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Google Drive or Overdrive?

As more organizations expand their use of Google Apps beyond email into file services, the question of how to best use Google Drive becomes important.  In a previous post, we compared centralized versus distributed use of additional storage.

For many organizations, the question remains as to how best to integrate Google Drive andGoogle Drive Additional Storage with existing, legacy apps on servers and client systems.  Beyond whether or not MS Office stays around, companies often have other systems that run locally using local disk or network drives.

The Google Drive client provides and easy, free, means to sync local data storage with Google Drive and Storage.  The utility, however, has a few limitations:

  • Synchronization of files happens between the My Drive hierarchy in the Google Apps Cloud and a local “Google Drive” folder.  While you can select where the “Google Drive” folder lives, you cannot map existing folders.
  • Users must know where to find and save documents they want synchronized between local disk space and Google Drive.
  • You cannot select specific folders in Google Drive to synchronize down to the client.
  • If a folder is “shared with” a user in Google Drive, the user needs to “move” it under “My Drive” for it to sync to their local disk.

While not a reason to avoid using Google Apps as a file service, using the Google Drive client limits how you deploy your solution and creates some training elements.

Our recommendation is to create a file service using Google Drive that keeps the look and feel of a traditional file service for the end users.   Doing so mitigates training and migration issues and avoids a range of technical issues related to supporting legacy applications.

Look for a solution that offers:

  • A server-specific synchronization tool that does not interfere with existing drive mappings and/or shared network folders.
  • The ability to specify specific folders in Google Drive and/or locally for synchronization.
  • The ability to provide gateway access to cloud-only storage that looks and feels like traditional network disk space.
  • Client applications that run on Windows, Mac, and popular smart phone platforms.
  • That can connect to multiple cloud storage solutions, giving you flexibility in how you configure primary, secondary, and/or archive storage.

While you may spend a few dollars per user per year to get the environment you want, you will see returns.  You should be able to extend the life or retire existing server hardware. With direct access to files, you should be able to reduce (or eliminate) your remote access solutions and/or VPN services, thereby reducing administration, licensing, and support costs.  And best of all, improved collaboration and secure access to information means better productivity for your team and better business results.

 

 

Tuesday Take-Away: Version Control with Google Drive

Google Drive, an integrated component of Google Apps, helps you use Google Apps as a secure file service.  With this capability, you benefit from the revision control built into Google Docs.

Revision Control when Uploading via the Web Interface

When you upload files from the main Google Drive screen, every upload is treated as a separate file, even if the name and source of the file are identical to a previously uploaded file.

To upload a new version of an existing file:

  • Right click on the file name
  • Select Manage Revisions … from the menu
  • Click on Upload New Revision

Revision Control with the Google Drive Sync

If you are running Google Drive on your desktop, every time you save a file, Drive will sync the new revision to Google Docs storage automatically.

Important Retention Rules

By default, Google keeps prior revisions for 30 days and limits the number of revisions to 100.    This means that:

  • Documents that have not been modified for more than 30 days will only have the most recent version available.
  • Auto save features can user up your 100 revision limit quickly.

As an extreme example, if MS Word is set to auto save every 3 minutes and you are editing a document all day, you will only have revisions for the most resent 5 hours.

You can elect to prevent auto deletion for specific revisions by using the same Manage Revisions screen as noted above.  Doing so, however, increases the amount of storage used for the file.

 

Tuesday Take-Away: 6 Ways to Protect IP within Google Apps

While some remain suspect of security and privacy with cloud computing, Google Apps actually offers ways to help protect and preserve a company’s Intellectual Property (“IP”) that are not readily available in traditional, in-house systems.  Why worry about IP? Because as business becomes more electronic, your contracts, agreements, change orders, and work product are more likely to be written, reviewed, updated, and negotiated on-line. Protecting your documents, data, and information means protecting your business.

