HIPAA Compliance with Google Apps Just Got Easier

One of the challenges using any IT service are external requirements for data use and privacy.  Among the most restrictive are those imposed by the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).  HIPAA regulations intend to ensure data is private and protected from accidental or intentional breach, and is only shared as needed to ensure appropriate medical care.

One aspect of HIPAA requires entities to execute a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with any organization with which Protected Health Information (PHI) is shared.  Sharing not only includes data provided to other medical professionals, sharing includes data stored on systems or managed by services.  The BAA defines each party’s roles and responsibilities with respect to data protection and privacy, and accountability in the event of any inappropriate breech or release.

For organizations using Google Apps for Business, Education, or Government, documenting HIPAA compliance just became easier.

Google Apps administrators may now complete and execute a BAA with Google covering key services in Google Apps, specifically:

  • Gmail
  • Calendar
  • Drive
  • Google Apps Vault

The BAA does not cover other services within Google Apps, nor does it cover third-party or marketplace applications.  As such, signing the BAA and implementing Google Apps as part of a HIPAA compliant infrastructure still requires planning, policies and procedures, and an examination of other systems and applications.

Contact us to learn more.


Users Ask; Gmail Delivers New Features

GmailOne of the benefits of Cloud Computing, is that user-requested features can be developed and released quickly and efficiently.  Over the past few weeks, Google has done just that with the Gmail component of Google Apps for Business, Government, and Education.

Full Screen Compose

For those of us who like a  bit more room when organizing our thoughts, the Gmail compose box/window can now be made full screen by clicking the “maximize” or “pop-out” button.   From within a compose box/window, you can also make full screen compose your default setting via the drop down arrow at the bottom right of the box/window.

Quick Action RSVP

One of the aspects of Google Apps that we love, is the integration between Gmail and Calendar.  The Quick Action RSVP shows up to the right of the email subject line for calendar invites.  Click on the button and you get an event card with RSVP options.

More than allowing you to RSVP to meeting requests from within the invitation (without going to your calendar screen), now you can RSVP from the inbox without opening the invitation.

One More Reason

And, of course, these types of integration snippets are some of the reasons we strongly encourage use of the web interface to Google Apps, rather than Outlook or Thunderbird.

Cloud Guru Joins Cumulus Global in New York Expansion

profilepicNew York, NY, July 11, 2013 – Cumulus Global today announced that David Watts is joining Cumulus Global as a Senior Cloud Consultant, leading Cumulus Global’s expansion into the Metro New York area. Watts brings a consultative approach to matching businesses, non-profits, local governments, and schools with the right cloud solutions. The addition of Watts to the Cumulus Global team coincides with the opening of a new office in Manhattan.

“As one of the largest Google Apps partners in New England, expansion into the New York area is a logical step for us,” stated Allen Falcon, CEO of Cumulus Global. “David’s expertise and our local office in New York helps us meet the cloud solution needs of small and mid-size businesses (SMBs) in the New York City area.”

Watts comes to Cumulus Global from White Stratus, a Google Enterprise Partner, and Cloud Guru, a Google Apps SMB partner Watts co-founded. Watts is a Google Apps Certified Sales Professional, a member of Agile Equity’s Cloud Computing Advisory Board, and has led many Google Apps for Business deployments. His experience helps companies better understand the process and results as he consults with clients to create comprehensive cloud solutions.

“Cloud for cloud’s sake is not the answer”, noted Falcon. “David expands our ability to leverage Google Apps and Drive as core components of broader solutions designed to meet business goals and priorities.”

Watts has experience looking beyond Google Apps as an email and calendar service. Google Apps is a platform for collaboration and managed file services. By integrating Google Apps for Business with legacy applications, integrating line of business applications, and providing virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) services, Watts and the team at Cumulus Global deliver solutions that organizations need to compete in today’s business climate.


Google+ Hangouts and Google Apps: OFF for a Reason

As Google prepares to replace Google Talk with Google+ Hangouts, customers expect to benefit from the improved audio/video quality and features that Hangouts offer over Talk.

