 is the aggressive manner in which Microsoft continues to add services, features, and apps to the service without changing price.

This week, Microsoft announced the addition of two new capabilities to the Business Premium license:

Outlook Customer Manager

A simple CRM tool for small businesses, Outlook Customer Manager lets you track your customers, contacts, sales activities, and important events from your Inbox.

Microsoft Bookings

Microsoft Bookings offers convenient, flexible online options that make it quick and easy for customers to schedule appointments with your small business clients. A customizable public webpage allows customers to find available times and book appointments, anytime. A private calendar enables your small business clients and staff to manage their schedules; automatic confirmations and reminders help to save time.

Google Drive

Team Drives Launches for G Suite Business, Enterprise, & Education

Google DriveMost file storage solutions weren’t built to handle the explosion of files that are now created and shared in the cloud — because they were initially designed for individuals, not teams. With this amount of shared data, admins need more controls to keep their data safe and teams need to feel confident working together. Team Drives deliver the security, structure and ease-of-use enterprises need by making it easy to:

  • Add new team members. You can manage team members individually or with Google Groups and give them instant access to relevant Team Drives.
  • Keep track of your files if a team member leaves. Team Drives are jointly owned by the team, which means that anything added to Team Drives stays there no matter who comes or goes. Whirlpool Corporation, for example, uses Team Drives to manage file access. Says Troy McKim, Collaboration Principle at Whirlpool Corporation, “If you place files for a project in Team Drives, you don’t have to worry about losing them or moving them when files are re-owned.”
  • Understand and manage sharing permissions. Team members automatically see the same files regardless of who adds or reorganizes them. You can also manage share permissions by defining the restrictions for editing, commenting, reorganizing or deleting files.
  • Manage and view Team Drives as an admin. Admins can see Team Drives for a user and add new members if necessary: “Team Drives also ease the speed at which a team member can onboard and become effective in their new role,” says McKim.

Team Drives are now generally available to all of our G Suite Business, Education, and Enterprise customers.

Which Cloud? Let Your “Line of Business” Apps Be Your Guide

Should your CRM, ERP, or Warehousing system guide which email service you use? Yes, and here’s why …

Many SMBs think of Office 365 and G Suite (formerly Google Apps) as an email service or collaboration tools for emails, files, and chats. Both Office 365 and G Suite are, however, collaboration suites focused on individual and team productivity. Once in place, your productivity cloud becomes the cornerstone of your cloud services and your IT ecosystem.

In deciding which cloud, your line of business systems should guide your decision. Whether you choose Office 365 or G Suite, your productivity cloud will provide the platform that your line of business systems will use to present information and that you will use to view, share, and analyze data.

Born in the cloud, G Suite is built on a cloud-centric philosophy that promotes the use and integration of cloud (ie, SaaS) business apps.  G Suite does not include CRM, project/task management, data analysis apps, or other tools.  With G Suite the expectation is that you will use the capabilities of Google Cloud Platform, other Google services, or third party apps to meet these needs.  The G Suite model centers on your picking “best of breed” or “best fit” cloud-based solutions.

While Office 365 integrates with dozens, of third party, the Office 365 philosophy is to provide an integrated suite of solutions.  Delve, Power BI, Planner, Sway, and Teams are all examples of value-add solutions that Microsoft includes in the Office 365 suite to go beyond basic communication and collaboration.  With the addition of Dynamics 365, you have many line of business, data analysis, and planning functions covered without looking to third party apps.

Where Do Your Line of Business Apps Fit in the Decision Matrix?

If your Line of Business (LoB) systems run on premise with MS SQL Server Database, will run hybrid on-premise and in-cloud, or will continue to run in a Microsoft ecosystem, Office 365 comes with the ability to connect business intelligence, data analysis, reporting, and communications tools directly to your systems.

If you are running, or moving to SaaS-based systems for LoB solutions, your business intelligence, data analysis, and reporting solutions will likely be cloud solutions as well. G Suite provides and ecosystem for pulling these together in a manner.