Let’s Get Technical

Google Apps’ underlying data management is Write Once; Ready Many (aka “WORM”). In other words, once information is saved in Google’s system it cannot be altered.  Unlike MS Exchange or a Windows File Server on which a Domain Administrator can alter any existing content anywhere, once data is saved in Google Apps, it cannot be modified.

Granted, you can reply to an email and modify the embedded copy of the original message. But, the original message is still saved as it was received.  Similarly, you can open a Google Doc and modify the content, but the revision history is there and you can go back to a prior versions.

The big risk to WORM is the power to delete … but we have a solution for that too.

Here are Six Ways To Protect Your IP with Google Apps:

 

1) Comments in Google Docs

Even if you switch to MS Word for your final formatting, draft your documents in Google Docs using the “Insert Comment” feature.  By keeping editing writes to yourself and giving comments only permission to your associates, you have full control of the document’s contents.  You associates — be they co-workers, a client, or opposing council — have the ability to highlight portions of the document and comment.  Whether they ask questions or suggest alternate wording, you can reply in-kind via comment as you edit the document.

Once final agreement is reached, you can “resolve” the comment.  While it disappears from view, it is part of the permanent history of the document.

Imagine two lawyers discussing and agreeing to the intent of a contract clause.  If an issue were to come up at some point in the future, any discussion of the ‘original intent’ of the clause would be cut short by the comment thread saved at the time.

2) Message Discovery (now); Google Vault (soon)

As noted above, the big risk to IP in Google Docs is deletion.  Google Message Discovery (GMD) available to all Google Apps users,  provide a secure, compliant archive of all inbound, outbound, and internal email messages with retention of up to 10 years.  The service provides search and e-discovery tools as well.

Imagine a client refusing to pay for work that was not “officially authorized”.  With GMD in place, you can produce the email thread discussing the work and providing the authorization.

Google Vault, available to new Google Apps customers now and all Google Apps users in the near future, extends the archiving ability of Google Apps in several ways.   Google Vault recognizes that you IP is not just in email and that your retention needs will vary.  Google Vault lets you:

  • Archive email, instant messages, and documents
  • Provide unlimited retention of archived information
  • Take advantage of the WORM underpinnings of Google Apps to maintain and protect your IP.

3) Google Drive and Docs

In our increasingly electronic world, more work gets done on the go.  By implementing Google Drive, your users have the ability to work locally while synchronizing and saving files automatically in Google Docs.  Beyond providing a convenient way to work — online or offline — Google Drive provides a level of protection for your IP from local hardware issues.  Combined with a backup/recovery strategy (see below), you have even better data protection.

Also, by adding additional space, you can also strategically create a secure file sharing structure where ownership of folders and files mimics traditional file server models.

4) Protected Folders

One way to protect IP is to ensure that final documents are tamper-proof and protected from deletion.  You can prevent critical documents from being editing or deleted by setting up protected folders.  These folders provide defined view permission, but will prevent users from tampering or removing critical information from within Google Docs.

CloudLock is one such service that lets you create protected folders.  In doing so, you can also determine who can add files to these folders, who can view folder content, and which administrative account manages the folders.

5) Backup / Restore

While Google Apps prevents data loss from hardware/software issues and provides version histories, Google Apps cannot prevent user mistakes or acts of malice.  Files not protected from deletion (see above) are vulnerable.  Additionally, you still need to protect against problems that can occur on any file server, such as uploading and sharing virus-infected files.

Given that in users have critical data in each of the Google Apps services, tools like Backupify offer a broad range of protection.  Backupify protects user content in email, calendar, contacts, docs, and sites.

6) Permissions Monitoring

Google Apps makes collaboration easy.  And, while you can restrict users ability to share to some extent, understanding the visibility of IP within and outside your business, and monitoring your documents for changes in exposure is an emerging best practice.

A key element of the CloudLock service are the ability to monitor changes in document permissions, the ability to change document ownership, and the emerging ability to set alerts based on keywords and business rules.