There are very good reasons why Google+ Hangouts are OFF by default in Google Apps for Business (Gov and Edu, too).  Before you turn on Google+ Hangouts, understand the current ramifications.

  • Preview Mode:  Google+ Hangouts are not yet officially released and, as such, get “best effort” support as opposed the technical support under the Terms of Service.
  • Incompatibility:  Google+ Hangouts are not compatible with Google Apps Vault.  Any organization that plan on using Vault, or that may need to use Vault, should not opt-in to Google+ Hangouts.
  • Data Location:  Google Apps customers under data location restrictions cannot opt-in to Vault.
  • No Enterprise Controls:  These controls are not yet available for Google+ Hangouts at this time.  As such, there are no warnings for users when chatting outside the domain and there is no way to block users’ chat status outside of the domain.

Google advises enterprise environments to continue using Google Talk for instant messaging, voice, and video conferencing.

Cumulus Global shares this recommendation, as the implications of adding Google+ Hangouts is not fully understood.  Organizations interested in a test domain may contact us for assistance.


Moving to the Cloud: Cost Savings


Green_GaugeThis post is the second in a series addressing concerns organizations may have that prevent them from moving the cloud-based solutions.

Will moving to the cloud save money?

The answer is a definite, absolute … maybe!

Whether or not a move to the cloud saves money depends on the in-house services being replaced and the cloud-based services taking their place, as well as the impact the change will have on related IT services and your business.

In our experience, most companies see savings over 3-year and 5-year periods of 30% or more.  Some companies see total cost of ownership (TCO) savings of up to 70%

When looking at 5-year TCO, organizations must make honest projections on IT spending to maintain the status quo and/or upgrading systems.  Beyond projected hardware and software replacements and upgrades, the analysis should include the cost of services and supporting systems (backup, anti-virus, security, etc.).  The analysis should also assess soft costs for administration, support, and estimated down time.

The challenge remains making the comparison equivalent.  For example, moving from a single in-house Exchange server to Google Apps for Business is a move from a system with several single points of failure to a highly redundant and highly available service.  If improving availability is an objective of the move to the cloud, the comparison should include the cost of upgrading the Exchange environment for redundancy.

A final consideration should include any business enablement that comes from the move into the cloud.  Will the cloud service enable the business to operate more efficiently and/or in new, more productive ways?  Improved collaboration, real-time communications, and access to information are all examples of how Google Apps for Business enables businesses over traditional email services.

In straight dollars and cents, not every company will see savings when moving to cloud-based solutions.  With better availability and expanded capabilities, cloud computing solutions can deliver better value, even when the price tag is higher.

Next Post in the Series:  Provider Reliability

Previous Post in the Series:  Moving to the Cloud: Security


Cloud Solutions Drive Rapid Growth for Cumulus Global

Cumulus Global today announced revenue growth exceeding 300% for 2012 as the company’s cloud solutions business continues to expand. Sales for 2012 surpassed $3.3 million dollars compared to $972,000 in 2011. Net income before taxes jumped over 400%, to more than $200,000 for 2012. This growth reflects increasing demand from Cumulus Global’s core small and mid-size business markets, as well as the company’s expansion into new market segments.

“In the last 18 months, we have helped more than 120 school districts migrate to Google Apps for Education, deploy Chromebooks for Education, and protect their networks and in-house data,” noted Allen Falcon, CEO and co-founder. “We see increasing opportunity in the educational market.”

The company also sees increasing demand from local, municipal, and county governments and agencies throughout New England and nationally. Falcon expects revenues from Google Apps for Government and related services to “more than triple over the next twelve to eighteen months.” Falcon attributes this growth to the migration, education, and support services offered, including the company’s participation in the FCC E-Rate program for schools and libraries.

Serving the needs of small and mid-size businesses, those with 1 to 1000 employees, remains a core market for Cumulus Global. According to Falcon, “Our core SMB market grew by more than 30% last year and we see that rate of growth accelerating.” Falcon attributes this growth to the company’s focus on solutions rather than technology.

