Google Apps for Education Security and Privacy

Secure Cloud
Recently, there has been much media discussion in light of litigation regarding data privacy in Google Apps for Education.  Here are the important facts about student accounts and Google Apps for Education.

First and foremost, Ads in Gmail are turned off by default for Google Apps for Education and Cumulus Global advises every school and district we work with not to change this setting at any point in time.

Gmail for consumers and Google Apps users runs on the same infrastructure, which helps Google deliver high performance, reliability and security to all users. However, Google Apps offers additional securityadministrative and archiving controls for education, business, and government customers.

Gmail scans and indexes email for multiple purposes, including spell check, virus and spam protection, features like Priority Inbox and auto-detection of calendar events, relevant search results and advertising.  This scanning is done on all incoming emails, is 100% automated and cannot be turned off.

When ads in Gmail are turned off for Google Apps for Education, automated scanning that is done in Gmail is not used to target ads to Education users, whether inside Gmail or in other Google products (e.g. YouTube, Google Search, etc.).

Google does not scan information stored in Google Drive or Docs (or Sheets, Slides, Drawings, Forms) to target ads to Apps for Education customers.

Google does not share personal information with companies, organizations or individuals outside of Google unless one of the circumstances outlined in the Google Privacy Policy applies.

The data schools and students put into Google systems is theirs, and Google believes it should stay that way. If an education department, school or university decides to no longer use Google, it easy for them to take their data away with them.

Google Apps for Education offers schools a number of additional controls and security features. These include a 99.9% uptime guarantee, 24/7 customer support, greater storage capacity and the ability for school administrators to turn certain features or services on or off. As with all our accounts, we keep our users secure by filtering out spam and looking out for viruses and malware.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding Google Apps for Education security and privacy, please contact us.  We are happy to answer questions and provide additional information.

FlashPanel Schedule Reporting Helps Google Apps Admins

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We offer the Flashpanel Panel Partner edition as a free resource to all of our Google Apps customers for many reasons.  Beyond giving our clients additional features than the self-service free edition, we see how an understanding of how the environment is being used, leads to broader and more effective adoption.

Companies, governments, non-profits, and schools that look at how Google Apps are being used, find ways Google Apps can be used to increase productivity and better support their employees’ success.

FlashPanel offers a broader, more relevant range of reports than the Google Apps Admin Console.  With FlashPanel Premium, you can create custom reports and, with the current new release, you can schedule and publish both standard and custom reports.

FlashPanel Basic and Partner editions will receive a free 14-day trial of this feature.  For many organizations, Scheduled Reporting is another reason to consider upgrading to FlashPanel Premium.

You can learn more at the FlashPanel Blog.  Please contact us if you would like FlashPanel Partner edition for your domain, or you want to learn more about FlashPanel Premium.


When FiOS becomes “Frequent Interruption of Service”

We love the cloud.  We work and live in the cloud. So, when our Verizon FiOS service became unreliable, we had a plan.

The upside of cloud services is that they are available from anywhere you have Internet service.  The down-side is that downtime means disruption.

We Have Options

Redundancy is the most common option considered to avoid Internet service disruptions. In our location, we could add a Charter business connection along side our Verizon FiOS service, and reconfigure our Cisco ASA 5505 to load balance and manage fail-overs. The upside: we avoid outages and service quality issues; the downside is the setup cost and recurring fees.

For now, we have taken a tactical approach. Our service issues are frequent, but short in duration (the side effect of DDOS attacks elsewhere on the network).  When quality drops or the service is down completely, we switch to our MiFi and smartphone HotSpots for Internet access.  By disabling WiFi and relying on the 4G LTE service, we run a softphone client on our iPhones and Android phones, providing full telephony capability and coverage.

While we may deploy a redundant carrier in the future, the flexibility of our cloud-based services and our cellular based Internet access are sufficient in the short term.  Having options, and being able to work, is all part of our Business Continuity planning.


Back in the News

Cumulus Global is active in the cloud solution provider channel and markets.  Allen Falcon, our CEO, has been quoted several times recently in the trade and industry press

Google To Pay $15 Per Seat For Google Apps Customer
CRN: March 11, 2014
Our View:  This will further accelerate market acceptance of Google Apps and focus on the services we offer beyond providing Google Apps licenses.

