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Culture Clash: Office 365 and G Suite

IT preferences can feel like religion. Mac vs PC. Linux vs Windows, iOS vs Android. The same holds true with cloud services. The historical presence of MS Office in our daily work lives makes moving to G Suite feel more like a radical shift than moving to Office 365. And while there is something to be said for familiarity, the way we’ve always done things is not necessary the best way to do them, or the way we should be doing them in the future.

Our work environments are changing from structure and hierarchy to collaboration and teams.

The productivity tools we pick should foster and support the way your team wants to work rather than forcing your team into structures and processes that can stifle innovation, initiative, and productivity.

Both Microsoft Office 365 and G Suite give you the tools to help your team collaborate and thrive. The approaches, however, differ.

The Microsoft Angle

For about two years, Microsoft has focused on “cloud first; mobile first” as its strategy and mantra. The evolution of Office 365 and Azure demonstrate Microsoft’s commitment and enthusiasm for the collaboration economy.

But Microsoft is about rapid evolution, not revolution. Microsoft understand that you have legacy systems and data — from MS Office documents to line-of-business systems — that you cannot replace all at once.  One of the strengths of Office 365 is the ability to integrate the service with existing servers, applications, and data. In doing so, new capabilities work not only with cloud-based systems and data, but with your existing IT systems and services.

Microsoft’s cloud-first strategy is clearly to expand the capability of Office 365, but let you access your on-premise systems and data. Case in point: Power BI.  Power BI is a user-driven data analytics tool in Office 365 that is not part of the MS Office suite.  Power BI lets you connect and include data from Excel, SQL Server, Dynamics, and hundreds of other sources — on premise and in the cloud.

The Google Angle

Google has always been cloud-first — some might say cloud-only — in its strategy.  Yes, G Suite integrates with your local Windows network and with your desktop MS Office suite. But the real power of G Suite is the innate design around collaboration and peer connectivity. Every app — and nearly every feature — supports real time collaboration.  The apps within G Suite are designed to be efficient and “lighter weight” than other productivity suites, focusing on the functionality used by 80-90% of users and relying on third party solutions for the rest.

G Suite assumes, if not expects, you to use third party applications and solutions to build out your capabilities. Google focuses on integration with third parties as much, if not more, than adding major apps and functionality to G Suite. Need a CRM system? Take your pick from dozens of solutions ranging from major players like Salesforce.com and Prosperworks to niche and vertical market solutions like Bullhorn. Need a task management solution? Hive, Smartsheets, and many others are ripe for the picking.

Google’s cloud strategy is clearly to provide a core productivity platform and to empower organizations to pick “best fit” and “best of breed” cloud (SaaS) solutions to fill broader needs and provide line of business functionality.

Culture Clash

Even with a Cloud-First strategy, Microsoft focuses on including and providing a broad range of apps and solution within the Windows/Office365/Azure ecosystem. Yes, Microsoft fosters relationships and integrates with other cloud solutions and apps. Microsoft also integrates with legacy, on-premise systems. Google’s culture is more “all in cloud”. Yes, you can integrate MS Office.  Yes, you can connect to on-premise systems. But your productivity suite will work best when you integrate with third party SaaS solutions.

Which solution — Office 365 and G Suite — is right for you depends on where you are and where you want to go as an organization. The decision is as much about culture, line of business apps, mobility, and other factors as it is about Outlook vs Gmail.  When deciding which cloud, look forward and measure your decision against goals, objectives, and the long term strategy for your business as well as your IT.

 


For more discussion of factors to consider when deciding which cloud is best for your business, check out our recent eBook, Picking Your Productivity Cloud.

You Win in Microsoft’s $129 Billion Give-Away

Windows 10 Logo
At this summer’s Worldwide Partner Conference, several Microsoft executives mentioned that they expect 1 billion users to download the Windows 10 for free.  With a “street price” of about $129, this equates to $129 billion give-away. The cynics among us might argue that this is a great strategic play for Microsoft as a way to maintain its customers base amid increasing competition from other operating platforms, including Chrome, Linux, Android, and iOS.

You, however, are the real winner in this give-away. And here is why …

  • Windows 10 is the first Microsoft operating system that is truly a single environment across all hardware platforms, from servers to smartphones. For software developers, it means that apps written for Windows 10 easily run across mobile and traditional (desktop and server) platforms.
    • You win: Expect better functional and operational equivalence for applications; no more waiting for phone and tablet versions to catch up to the desktop version.

  • Windows 10 is the first Microsoft operating system that is truly network-first. Microsoft has made a huge shift to a cloud-first, mobile-first strategy, and Windows 10 is part of this shift. Network services now launch with the core operating system, not as a service later in the boot cycle.
    • You win: Expect faster boot times as your networked and cloud apps will no longer ‘sit and spin’ while waiting for the network to come online.