“We do not sell hype or technology,” stated Falcon. “We work with our customers to identify if and how cloud solutions can improve efficiency, expand services, drive revenue, and lower costs. We bundle products and services that overcome challenges and enable growth.” Partnering with more than a dozen ISVs and solution providers, Cumulus Global can meet customers’ regulatory compliance, security, data management, and IT administration needs.

For companies, non-profits, government agencies, and schools interested in learning more, Cumulus Global conducts regular webcasts and Q&A sessions.


Risky Office365 Update to Take 10 Months

According to reports on ZDnet, Microsoft will begin rolling out updates to Office 365 as early as this month.  The addition of new features will take 10 months, and should be completed by November 2013.

Included in the update:

  • Office 2013 Components
  • Updates to the Exchange Management Console
  • Office Web Apps will move to the latest versions
  • Lync will include multi-person video conferencing

For many users, however, they will need to upgrade desktops and on-premise servers.  An update to Exchange is needed to use the new management console features and the Office 2013 components require Windows 7 or Windows 8 on the desktop.

This upgrade is a test for Microsoft and its customers, triggering a series of webinars and meetings between Microsoft and its partners.  Under the prior BPOS service, Microsoft never provided an upgrade.  Rather, customers had to start over with Office365. With this upgrade, Microsoft is testing its ability to perform the same system upgrades its customers want to avoid on a massive, multi-tenant scale.

In comparison, Google rolled out Hangouts and Hangouts on Air to Google Apps for Business customers over a 3 week period with zero customer disruption.  The difference is that Google Apps is designed for innovation and enhancement.  The underlying architecture of Office365 relies on old models of complex, periodic service packs and upgrades applied to virtual servers on shared hardware.

An outdated architecture and higher costs of ownership and use — a winning combination for your business?


Lower Legal Bills: Real Value From Google Apps

One of the most tiresome and expensive aspects of contract negotiations is the “redlining” process that takes place as both parties wordsmith the legalese to accurately reflect the agreement and the intent of the parties.

As both parties, using “track changes” make modifications, the document becomes a rainbow of colored words with strike-through, underline, and change bars.  Multiple copies of each version — with and without changes visible (to keep the documents readable)  — zip back and forth as email attachments.  With each iteration, it takes more time and effort to understand, assess, and process the proposed wording.  As important, the history of what was written two versions or more in the past is often lost.

Both parties waste time — and money — keeping track of versions while trying to agree on wording, meaning, and intent.

Stop the Madness !!

Enter Google Apps for Business and the Comments feature in Google Docs.

One party creates or converts the initial draft agreement into a Document in Google Docs and grants the other party “Comment” permissions.  Both parties can now highlight text, suggest new wording, and make notes about intent.  As the parties add comments, the other party is notified so that the discussion keeps moving forward.

Each party can respond directly to the other’s comments in the document or by responding to the notification emails.  The owner of the document and make edits, solicit feedback, and get acceptance.  As the parties agree to intent and wording, they “resolve” each comment thread.  While the thread is no longer visible, it is a permanent part of the document.

When the parties are in full agreement, and all comment threads are inactive, the results are stunning.  The parties end up with:

  • A clean document ready for printing and signatures (physical or electronic)
  • A full record of all of the comment threads — discussions leading to agreement — on the wording, meaning, and intent of the document’s content
  • A full revision history of changes made to the document over the course of the negotiations

And, most importantly, these results did not require the time and money usually wasted managing multiple versions and files, figuring out file names and last modified dates, or playing with “track changes” and “compare documents”.

The results you want and need, more efficiently.  Real Value from Google Apps.


SBS End of Life: Microsoft Punishes Small Businesses


Don’t get me wrong.  Companies retire products all the time; New product road maps are a necessary and valuable part of the technology ecosystem.  How a vendor decides to retire a product, however, can be very telling with respect to how they view and treat their customers.  Let’s talk about Microsoft.

Last week, Microsoft announced it’s server options for MS Windows Server 2012, due out sometime later this year.  The announcement included three major components that, while they seem to be unrelated, both impact small and mid-size businesses.  With Windows Server 2012, Microsoft is:

  • Switching from per server to per CPU licensing.
  • Eliminating Small Business Server
  • Restricting which Server licenses can run on virtualized hardware.