Wrap Up

When moving your data from in-house systems to Google Apps or other cloud services, you want and need to make sure that your data is at least, if not more, secure and private. Just as with in-house systems, you have tools and services available to manage and protect your intellectual property when using cloud solutions.  Google Apps provides a great foundation with an infrastructure designed to protect data with every save.  Integrated, third party tools like CloudLock and Backupify, along with new features in Google Apps itself, provide a manageable, secure, ecosystem.

Friday Thought: Google Drive – Yield Before Your Leap

Google (finally) announced and began releasing Google Drive.  For those not in the know, Google Drive is cloud storage available as a stand-alone service or as a component of Google Apps.  The stand-alone version included 5GB of storage for free with affordable plans for more space — a direct competitive threat to services like Dropbox and Box.  Both versions include sync clients for PCs, MACs, and iPhone/iPad that give you standard desktop/folder access to your data in the cloud.

Google Drive for Business

Google Drive for Business is a new component to Google Apps for Business that will roll out to customers over the next several weeks.  While the business version shares the device sync tool with the consumer version, it offers much more to the business customer:

  • Control over which users can use the service and which users can download and use the sync clients.
  • Control over which, if any, users can purchase additional storage independently
  • The ability to centrally purchase storage and allocate storage to users as needed

Benefits

  • You can now more easily use and integrate Google Docs as your file service; users can more easily collaborate and share information.
  • Users can work locally using their current desktop applications and files will be saved and shared in their Google Docs folders.
  • Users can have secure access to files from computers, tablets, and smart phones without the overhead of a VPN service.
  • Storage for uploaded or sync’d files in “native” formats has increased to 5 GB per user.

Challenges

  • Unlike an on-premise file server, Google Drive does not lock open files.  While you have version tracking, if two individuals are locally editing the same file, the most recent copy to sync will be the current version.
  • Users may quickly fill up their 5GB of space; additional storage is affordable.
  • Because sharing is easy, businesses should have policies and processes in place to oversee and manage permissions.

Deployment Strategy

In our experience, your Google Drive deployment strategy will focus on how you decide to manage your storage.  While nice, 5 GB per user will not be sufficient for most businesses, particularly since the space is user-specific.  Adding space is affordable, and will be necessary.

When you add space to Google Docs and Drives, you are actually subscribing to the additional space on a per user basis.  Licenses range in size from 20 GB to 16 TB at a monthly cost of $0.10 per GB or less (with no bandwidth and get/put charges).  While this strategy works, it will require monitoring space usage on a per user basis.

Another approach is to add a user account to serve as your file service.  In doing so, you purchase additional storage only for this “user” and configure the space along the lines of a traditional file server.  You have the freedom to create and share your top level folders and folder trees, and users will be able to see the file service as “Shared with Me”.  Users can then move folders to “My Drive” if they want the information available locally on their PC or Mac.

A central storage strategy also enables additional storage management options.  Tools like CloudLock Vault — a tool to monitor permissions and create tamper-proof and protected folders — run best when the space is owned by a generic file service administration account.

Alternatives

Almost always, there is more than one option.  As an alternative to Google Drive, tools like SyncDocs provide the ability to sync Google Docs (with or without extra storage) to a local file structure.  In some ways, SyncDocs offers a better user experience.  SyncDocs has more options with respect to folder location, the ability to select which Google Doc folders to sync locally, and the ability to specify conversion preferences.

When looking at Google Drive and its alternatives, we recommend walking through a few use cases to see which piece of software best meets your needs.

Conclusion

Google Drive, combined with Google Docs and additional space, provides Google Apps users with more opportunity to simplify file services.  Moving file services to the cloud is a logical next step for many businesses, as it can further reduce and simplify your IT footprint well beyond replacing a file server.  The need for VPN and expensive remote access servers can be greatly reduced or eliminated.

If you want to learn more or join us for a demo, please let us know.