Cloud Computing Reaches Mainstream Media

Cloud Computing and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is gaining coverage in mainstream, non-tech media, such as USA Today. This is an indication of broader acceptance in the market.

A Real Example of Calendar Integration

Worcester Fitness recently launched their new website. In addition to a great new look and feel, the site boasts new calendars. The daily class list on the home page and the multiple class schedules are both powered by Google Apps Premier Edition.

Using APIs and the calendar publication wizard, the web developers at Cold Spring Design deliver class schedules and information in an attractive, easy to use format for site visitors. At they same time, Worcester Fitness staff can add and modify scheduling information in real time.

The ability to create multiple “event” calendars and link calendar information to web sites, intranets, and online documents is a free feature for Google Apps Premier Edition.

Microsoft Moving Towards a Real Office Cloud? Maybe.

As reported in IT World, Microsoft announced that its next generation MS Office suite (Office 14) will include Office Web Applications, a suite including lightweight versions of Word, Excel, and Powerpoint.

Signaling a potentially major shift in Microsoft’s view of SaaS, the service will run in Firefox and Safari, as well as Internet Explorer, giving Microsoft office a means to run on Linux servers.

From the article and the announcement, it is still unclear if:

  • Windows users will be able to run Office Web Applications in Firefox, or only IE
  • If the service will require locally installed software
  • If the service will require use of Office Live Workspace

While reports have the new service available in Beta later this year, the service will not launch until the release of Office 14 (which has not been announced).

Microsoft is clearly responding to threats from Google Apps, Zoho, and OpenOffice. Will Microsoft be able to shed many of its current licensing, pricing, and channel policies to effectively compete in an aggressive marketplace?

Is 99.9% Up-Time Good Enough?

Google’s commitment to Google Apps Premier Edition availability is 99.9%. Is this enough?

Earlier this week, I posted an entry that compared 99.9% availability of a 7x24x365 system with higher availability claims for solutions that require downtime for scheduled maintenance.

Back in October 2008, Google turned to research conducted by Radicati Group, an independent industry analysis firm. The results were enlightening and resulted in Google extending the 99.9% guarantee for Gmail to all of applications within Google Apps Premier Edition.

Understanding SaaS Availability Claims

As small and mid-size businesses (SMBs) evaluate cloud computing solutions, vendors often tout availability, or up-time, commitments. Understanding the metric, and how to compare vendor claims, is critical when selecting a solution.

Availability is generally expressed as a percentage — 99.9%, 99.99%, and so on. With 8760 hours in each year, 99.9% availability equates to 8.75 hours (0.1%) downtime each year, or an average of 45 minutes per month. Similarly, 99.99% availability equates to 45 minutes of downtime each year, or about 5 minutes per month.

Simple yes, but the devil is in the details. Most vendors caveat availability commitments by excluding schedule maintenance windows. For some vendors, this means regularly scheduled windows; for others this means any non-emergency maintenance activities with advanced notice.

When comparing availability claims, you need to account how availability is calculated.

For example, Google Apps has no scheduled maintenance windows. The Google cloud is designed to allow maintenance and updates without impacting user access to applications and data. Google’s 99.9% availability commitment means less than 8.75 total hours of downtime each year. In comparison, Company X running MS Exchange 2003 recently claimed availability of 99.99% as they had no unscheduled downtime in over a year. Looking more closely, they shutdown their email servers for about an hour each week to apply Microsoft security patches, install software updates, and run deep malware scans on the server.

Company X has total downtime of 52 hours per year. In a fair comparison, user availability is only 99.4%.

One of the advantages of Software-as-a-Service solutions, like Google Apps, is that SaaS solutions are design to provide better availability while reducing system administration and support costs. For Company X, moving to Google Apps would reduce the amount of time spent maintaining and supporting their email service — saving money and letting their IT staff focus on activities with greater benefit to the business.

Google: Mobile List View Comes to Your Browser

List View, a filtering and sorting feature for Google Spreadsheets previously released for mobile devices, is now available in your browser. The feature makes it easier to add, edit, sort, and filter rows.

Learn more …

A Better Option

Yesterday, I blogged about the cost of MS Exchange 2007, particularly since most SMBs do not buy Software Assurance and will need to purchase new licenses and new hardware.

In our example, a 20 person company looking to run a Standard Edition of Windows Server and MS Exchange would likely spend $20,000 to $25,000 over a three year period, or about $400 per user per year, to provide email, calendar, contacts, and tasks.

With support, SMBs can get these services via Google Apps for about $5000 over the same three year period. Yes, you can save 75%

Again, this is a baseline comparison. For in-house solutions, costs rise if you add redundancy or collaboration tools. With Google Apps, redundancy is built-in and collaboration tools are included for free.

Granted, Google Apps is not appropriate for every business. But, do you not owe it to your bottom line to explore the possibility?

How Expensive is MS Exchange 2007?

For most companies, the time to upgrade from MS Exchange 2003 to MS Exchange 2007 is when the physical server is ready for replacement. In part, this is a necessity because Exchange 2007 only runs in a 64-bit environment and most servers running MS Windows Server 2003 are running on a 32-bit system.

Unless you have purchased Software Assurance for your operating system, Exchange, and the Client Access Licenses (CALs), you will have the following software costs when you upgrade from Exchange 2003 to Exchange 2007.

  • Windows Server 2003 Standard Edition = $1000 per server and $40 per user
  • MS Exchange 2007 Server Standard Edition = $700 per server and $67 per user

For a 20 person company, your software costs are $1800 for the server and $2040 for the Exchange server, a total of $3840. This assumes, of course, that you have already spent the $4000 to $7500 on an a 64-bit server. If not, your total cost is about $10,000, or $500 per user.

If you extend your analysis into the future, add costs for administrator time, hardware and software maintenance and updates, and the hard and soft costs of backup. Over three years, our 20 person company could easily spend $20,000 to $25,000 for email services.

This is the baseline. Add redundancy, collaboration, and other capabilities to your environment and you are buying more hardware, more software, and spending more on administration, support, and backups.

Email is critical to most businesses and maybe $500 per user per year is a good deal. Then again, maybe there is a better way. More to follow.

Google Video Enhancements for Premier and Education Editions

Google has expanded the capabilities of Google Video for Google Apps Premier and Education Edition users.

You can now:
– Add captions to your videos
– Upload videos up to 1 GB in size (increased from the 300 MB previous limit)

Click here to learn more about these features.

Also, Google has set the video storage size for Education edition users. Each school gets 10GB o Google Video storage.

Businesses using Google Apps Premier Edition still have 10GB plus an additional 500MB per user account. A business with 10 users will have a total of 15GB of Google Video storage.

Click here to learn more.

A Small Gmail Improvement for Managing Conversations

Google has made a small, but effective, change to how Gmail handles the “Mark Unread” function in conversations. Now, when you open a conversation and use the “Mark as Unread” button, messages that were previously previously read will remain as such.

In effect, you will not loose your history of read messages.

Learn more …