Tuesday Take-Away: 6 Reasons to Upgrade to Google Apps for Business

We work with small businesses, including small office/home office businesses with 20, 10, 5, or fewer employees.  So, it is not uncommon for us to get questions about why they should pay for Google Apps for Business, when with 10 or fewer users, the free version is, well, free.

In no particular order, here is why Google Apps for Business is the right thing to do …

  • Space: Google Apps for Business increases your mailbox from 7.4GB to 25GB and gives you much more room for Google Docs and content in Google Sites.  Give your self room to grow.
  • Data Privacy: Google Apps for Business is free of advertisements.  Google does not have access to your data and your data privacy is backed by terms of service and your service level agreement.  While some businesses do not mind the content scanning for ad display in the free version, their customers might mind that their information is not fully private.
  • Email Security: Google Apps for Business includes enhanced spam protection, as well as virus protection and policy-based TLS encryption, with Google Message Security.  You can also add compliant archive/discovery services and message level encryption.
  • User Counts: Let your business grow without worrying that you will hit the 10 user limit in the free edition.  Google Apps for Business has no user limits, and lets you alias more domains and users.
  • More Features:
    • Resource Calendars for conference rooms, equipment, vehicles, etc.
    • User-Managed Groups for distribution lists, discussion forums, shared email folders
    • Better Integration with MS Office using OffiSync Premium
    • Google Apps Sync for MS Outlook for users that want to keep their familiar email client
    • Integration solutions that make Google Apps part of your IT ecosystem
  • Support: Cumulus Global offers complete packages for SoHo businesses that include end user support.

Need we say more?

Friday Thought: Is Microsoft Afraid of a Fair Fight?

I do not condemn Microsoft for promoting its cloud services.  Nor do I think they are wrong to compare their services to others, including those from Google.  Watching their marketing efforts, I do wonder if Microsoft is afraid of a fair fight.  Here is why …

In an effort to create viral support for Office365, Microsoft has produced several videos on YouTube.  These videos, attempt a humorous comparison of Office365 to other services.  This video, as an example, is making the rounds on IT discussion forums as it claims to compare Office365 and Google Apps.

Using Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (or “FUD”) is a time honored sales technique, which can be quite effective.  This video, however, is intentionally deceptive, comparing Office365 as a paid service against free versions of Gmail and Google Apps.  Microsoft’s claims about ads are false when looking at Google Apps for Business, for Education, and for Government, and Microsoft knows this.

Why would Microsoft blur a comparison between Office365 and Google Apps?

Why would Microsoft shy away from a fair comparison?

Google Apps for Business costs less than comparable Office365 capabilities

Google Apps integrates with Office 2003/2007/2010 for added features

  • Office365 requires Office 2010 licenses for full feature access

Google Apps has 1 pricing plan for each type of customer (business, government, education, non-profit)

  • Office365 has 11 pricing plans spread over 2 types of licenses; you cannot switch license types once you start using the service

Google Apps customers always receive the latest updates and versions, with incremental, scheduled releases every few weeks

  • Companies using Microsoft BPOS (based on Exchange & Sharepoint 2007) have no upgrade path to Office365 (based on Exchange & Sharepoint 2010), without starting over and a full data migration project

Google Apps is designed for 100% availability – 24 x 7 x 365 – and Achieved 99.984% Availability in 2010 (see here for more)

  • Office365 still requires scheduled and emergency maintenance windows that interrupt service to users
  • Less than 6 weeks after launch, Office365 had an Exchange outage effecting most users in North America for between 3 and 5 hours
  • In August 2010, Microsoft’s BPOS service in North America had more than 40 hours of scheduled and unscheduled down time

Google Apps was designed from the ground up to be a secure, reliable, multi-tenant, service in which all users have access to the latest features.

  • Office365 is a modified version of Microsoft’s “2010” generation of Exchange, Sharepoint, and other services
  • The technology dates back more than 3 years in development and was originally designed for use as in-house, single-tenant, servers
  • New features arrive months apart and only with service packs and upgrades

Looking at the current differences between Google Apps and Office365, I understand Microsoft’s marketing strategy.  Do you?

CRN Names Cumulus Global to Inaugural Next-Gen 250 List

Boston, MA, August 25, 2011 – Cumulus Global, formerly Horizon Info Services, today announced Everything Channel has named the company to the first ever 2011 CRN Next-Gen 250 list.  The CRN Next-Gen 250 is an annual listing of innovative and nimble business and technology integrators, solution providers, and resellers in North America offering solutions and services in cloud computing, mobility, unified communications, virtualization and other emerging technologies.