  • Windows 10 is the first Microsoft operating system designed to evolve. The age of the monthly updated and periodic service packs is coming to an end. Microsoft will update, patch, and enhance Windows 10 as part of a continuous process. While domain system managers can still control when different types of updates propagate, updates will now happen “when ready and when needed”.
    • You win: Expect more feature and capability enhancements and a more secure/robust environment, as Windows 10 will more nimbly adapt to changing needs.

  • Windows 10 is the first Microsoft operating system with a user interface that matches user preferences. Let’s face it, Windows 8.x was a great experiment in a mobile-friendly user interface that was welcomed with mixed results. Windows 10, however, gives users the option of creating the environment that is most effective from them. Yes, you still have live tiles. But you also have desktops (yes, more than one if you want).
    • You win: Expect to create efficient workspaces for your different roles and tasks.  Separate desktop environments (including settings and apps) for personal versus work activity on your laptop. Customize desktops for different roles you may fill — manager, finance, marketing, operations — throughout your workday. In short, create environments that make life easier for you, and switch between them as y0u see fit.

With these firsts, and others, Microsoft is demonstrating that it “gets” the new cloud and mobile centric world order and  that Microsoft is ready to be a significant player. Microsoft’s Office 365 and Azure services, and many others from many vendors, are already moving to leverage the new capabilities of Windows 10. Regardless of your overall strategy, you should be prepping to move your Windows ecosystem to Windows 10.


Interested in discussing you go to strategy for Windows 10 and the cloud? Drop us a note; we are happy to listen, learn, and share.


 

Cumulus Global, SMB Cloud Pioneer, Takes on Microsoft Cloud

Cumulus_Global-icon_sm
A pioneer in cloud computing solutions for small and mid-size businesses, Cumulus Global (www.cumulusglobal.com) announced today the addition of Microsoft Cloud Solutions to its portfolio of solutions. The addition of Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft Azure services expands the range of cloud platforms, services, and applications that Cumulus Global provides directly to its customers.

“We are excited to have Cumulus Global join our partner network,” stated Jennifer Heard, vice president, Worldwide Corporate Account and Partner Sales at Microsoft Corp.  “As a born-in-the-cloud solutions provider, Cumulus Global understands that any successful migration to the cloud depends on user adoption of enhanced collaboration and information access capabilities. This opens up massive opportunities for partners and helps our mutual customers realize the true value of their solutions.”

In addition, the company is an authorized Microsoft Surface reseller, offering the tablet-based devices as a replacement for traditional desktops and laptops.

“As a cloud solutions provider, we have always focused on giving our customers solutions that help them succeed, directly or as a broker,” notes Allen Falcon, CEO of Cumulus Global, “Our relationship with Microsoft empowers our customers with a broader range of solutions that we can directly design, plan, migrate, manage, and support.”

Beyond email, file services, and collaboration, Cumulus Global is offering platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and infrastructure-as-a- service (IaaS) solutions. The company has existing relationships in place to assist with integrated CRM solutions.


Companies interested in learning more should contact us for a complementary discussion with one of our cloud advisors.


 

 

OneDrive Unlimited Storage is, in fact, Limited


Microsoft made headlines recently by lifting it’s 1 TB free space limit and offering customer “unlimited” storage.  As recently reported by Tech Republic, however, the “unlimited” does not really mean “without limits” when coming from Microsoft.

Specifically, Microsoft limits OneDrive accounts to 20,000 files — a fact confirmed by Microsoft in the article.

A typical MS Office user may have an average MS Office file size of about 30 KB.  With a 20,000 file limit in OneDrive, most users will use less than 600 GB of space.  Increasing the free storage limit from 1 TB to unlimited is meaningless.  

The changes makes for good marketing but offers customers nothing.


Contact us if you are ready for solutions that enhance your business.

 

 

A Post XP World? Think Before You Spend!

xplogo
Today is the day that Microsoft is no longer supporting Windows XP (unless you are a country or a multinational bank with ATM machines).

There is a lot of fear, uncertainty, and doubt about what businesses should do next, much of it originating with Microsoft.

First, you Windows XP systems will keep working.  As time moves forward, hackers will continue to find exploits in Windows XP, which Microsoft will no longer fix.  If you system is on-line, unprotected, your risk for malware and data breaches will increase over time. Realistically, with 12 years of market exposure, the “easy flaws” have been found.  Most recent security breaches is Windows XP are pretty esoteric or relate to current versions of Internet Explorer and activity in the browser.  So, no need to panic.

No need to panic.  Take time to choose how you move forward.