Meet the BBJ’s 2014 Pacesetters, the fastest growing private companies in Mass.
Boston Business Journal: March 5, 2014
Our View: We are proud to be part of the dynamic and growing IT service economy.

Android Gains Ground On Apple In Tablet Race; Microsoft Still Struggling
CRN: March 3, 2014
Our View:  More businesses see Android as an operating system while Microsoft has struggled to deliver a viable mobile platform. 


“Until They Did” or “Why Businesses Will Move Away from MS Office”

Choice Die
So much of the discussion about Microsoft versus Google and others includes a mention that businesses will not give up using Microsoft Office for other alternatives.  The general wisdom is that Google Apps and other solutions are niche players, but will never have a significant presence in the enterprise.

But are those that ignore history doomed to repeat it?

Not too long ago …

  • Nobody got fired for choosing IBM …. until they did.
  • No business would seriously choose a CLEC over their established telephony carrier … until they did.
  • No IT leader would stake his or her reputation on free Red Hat Linux over Solaris or A/IX … until they did.
  • No business would ever move off of the secure Blackberry network … until they did.

Flash forward to now.

  • Businesses are not going to reconsider their use and licensing of Microsoft Office  … Until …


Is Your PC a Dead-End?

While security updates for Windows XP will continue well into 2015, the end of support and non-security updates is less than 50 days away.  According to IDC, as reported by Reuters, shipments of PCs fell 9.85 is 2013 and are expected to drop another 6.1% this year.  As more knowledge workers rely on mobile devices, the need for, and desire for, traditional desktops and laptops is vanishing.

So what is your next move?

If you upgrade from XP, your choices are limited.  Windows 8.x has been soundly rejected as a productivity killer and support challenge by enterprises as well as small and mid-size businesses.  With the expected release of Windows 9 sometime in the next year, Windows to 7 is a dead end.

Even worse, moving off XP triggers a wave of related costs, as your hardware, endpoint protection, Office suite, client access licenses, backup software, etc. must all undergo upgrades at the same time (see our prior post on this topic here).

Maybe, the “same ole, same ole” just does not work anymore.   Maybe, it is time to explore new options.  Here is some food for thought.

Hosted VDI:  Hosted VDI, or virtual desktop infrastructure, environments provide you with your operating system, productivity apps, endpoint protection, disk space, and data protection — as a service.  Rather than capital expenditures, project fees, and on-going maintenance and support costs, hosted VDI services charge monthly fees for the resources you need/use and each user with an account.  Most hosted VDI services (including ours) let you install legacy and custom applications as well.  You get the environment you need without huge expenditures and version lock-in.

Cloud Back Office:  Google Apps is the best example of how businesses can provide back office IT services without building infrastructure.  Leveraging Google Apps as a platform, businesses gain email, communication, collaboration, and productivity services.  As important, Google Apps can provide robust and secure file services and cloud print services.  Beyond replacing your email server, Google Apps can replace file and print servers as well.

L.O.B. Cloud:  With greater cloud acceptance comes greater availability of cloud-based line of business (LOB) applications and systems.  From CRM and service applications to professional service automation (PSA) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, many businesses can find the line of business applications they use in the cloud.  Moving to LOB Cloud solutions, eliminates the need for complex on-premise systems as well as significant operational expense.

New End Devices:  As reported by CNET, Meg Whitman, CEO of HP, says that Chromebooks “have surprised us.”  Here is why. When you move to the cloud, you can change your end-user devices. To access cloud services and hosted VDI, you need an Internet connection and a compatible browser.  Tablets, thin clients, and Chromebooks become viable, lower cost solutions that give users access to the applications and data they need, without the acquisition and operating costs of heavy hardware and the Microsoft ecosystem.

So what is your next move?

Do you follow your current vendors without question?  Or, is it time to look at the innovative options and new market leading solutions?

Do you continue to carry the full Microsoft burden? Or, do you move to nimble hardware and cloud/hosted solutions, renting only the Microsoft environment you actually need?