The CRN Next-Generation 250 list is comprised of the most exciting new solution provider organizations (founded 2000-2011) bringing new and emerging implementation ideas and business models to the market (visit www.crn.com for a sample listing).  Cumulus Global was selected for its service innovation and business model as it delivers cloud computing solutions to companies, non-profits, and schools with 1 to 1000 employees.

“In today’s competitive environment solution providers have to do more than just talk about innovation,” said Kelley Damore, VP, Editorial Director, Everything Channel. “The CRN Next-gen 250 highlights the most interesting new solution providers who are demonstrating such innovation and uncovers the new techniques and technologies that are driving their success.”

By offering a range of infrastructure and application services, Cumulus Global helps companies move IT services to the cloud when it benefits their operations and profitability, without forcing any displacement of other systems, vendors, and IT staff.  Cumulus Global works with customers to create a cloud ecosystem that fits well with their other technology solutions.

“We are honored by the recognition of our approach to the market and cloud computing and how we bring additional value to our customers,” stated Allen Falcon, CEO of Cumulus Global.  “Our team enjoys partnering with innovative vendors, such as Google, to give our customers solutions with tangible, positive results.”

About Cumulus Global
Cumulus Global helps small and mid-size businesses, non-profits, governments, and educational institutions thrive by delivering cloud computing solutions. Cumulus Global aligns technology with clients’ goals, objectives, and bottom lines, and leverage expertise, vendor relationships, and a diversified range of best-of-breed cloud services to create custom solutions with tangible value.

About Everything Channel
Everything Channel is the premier provider of IT channel-focused events, media, research, consulting, and sales and marketing services. With over 30 years of experience and engagement, Everything Channel has the unmatched channel expertise to execute integrated solutions for technology executives managing partner recruitment, enablement and go-to-market strategy in order to accelerate technology sales. Everything Channel is a UBM company. To learn more about Everything Channel, visit us at http://www.everythingchannel.com. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/everythingchnl.

UBM plc (www.ubm.com)
UBM plc is a leading global business media company. We inform markets and bring the world’s buyers and sellers together at events, online, in print and provide them with the information they need to do business successfully. We focus on serving professional commercial communities, from doctors to game developers, from journalists to jewelry traders, from farmers to pharmacists around the world. Our 6,000 staff in more than 30 countries are organized into specialist teams that serve these communities, helping them to do business and their markets to work effectively and efficiently.

Cumulus Global and Google Offer Webinar Series

WESTBOROUGH, MA – August 24, 2011 – Cumulus Global (www.cumulusglobal.com) is pleased to announce ”The Google Apps Difference”, a series of webinars discussing how better communication and collaboration capabilities can improve profitability for small and mid-size businesses.  Hosted by Google and Cumulus Global, the webinars will present the perceptions and realities of moving to cloud computing for most organizations, and will explore the benefits beyond expected cost savings of moving to Google Apps for Business.  While targeting businesses in the New England and New York region with 50 to 250 employees, the webinar will prove useful for most businesses and non-profit organizations.


“We are honored to be selected by Google to participate in this joint education and marketing program”, noted Allen Falcon, CEO of Cumulus Global.  “Our selection reflects the expertise of our team, our relationship with Google, and the quality of service we offer our customers.”

The live webinars will be hosted by Falcon and members of the Google Enterprise team.  To accommodate demand, the webinar will be repeated live at several times.  The current schedule includes sessions on Tuesday August 30th at 10:00 am and 3:00 pm, and on Thursday September 1st at 3:00 pm.  While planned for an hour, Cumulus and Google will stay on the line to answer any questions from attendees.

For more information, visit the News and Events page on the Cumulus Global website at: http://www.cumulusglobal.com/news-and-events.php.

About Cumulus Global
Cumulus Global, formerly Horizon Info Services, helps small and mid-size businesses, non-profits, governments, and educational institutions thrive by delivering cloud computing solutions.  Serving clients from 1 to more than 1000 employees across numerous industries, we align technology with our clients’ goals, objectives, and bottom lines. We leverage our expertise, vendor relationships, and a diversified range of best-of-breed cloud services to create custom solutions with tangible value.



Tuesday Take-Away: The True Role of the SLA

As you look towards cloud solutions for more cost effective applications, infrastructure, or services, you are going to hear (and learn) a lot about Service Level Agreements, or SLAs.  Much of what you will hear is a big debate about the value of SLAs and what SLAs offer you, the customer.