In press interviews and its announcements, Microsoft is very clear that businesses running SBS must either now purchase separate Exchange and Sharepoint licenses or must move to the cloud (hopefully Office 365).   The impact, however,  is actually much greater for businesses with fewer than 75 users.

  • Companies with 25 or fewer users can get the new “Essentials” edition of Server 2012.  This version cannot, however, run in a virtual environment.  Small businesses cannot, therefore, buy one server and run Windows, Exchange, and Sharepoint servers virtually without licensing the more expensive Server 2012 Standard Edition.
  • The move to processor-based licensing will also push cost increases on small businesses.  Many SMBs have purchased quad processor boxes to deliver performance and support virtualization.  With a 2 processor limit on Server 2012 Standard Edition, many customers will need to double the number of paid Windows Server licenses.

Microsoft has made it clear that they expect SMBs to switch from SBS to a file server and run Exchange and Sharepoint in the cloud.  This option, too, will represent significant cost increases for SMBs given Microsoft’s pricing model for Office 365 and the need to upgrade specific Office 2010 versions for full functionality.

If this move seems coercive, it just may be.  As reported in PC World, Office 365 has not been the smash hit Microsoft predicted.  The company is not releasing sales or usage numbers.  As a Microsoft spokewoman quoted in the article stated:

“We’re not breaking out customer, user, or revenue numbers at this time”

And according to IDC Analyst Melissa Webster, “They’ll give metrics when the metrics are meaningful, demonstrating scale and depth.”

So with lackluster performance, Microsoft releases a licensing and pricing model that “encourages” SMBs to move into the cloud or pay a heavy hardware and licensing penalty for upgrading in-house systems.

Fortunately, small and mid-size businesses have alternatives.  Google Apps for Business and other services offer more cost effective solutions for email, communication, and collaboration than Office 365. Beyond moving the Exchange and Sharepoint components of SBS to Google Apps, businesses can deploy secure cloud-based file services with full drive letter mapping and network place integration; access from PCs, MACs, and mobile devices; and integrated security and backup/recovery services.

Upgrade In-House or Migrate to the Cloud?

Over the weekend, I received an invitation to a webinar about upgrading Microsoft’s Small Business Server (SBS) 2003 to the current SBS 2011 version.  Aimed at technology providers, the agenda is fairly straight forward … but troubling in how it exemplifies the problem with so many in-house solutions.

  • How to prepare clients and manage their expectations for a migration
  • What can go wrong and what to expect
  • Tools that will help you prepare for the migration
  • How to install Small Business Server 2011
  • The migration process
  • Using the Call Stack Window
  • How to remove Small Business Server 2003

While I agree with all of the topics and considerations, upgrading technology, particularly from one version of a product to a newer version, should not be this difficult.  And, in reality, migrating to new solutions need not be this difficult for most businesses.

For most small businesses, moving from Small Business Server to Google Apps for Business will be easier than upgrading Small Business Server in-house. Here is why:

  1. No need to add, replace, or upgrade hardware
  2. No need to upgrade Client Access Licenses (CALs) on every computer
  3. Dual delivery ensures zero data loss and little or no downtime
  4. Data migrates directly from server to cloud without complex data preparation procedures
  5. No need to also upgrade your email spam/virus protection — Postini is part of Google Apps
  6. No need to upgrade your email server backup solution — Message Archive & Discovery and/or enhanced backup services can be added instantly to your Google Apps domain
  7. No need to upgrade your mobile connections — Android, Blackberry, and iPhones integrate directly with Google Apps
  8. Easier remote access — your data is in the cloud, so you may no longer need your VPN, Citrix, or remote desktop service

While Google Apps for Business may not be the solution for every small business, it is a solution worthy of serious consideration.

Cumulus Global offers bundles that integrate Google Apps with value-add services to provide small businesses with a more complete and custom solution.  Click the links to learn more about Google Apps and the CumuluSuite for SoHo bundles.