Both Office 365 and G Suite integrate with on-premise and hybrid cloud solutions.  Both work with many third party solutions.  But Office 365 and G Suite each have their own strengths and philosophies. While you should not be limited by your current infrastructure, the nature of your current and planned LoB systems should, therefore, be an important factor when you decide which cloud is right for you.


For a better sense of which cloud is right for you, get a free assessment and consulting session by completing our Productivity Cloud Questionnaire. The survey takes 30-40 minutes to complete. We will respond with an analysis and recommendations report, and a free Cloud Advisor session to review our findings.

Culture Clash: Office 365 and G Suite

IT preferences can feel like religion. Mac vs PC. Linux vs Windows, iOS vs Android. The same holds true with cloud services. The historical presence of MS Office in our daily work lives makes moving to G Suite feel more like a radical shift than moving to Office 365. And while there is something to be said for familiarity, the way we’ve always done things is not necessary the best way to do them, or the way we should be doing them in the future.

Our work environments are changing from structure and hierarchy to collaboration and teams.

The productivity tools we pick should foster and support the way your team wants to work rather than forcing your team into structures and processes that can stifle innovation, initiative, and productivity.

Both Microsoft Office 365 and G Suite give you the tools to help your team collaborate and thrive. The approaches, however, differ.

The Microsoft Angle

For about two years, Microsoft has focused on “cloud first; mobile first” as its strategy and mantra. The evolution of Office 365 and Azure demonstrate Microsoft’s commitment and enthusiasm for the collaboration economy.

But Microsoft is about rapid evolution, not revolution. Microsoft understand that you have legacy systems and data — from MS Office documents to line-of-business systems — that you cannot replace all at once.  One of the strengths of Office 365 is the ability to integrate the service with existing servers, applications, and data. In doing so, new capabilities work not only with cloud-based systems and data, but with your existing IT systems and services.

Microsoft’s cloud-first strategy is clearly to expand the capability of Office 365, but let you access your on-premise systems and data. Case in point: Power BI.  Power BI is a user-driven data analytics tool in Office 365 that is not part of the MS Office suite.  Power BI lets you connect and include data from Excel, SQL Server, Dynamics, and hundreds of other sources — on premise and in the cloud.

The Google Angle

Google has always been cloud-first — some might say cloud-only — in its strategy.  Yes, G Suite integrates with your local Windows network and with your desktop MS Office suite. But the real power of G Suite is the innate design around collaboration and peer connectivity. Every app — and nearly every feature — supports real time collaboration.  The apps within G Suite are designed to be efficient and “lighter weight” than other productivity suites, focusing on the functionality used by 80-90% of users and relying on third party solutions for the rest.

G Suite assumes, if not expects, you to use third party applications and solutions to build out your capabilities. Google focuses on integration with third parties as much, if not more, than adding major apps and functionality to G Suite. Need a CRM system? Take your pick from dozens of solutions ranging from major players like Salesforce.com and Prosperworks to niche and vertical market solutions like Bullhorn. Need a task management solution? Hive, Smartsheets, and many others are ripe for the picking.

Google’s cloud strategy is clearly to provide a core productivity platform and to empower organizations to pick “best fit” and “best of breed” cloud (SaaS) solutions to fill broader needs and provide line of business functionality.

Culture Clash

Even with a Cloud-First strategy, Microsoft focuses on including and providing a broad range of apps and solution within the Windows/Office365/Azure ecosystem. Yes, Microsoft fosters relationships and integrates with other cloud solutions and apps. Microsoft also integrates with legacy, on-premise systems. Google’s culture is more “all in cloud”. Yes, you can integrate MS Office.  Yes, you can connect to on-premise systems. But your productivity suite will work best when you integrate with third party SaaS solutions.

Which solution — Office 365 and G Suite — is right for you depends on where you are and where you want to go as an organization. The decision is as much about culture, line of business apps, mobility, and other factors as it is about Outlook vs Gmail.  When deciding which cloud, look forward and measure your decision against goals, objectives, and the long term strategy for your business as well as your IT.

 


For more discussion of factors to consider when deciding which cloud is best for your business, check out our recent eBook, Picking Your Productivity Cloud.