Unfortunately, the some vendors are framing the value of their SLAs based on the compensation customers receive when the vendor fails to meet their service level commitments.  The best example of this attitude is Microsoft’s comparison of its cash payouts to Google’s SLA that provides free days of service.  Microsoft touts its cash refunds as a better response to failure.  Why any company would send out a marketing message that begins with “When we fail …” is beyond me.  But, that is a subject for another post someday.

That said, Microsoft and its customers that are comforted by the compensation, are totally missing the point of the SLA in the first place.  Any compensation for excessive downtime is irrelevant with respect to the actual cost and impact on your business.  And unless a vendor is failing miserably and often, the compensation itself is not going to change the vendor’s track record.

The true rule of the SLA is to communicate the vendor’s commitment to providing you with service that meets defined expectations for Performance, Availability, and Reliability (PAR).  The SLA should also communicate how the vendor defines and sets priorities for problems and how they will respond based on those priorities.  A good SLA will set expectations and define the method of measuring if those expectations are met.

Continuing with the Microsoft and Google example.  Microsoft sets an expectation that you will have downtime.  While the downtime is normally scheduled in advance, it may not be.  Google, in contrast, sets an expectation that you should have no downtime, ever.   The details follow.

Microsoft’s SLA is typical in that it excludes maintenance windows, periods of time the system will be unavailable for scheduled or emergency maintenance.  While Microsoft does not schedule these windows at a regular weekly or monthly time frame, they do promise to give you reasonable notice for maintenance windows.  The SLA, however, allows Microsoft to declare emergency maintenance windows with little or no maintenance.

In August 2010, Microsoft’s BPOS service had 6 emergency maintenance windows, totaling more than 10 hours, in response to customers losing connectivity to the service, along with 30 hours of scheduled maintenance windows.  In line with Microsoft’s SLA, customers experienced more than 40 hours of downtime that month, which is within the boundaries of the SLA and its expectations.  On August 17, 2011, Microsoft experienced a data center failure that resulted in loss of Exchange access for its Office365 customers in North America for as long a five hours.  The system was down for 90 minutes before Microsoft acknowledged this as an outage.

Google’s SLA sets and expectation for system availability 24x7x365, with no scheduled downtime for maintenance and no emergency maintenance windows.

The difference in SLAs sets a very different expectation and makes a statement about how each vendor builds, manages, and provides the services you pay for.

When comparing SLAs, understand the role of maintenance windows and other “exceptions” that give the vendor an out.  Also, look at the following.

  • Definitions for critical, important, normal, and low priority issues
  • Initial response times for issues based on priority level
  • Target time to repair for issues based on priority level
  • Methods of communicating system status and health
  • Methods of informing customers of issues and actions/results

Remember, if you need to use the compensation clause, your vendor has already failed.




Friday Thought: Is it Time to Move?

With the popular media focus on the economy, it is natural for the “Tech” press to report on the impact of current economic conditions on IT plans and spending.  Much of the discussion has focused on whether companies will spend on IT initiatives or will they hold off until the economy improves.

I prefer to ask a different question:

On what will you be spending your IT dollars?

For me, IT spending is not a matter of if, organizations should focus on what and when.

For many reasons, now is the time to move to cloud solutions.

  • Ability to Move: For many small and mid-size enterprises, boom times are too busy to upgrade IT systems.  During a slow-down, companies can allocate resources to IT projects more easily.  Successful IT projects are not just technical, they need the involvement and support of managers and end users.
  • OpEx vs CapEx: Upgrading traditional in-house systems requires up front capital, requiring many businesses to borrow or to use valuable cash on hand.  Given the current economy and credit markets, both options pose a challenge.  Cloud Solutions, on the other hand, are an operating expense.  You pay for what you use, when you use it.
  • Lower Costs: For most organizations, cloud solutions will save them money.  Not just in terms of dollars out the door, but in terms of improved communications and efficiency.
  • Stagnation: Organizations that fail to maintain and upgrade their technologies risk stagnation.  “Catch up” efforts always cost more than prudent maintenance and incremental updates.
  • Preparedness: When the economy turns around and growth returns, will you be ready?  Sound planning and effective improvements can prepare you for the next uptick in business and your next round of growth.

Interest in learning more about how cloud solutions might benefit your organization?  Contact me.  I am happy to explore opportunities and options with you.

Tuesday Take-Away: Is VDR a Cure?

In the first two posts in our Backup series, we covered the difference between “restore” and “recovery” and some key terms to know when considering your requirements and solutions.  In this week’s Take-Away, we look at VDR, or Virtual Disaster Recovery, as a possible cure for your recovery ailments.

Virtual DR is a service that leverages virtualization technology and online backup services to provide your organization with an affordable path for a speedy Return to Operations (RTO) in the event of a disaster.

