In The Clouds While On The Ground

I have been stuck in airports before, so I know the drill:  You can get more information online about weather delays and other problems than you can from the gate agent,  so relax and enjoy the drill.

Here at Orlando Sanford International, they have WiFi setup with a subscription service, but no way to create a new subscription.   It is a work in progress.  Good news, though, as Google and other Google services — including Google Apps — are allowed through the firewall for free.  No need to pay; No need to figure out how to pay.

No muss; no fuss, I am able to work.  Clean out the inbox, setup my tasks, and otherwise organize my thoughts as I travel home from vacation.  The flight delay, while disappointing, becomes an opportunity to reduce my “back to work” stress.

Opportunities abound with the right tools.

File Server or File Service?

Most organizations store and share files by setting up one or more file servers.  They used to be referred to as “File and Print Servers”, but as most printers include direct network connectivity, spooling, and job management features, the need to have print spooling and drivers running on a server has nearly disappeared.

File servers seem to be heading in the same direction.

Disk space no longer needs a physical connection to a server with a full operating system. Disk drive control, security, access rights, and I/O management can be delivered directly by storage area networks (SANs), network attached storage (NAS), and cloud storage solutions.

What happens when storage is further abstracted?

Gladinet ( has a series of tools that lets you attaché multiple, independent cloud storage systems and accounts and presents them as top level folders on a mapped drive. OffiSync gives you access to Google Docs and Google Sites storage from toolbars/ribbons in the MS Office applications (avoiding mapped drives and windows explorer altogether). While Gladinet extends the model of OS-based storage management, OffiSync moves storage management directly into the application.

In its infancy, cloud storage services are giving us the opportunity to rethink the positioning and role of storage within operational architectures – in the cloud and in our data centers. File servers feel nearly obsolete as storage becomes a commodity and access control migrates from the operating system to the applications themselves.

Quick Tip: PDF files on Sites

To make using Google Sites easier, PDF files attached to pages and file cabinets can now be previewed with the Google Docs viewer so no need to download the file.

Quick Tip: Translate Google Sites

Not multi-lingual?  No worries when using Google Sites.

If you visit a site that’s not in your chosen language for Sites, there is now a ‘Translate’ link at the bottom right of the page which will translate the site for you using Google Translate.

Updates to Google Apps Directory Sync

Recent updates to Google Apps Directory Sync include:

  • Compatibility with the new Groups (user-managed) service that will automatically detect groups that users create, and will not delete or overwrite them.
  • Delete limits: Delete limits now apply to users, groups and shared contacts. These limits stop any synchronization that deletes more than the specified percentage (or number) of users, groups or shared contacts.

These improvements make managing Google Apps accounts from your existing directory service just a bit easier.

Recurring Meetings Get Sophisticated

Being able to schedule recurring meetings is a convenience, but managing them can be problematic when changes are needed to one or more of the sessions.  Google Calendar has gained new capabilities to deal with this dilemma.

Here are the details.

  • In Calendar when modifying an event, when you change the time, title, description, location, or attendees of an individual meeting in a series, that meeting now remains part of the series.
  • If you change the title, description, location, or attendees of a series of events, these changes will be applied to all events in the series, including those that have overridden fields. However, Calendar will intelligently keep track of what fields you override, and not change those fields e.g. if you change the location of one particular event instance in the series, then later modify the location for the entire series and give it a new title, the one particular event will be updated with the new title but the location will remain at what you had overridden.
  • Changing the time or frequency of any series still resets all information in the series, even those that have been manually overridden.
  • If you make any changes to a series and apply to “All Following”, it will reset all information in all future meetings, and the future meetings will be become a new distinct series.  This will override any fields that you may have manually overridden.

These features make it easier to manage recurring meetings.

Microsoft BPOS Outages: Cloud vs. Hosted Server

Last week, Microsoft experienced several outages of its Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS).   As ZDNet noted, with so few users, nobody really noticed (as opposed to every Google performance  or service issue making headlines).

In our opinion, the outage tells a much more important story — the difference between a hosted server and a cloud-based solution.  MS BPOS runs as hosted servers on shared physical servers.  In effect, Microsoft is installing their servers on hardware the same way you would install them as virtual servers on shared hardware.  Microsoft is honest in that none of the services run in a replicated or redundant way.  With the exception of email, for which users should be able to send, receive and access 30 days history, if your virtual server or physical server has troubles, you are out of luck.

The implications are serious.  Without redundant services or data, any failure puts you, the customer, at risk for data loss.  Imagine a server failure that corrupts an underlying SharePoint database.  Access to documents, wiki’s, and other content can easily be lost.  As Microsoft offers no clear mechanism for backing up data, data you place in BPOS is likely at greater risk than keeping it on in-house systems.

Granted, Microsoft’s big customers (like Coca Cola) can negotiate for special services.  For the rest of the user community, at $120 per user per year, you would just be out of luck.

Here is a blog posting praising the virtues of BPOS and possible backup strategies.  Clearly, the author does not get it.  Why would you trust your data on a service, like Sharepoint, where after a disaster impacting your servers hosted by Microsoft, you are likely to wait 6 days to get data that is 7 days old from the point of failure?  That is effectively a 13 day gap in information.

Fundamentally, MS BPOS misses the mark.  Either Microsoft doesn’t understand the needs of businesses or they are unable of providing the level of service smart businesses require.

Managing Contacts: Eliminate Duplicates

One of the biggest contact management challenges is removing duplicates.  In Google Apps, the process just got easier with the “Find Duplicates” button.  One click, and you can review and merge duplicate contacts.

Google Apps and Mobile Device Management

To help enterprises better manage mobile devices like iPhones, Google recently added enterprise admin policies for iPhone, Nokia E Series, and Windows Mobile devices.  The capability lets you:

  • Remotely wipe all data from lost or stolen mobile devices
  • Lock idle devices after a period of inactivity
  • Require a device password on each phone
  • Set minimum lengths for more secure passwords
  • Require passwords to include letters, numbers and punctuation

Similar features are expected for Nexus One and Droid phones soon.

Click here to learn more.

Real-Time Collaboration: Presentations

Need to create a presentation with other members of your team?  Presentations, one of the Google Docs applications, lets multiple users edit presentations at the same time.  When collaborating in real-time, you can now see on which slide others are working.  If working on the same slide, co-editor presence lets you see which element (text box, title, graphic, etc) the other editor is modifying.

Want a demo?  Want to learn more about collaborating?  Join us for one of our upcoming webinars.