Option 1:  Upgrade Windows

Microsoft wants you to upgrade, to Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 (stay away from Windows 8, please!).  To do so, you will likely need to replace some, if not most, of your PCs and laptops.  You will also need to upgrade your endpoint protection and most of your applications.

Option 2:  Go Virtual

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) services, sometimes referred to as Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS), provides a full Microsoft operating environment accessible via a small piece of software on your local machine, or via any HTML5 capable browser.  Once in your virtual desktop, you have the current OS and Office suite, along with other applications your business needs and uses.  Maintenance and upgrades are managed for you, and you can securely access your desktops from nearly any internet-connected device.  Once you decide to go virtual, you have options that let you manage the cost of change over time.

2a) Keep your XP for now.  You can keep your existing XP machines (for now), reconfiguring them as “thin clients”.  With the systems locked down to only run the VDI client or a browser, and a solid malware prevention / endpoint protection service in place, you can stretch the life of your current XP systems.  Since users do their work in the remote, Virtual Desktop, the XP platform is shielded from user interaction and malware.

2b) Go Linux.  Linux is now a business-grade operating system and serves well as the operating system for “thin clients”.  Since Linux requires much fewer system resources to run effectively, Linux gives new life to older PCs and Laptops.  As with an XP thin client, you are only using the OS and browser to access the Virtual Desktop.

2c) Go Chrome. Chromebooks cost 1/2 to 2/3 less than a typical laptop, and cost 1/6 as much to administer and manage over time.  With HTML5 receivers installed, Chromebooks can access nearly any VDI environment, including those using Citrix, VMware, and Ericom systems.  Additionally, you get direct access, with built-in malware protection to any web-based application, including Google Apps for Business, Government, and Education.  With a single Google Apps account, you have the option for full mobile device management, to further secure and control your environment.

While upgrading with Microsoft often seems like the best solution, it is fraught with upfront and ongoing costs and challenges.  Going virtual, while seemingly a more complex choice, lets you keep your current environment and replace your aging hardware over time, as you can afford to do so, with less expensive alternatives.

If you are interested in exploring your options further, please contact us for more information.

Moving from SBS? 6 Questions to Ask

NoWindows
Back in 2012, Microsoft announced the end of life for the Small Business Server (SBS) product line (see SBS End of Life: Microsoft Punishes Small Businesses).  As with any retiring technologies, some organizations will wait to move until there is a current need.  If something works, why fix it?

With Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 reach end of life as well, many are taking a new look at whether now is the time to move.

Here are 6 questions to ask before you make the move.

1) Does cloud-based email work for your business?

While many focus on why you should NOT move to cloud-based email, services like Google Apps for Business provide the security and privacy controls — and support encryption and other services — needed to meet pretty much any data protection requirement.

Focus on the value cloud-based email can provide to your business.

  • Secure access to email, from any device, at any time
  • Built in spam/virus protection
  • No monthly updates
  • No local queue errors
  • No VPN or additional web server needed
  • Affordable options for archiving, encryption, and backup/restore

2) What is the total cost of ownership?

When upgrading from SBS, organizations will need to purchase new 64-bit server hardware with additional disk space, new versions of Windows Server, new Windows CALs, Exchange Server Licenses, new Exchange CALs.  They will also need to purchase or upgrade their spam/virus protection solution and backup/recovery system.

Beyond the purchase, Microsoft still requires administrators to update software monthly — often multiple times each month — in order to maintain security patches and updates.

Moving to the cloud, organizations skip the large capital expenditure.  Cloud-based email solutions are operating expenses.  Costs are tied to the number of users, not to the amount of capacity you may use in the future.

When moving organizations to Google Apps for Business, we see customers saving 30% to as much as 70% over 3 year and 5 year TCO cycles.

3) How much disruption will end users experience?

Yes, some users are afraid to move away from MS Outlook and your existing web access for email.  When surveying users, however, we find that in most organizations, 60% to 80% already use cloud-based email services, like Gmail, personally.  The change in user experience is likely less than initial perceptions.

But, moving is a change and can have an impact.

As we move organizations to Google Apps, we include communications about the changes and opportunities for users to learn how to best use the new tools.  We make self-help learning systems — video and interactive — available to users.  We also offer customized workshops and “web office hours”.  In short, many methods exist to help users make the transition and understand how they can do more with their new email service.

4) Is the replacement system you’re considering easy to administer?

If planning to stay in-house, the answer will be “No!”.  New versions of MS Exchange include features and complexity designed to serve the needs of larger enterprises.  For small and mid-size enterprises, they live with the additional administrative burden.

Moving to cloud-based email dramatically reduces administrative requirements.  Without hardware, operating systems, and Exchange software, management of Google Apps for Business focuses on user settings and support.

5) Is the vendor committed to small and mid-sized businesses?