How Virtual DR Works:

With Virtual DR, the backup process creates complete images of your servers — operating system, drivers, software, and data — and maintains the image on a server in a secure data center.  The process updates the image regularly and when changes are made to each server, including regular patches and updates.

In parallel, you continue to use online backup services to ensure current data is available for restores and to ensure the most current data is available for recovery.

In an emergency, your server images are activated to run on servers in the secure data center.  You connect your business to the servers, from your current location or an alternate location, via a secure Virtual Private Network (VPN).  Once running, the most recent data set is restored from the data backups.

In most cases, businesses using Virtual DR have a RTO of under 4 hours.

What Does Virtual DR Cost?

What makes Virtual DR affordable is that server image backup and storage is very inexpensive.  You only pay for operational services when you declare an emergency.  As such, Virtual DR is an incremental cost over online backup services.

When looking at Virtual DR solutions expect the following components and fees:

  • One-Time Fees
    • Setup and Configuration
    • Software agents for Exchange, SQL Server, and other specialized systems and applications
    • Initial Validation Testing
  • Recurring Fees
    • Backup and storage of service images
  • As-Needed Fees
    • Emergency declaration and server run-time
    • Additional bandwidth


Better  VDR services provide a fixed fee for an emergency declaration and base level of run time.  For example, the VENYU Virtual DR services we offer include the emergency declaration and 30 days of run time for a single, small fee.

Additionally, the VDR service should include periodic validation tests as part of the recurring monthly cost of the service.  Annual tests are good, semi-annual tests are better.  And, you should have the option of adding and paying for additional tests when warranted, such as after major changes to your IT environment.

Finally, check with your insurance provider.  Most policies that include business recovery coverage will pay for the emergency declaration, run time, and bandwidth in the event of a disaster.  Having Virtual DR in place may also lower your premiums.

Cumulus Global CEO offers Video Conferencing Advice to SMBs

Allen Falcon, CEO of Cumulus Global was quoted recently by the Worcester Business Journal, providing technical advice about video conferencing services for Small and Mid-Size Businesses.

Click Here to Read the Article

Friday Thought: Who Do You Trust?

Recently, in one of my LinkedIn groups, a member asked folks about outsourcing and cloud computing.  Predictably, the cloud computing naysayers chimed in with their usual argument, which often sounds like “I would never put my data in the cloud because you don’t have control”.

To me, this sounds like an argument from past generations against putting your money in a bank.  The naysayers’ concern is not control, but trust. The naysayers don’t trust the cloud provider with their data.  They don’t trust that the cloud provider will really delete information when you hit the delete key.  They don’t trust that the administrators will not access data.

And yet, these same folks fail to look at their own environments in the same way.

In a Windows server environment, the “Domain Administrator” has complete access to everything — every piece of data, every piece of user information.  In most small and mid-size enterprises, everybody on your IT team as Domain Administrator privileges.  A disgruntled team member can not only destroy your data, but can destroy the backups you would need to recover.

Use an IT service firm or the services of an MSP?  Chances are, one or more of their employees have “Domain Administrator” or other rights that gives them access to some or all of your data.  How do you know that the help desk staffer at your IT provider will not get upset with his boss and seek revenge by destroying or stealing your data?

Clearly if you don’t trust an employee, you let them go.  And no business owner would sign up for outside services if they did not trust the vendor enough to also trust the vendors’ employees.  Cloud computing is no different. Well … maybe a little different.

Unlike your network administrator, the vast majority of cloud computing vendors have no access to your data.  They do not need access to provide you with service.  Reputable providers include data privacy and security clauses in their contracts and their service level agreements.

Unlike most in-house systems, cloud computing solutions are designed to keep everyone but you out of your data.  Google, for example, obfuscates every occurrence of every piece of data on every server.  Most SMEs cannot afford anything close to the levels of encryption and security included in the architecture of most cloud computing services.

Control and trust go hand in hand.  And, cloud computing may not offer the best solutions for every business, or even yours.  When assessing your options, consider the benefits and risk of the cloud with the real benefits and risks of your current network and systems.

A New Look is Coming to Google Apps

Over the next months, Google is rolling out a new look and feel across its products, including Google Apps services such as Gmail, Calendar, Docs, and Sites.

The new look is available in the following apps:

  • Gmail: Consumer, Rapid Release, and Scheduled Release users can preview through a special theme
  • Calendar: Consumer, Rapid Release, and Scheduled Release users can try out the new look
  • Documents List: Consumer and Rapid Release users can try out the new look