Leave a comment, below, or contact us to explore your options.

Controls for Hangouts with Outside Parties

Hangouts Icon
This month added additional admin controls to Hangouts that help improve information privacy and security.

Administrators can now ensure users receive a warning when chatting outside the domain, letting users know that they are now sharing information outside the organization.

Additionally, when set, group chat conversations will split if an outside party is added, keeping previous internal-only communications private.

More information is available in this support post.

Boston Business Journal Names Cumulus Global a 2014 Pacesetter

Boston, MA – Cumulus Global was named a 2014 Pacesetter — one of the 70 fastest growing private companies in Massachusetts — by The Boston Business Journal on Wednesday. The annual list highlights the entrepreneurs and businesses that make Massachusetts one of the most dynamic and innovative economies in the world.

“We are honored to be considered a Pacesetter for our regional economy,” stated Allen Falcon, CEO of Cumulus Global. “Our growth reflects the results we are able to deliver to small and mid-size businesses as we help them move to the Google Apps platform and cloud solutions.”

Based in Westborough, Massachusetts, Cumulus Global serves SMBs, schools, and local governments in Massachusetts, throughout New England, and across North America. The company opened offices in New York City and on Long Island last year, and is looking forward to continued growth and expansion.

“As acceptance of ‘the cloud’ continues, our focus remains on providing solutions that meet the operational, informational, and security needs of our customers,” stated Falcon. CumuluSuite Office is more than hosted email. We combine the Google Apps platform with other cloud systems to provide a complete solution for communications, productivity, file services, and printing.”

Cumulus Global’s recognition as a 2014 Pacesetter follows other recent industry accolades, including being named to CIO Review’s list of the 20 Most Promising Education Tech Providers and to CRN’s Next-Gen 250 list of cutting edge solution providers.

Picking a Backup Solution is Missing the Point!

Data Protection
A 2013 study by The 2112 Group titled “”2013 State of Cloud Backup” found that small and mid-size interest in robust backup solutions more than triples after a significant data loss event, only 54% of SMBs felt that improved data recovery, business continuity, and IT reliability were sufficient motivators to deploy a new or improved solution.

Our perspective, is that focusing on backup misses the point entirely!

As we have blogged in the past: backup is easy; recovery is hard.  More accurately, the ability to recover and restore defines the value proposition.  Everything else about “backup” solutions — including the technology and methods — is irrelevant until you define the value of recovery and restore.

Stop thinking about Backup!  Instead, think about:

Continuity:  The ability for you company to continue to operate at an appropriately effective level during events that disrupt normal operations.   For some businesses, this means zero downtime.  For others, answering the phones and access to email may be sufficient for hours or days, or as an interim state until line of business systems come back online.  Still other businesses may need all systems up and running with 1 or 2 business days.

Recovery:  The ability to gain access to data and systems that became unavailable due to damage or failures.  Whether your disk array fails, a pipe bursts above your servers, or a virus eats through your files, recovery requires repair or replacement before systems and data can be restored.

Restore:  The ability to retrieve a prior version of data or a system.  Most restores are a result of user action or minor system issues.  How far back you need to go and the availability of past versions defines how long it will take to both retrieve the information and for the user to replace lost work, if any.  For some, a daily version meets the need.  For others, going back a day means resource-consuming rework so multiple versions each day are appropriate.

Focus on a building a Data Protection Solution and your required “Return to Operation” (RTO) time.  Remember that different parts of your business, different systems, may have different RTO requirements.

  • Assess your continuity, recovery, and restore needs and priorities
  • Understand the likely and not-so-likely risks to your systems and your business and create a “use case”.
  • Looking at each use case:
    • Identify changes to your IT infrastructure that could mitigate risk
    • Identify the type of solution that can provide the needed continuity, recovery, and restore services
  • Collate the use cases and solution types as your requirements

With requirements in hand, evaluating data protection solutions, technologies, and services becomes a manageable process.  Keep in mind, the data protection solution may include a mix of backup/restore, backup/recovery, archiving, disaster recovery, and other components.