By deeds more than words, Microsoft is focused on large enterprises.  Recent licensing changes have removed the most affordable Windows and Exchange options for small and mid-size enterprises, increasing minimum costs by as much as 100%.

Cumulus Global, as a Google Apps Premier SMB Partner, is focuses exclusively on businesses and nonprofits with 1 to 500 employees.  We also serve K-12 education, smaller higher education, and local/regional governments.  We tailor our services to the needs of small and mid-size enterprises, understanding needs, priorities, and budgets.

6) Is the change a better value?

When moving from any in-house MS Exchange solution to Google Apps for Business, you are gaining more than a secure, reliable email service.  Google Apps is a small business productivity platform, with:

  • Integrated personal and shared calendars
  • Secure Instant Messaging
  • Voice / Video conferencing
  • Hangouts — video meetings with shared documents and desktops
  • Google Docs productivity tools — word processing, spreadsheets, and more
  • Drive for storage of Google-based and legacy files of any type
  • Local Drive sync and share, providing integration for MS Office users
  • Secure web Sites, for your intranet, projects, and customer portals
  • Integration with hundreds of business applications and services.

With more than email to offer, solutions like Google Apps for Business deliver greater value, even if additional features are not used immediately.

“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 …

 

Microsoft Acknowledges Security Best Practice Failures


It was an easy post to miss in the run up to the Thanksgiving holiday.  On November 25, we posted the results of an Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) survey detailing how Microsoft fails to meet 4 out of 5 security best practices for its cloud service data centers and its customers’ data (Google and Dropbox were the only vendors surveyed that meet all 5 criteria).

This week, Microsoft acknowledged that not all customer data is encrypted in their data centers — at rest, or in transit within and between data centers.  In a ZDNet article dated December 5th, Chris Dunkett reports that Microsoft will not fully protect stored user data until the end 2014.

The article also quotes Brad Smith, Microsoft general counsel and executive vice president, legal and corporate affairs, stating that Microsoft will work “…with other companies across the industry to ensure that data traveling between services — from one email provider to another, for instance — is protected.”  Microsoft is acknowledging that they currently do not run STARTTLS services, and industry security best practice.

While Microsoft is actively positions itself as the “enterprise knowledgeable” competitor to a “consumer-centric” Google, pointing out how Microsoft runs its own large data centers. Once again, however, Microsoft fails to realize that the methods and practices used to run their own data centers do not translate to multi-tenant data centers hosting customer data.

 

Google Meets Security Best-Practices; Most Cloud Providers Fail

Recently, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) released a survey of how well common cloud providers meet the EFF’s 5 security best practices.

Google Apps and Dropbox are the only two vendors to meet all five standards.  Microsoft, most notably, fails to meet or confirm four of the five standards, as follows.

Encrypt Websites with HTTPS

Both Microsoft and Google support the use of HTTPS to encrypt data between the user’s computer and the web site/service.  As a best practice, Cumulus Global forces HTTPS for all Google services.

Enable HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS)

HSTS uses secure communications to prevent certain attacks if a network pretends that the site visited has asked to communicate insecurely.  Google enables HSTS; Microsoft does not.

Encrypt Data Center Links

To prevent somebody with physical access from attacking, this practice encrypts data between a company’s own cloud servers and their data centers.  Google follows this practice; Microsoft does not.

Implement STARTTLS for Email Transfer

STARTTLS encrypts communications between email servers when both servers support the service.  Google uses STARTTTLS and provides users with the ability to utilized Policy-based TLS as well.  Microsoft’s Outlook.com service is non-compliant with this best practice.

Use Forward Secrecy for Encryption Keys

This best practice ensures that should a hacker gain access to a provider’s secret key, they cannot read previously encrypted communications.  Google follows this best practice; EFF was unable to confirm that Microsoft is compliant.

For more information, see the full Gizmodo article here.

 

Cumulus Global in the News in August

NewsBeacon.150Cumulus 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.

Forrester: Global IT Pushed to $2.06 Trillion in 2013
Unified Communication Strategies, July 29, 2013
Our View: Spending focus is on business value, not technology.

Microsoft Mobile Office Heads To Android OS, But Still Not Tablets
CRN, July 31, 2013
Our View: Microsoft needs to move faster to keep up with its customers

Microsoft Drops Surface Pro Tablet Price
CRN, August 5, 2013
Our View: Microsoft blew it; new pricing is too little, too late

BetterCloud Launches Management Console for Cloud Services Brokerages
PR Web, August 21, 2013
Our View: We can better serve our customers

Map It Out: The Best States To Start A Solution Provider Business
CRN, August 21, 2013
Our View: Massachusetts is chasing service providers away.

PC Sales Set For Comeback In 2014, Piper Jaffray Says
CRN, August 21, 2013
Our View: Cloud-centric clients no likely to help Intel much.