Secure, Redundant and Available – Google Apps Premier
As people, when we collaborate with others, we become more efficient and productive. It’s the power that the whole is great than the sum of the parts.
In business, collaboration tools share information for increased efficiency and productivity. These tools should be secure so they cannot be hacked by competitors or people with malicious intent. As merchant service providers, we know the importance of security.
Collaboration tools are often very broadly defined. So for the purpose of this article, we will stay focused on secure and compliant email, calendars, document sharing and messaging.
Three years ago, in Internet time is like moving from the Stone Age to Space Age, cost effective collaboration tools really didn’t exist. Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes are great tools, but have very high price tags. What our credit card processing company needed was a secure, simple and inexpensive tool for communicating with customers and employees. Enter Google Apps Premier for Business. For just $50 per user, per year, you get a full featured set of applications for your business.
There are two predominate methods of email communications. They are POP3 and IMAP. POP3 (Post Office Protocol 3) is meant to remove the email off the server when it is downloaded to a client, such as Outlook Express and Eudora. The client tool, like Outlook Express, sends a confirmation message to the server that it has received the email, at which point the server deletes the email from its hard drive. It is a store and forward system. In essence, the server stores the message until the client software is online. At that time, the server forwards the messages to the client.
POP3 was a good tool when your host provider limited how much email you could store. It kept your POP3 email accounts on the server from getting so large that it may reject new incoming email because the user account was at its storage limit. With disk space today costing pennies on the megabyte, Yahoo, MSN, Google and hosting companies have raised their disk space storage at no cost to the user.
A limitation of POP3 is when it deletes the email off the server. Most of us have either personally experienced or know someone who has lost their laptop, had a computer hard drive crash or a disgruntled employee leave. In any case, the email is gone and you’re pulling your hair out wondering, “How do I get it back?”
An alternative solution is IMAP, Internet Message Access Protocol. IMAP allows a local email client to access email on the remote server. A significant difference from POP3, IMAP generally leaves the email on the server until the user explicitly deletes it. So, when you are using a tool like Outlook, Thunderbird or Apple Mail, the email you see in your software, is actually still on the server. IMAP has an offline and online capability that allows users to perform email functions when they are not connected to the internet. The client and server synchronize when the user goes back online, receiving and sending any email that may have been performed while offline.
The government . . . “We’re here to help.”
Existing regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA treat email equally to paper documents in terms of being valid and admissible in a court of law. The Electronic Discovery (eDiscovery) request refers to any process in which electronic data is requested, located, secured and searched with the intent of using it as evidence in a civil or criminal legal case. Now it is imperative that your business can easily locate specific email with confidence it hasn’t been tampered with.
eDiscovery should not be your major concern, but rather good solid business continuity plans that include email archiving across your enterprise. Email archiving should not be left up to the user. Whether it that stolen laptop, crashed hard drive or disgruntled employee, you need to be in control of when, where and how archiving is accomplished for the protection of your business.
For email management, discovery, archiving, spam and virus prevention, Google Apps Premium for Business comes with 25Gb of storage per user and Postini. Postini, which has been around since 1999, takes care of your email behind the scenes. By storing your email in a redundant, secure Google data center, your disgruntled employee can delete email all day long . . . but that email will be restored.
You are in control of your email through Google Apps Premier for Business. To ensure emails are compliant and secure, you can and should force all domain users to use the Secure Socket Layer (SSL) that is part of the service offering.
When we started this business in 2005, desperately missing was a shared calendar where we could see and schedule appointments. Accustomed to Lotus Notes and Microsoft’s Exchange Server, everything available was too expensive or didn’t compare in form, feature and function.
Google Apps changed that for our business. We can share our calendars with whom we want. We can share what we want (just free / busy time or details). We are also able to have an assistant schedule appointments and manage our calendar for us. But wait, it gets better!
We use cell phones that utilize the Windows Mobile operating system, so we can read Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents sent to us while on the road. Google has a synchronization tool that syncs up your calendar and contacts. As you change information in Outlook, Google pulls that information into your online Google Apps. Modifying our phone’s Active Sync, we added Google’s m.google.com application server, with our login credentials. Now when a change is made to any calendar or contact entry, it updates our PC, phone and online Google App!
Have you experienced a customer appointment you set; only to find later you are double booked and you have to reschedule or cancel one of the appointments? Ah, no longer with Google Apps as everything is shared. You set the synchronization schedule to your needs. We use every 15 minutes and it works well.
Your number one salesperson is nowhere to be found. Well look at their Google Apps calendar and you’ll see there on an appointment with your newest customer.
Document Sharing and Messaging
Does this sound familiar? You are working on a collaborative document with your colleagues and you find there are 27 versions and you don’t know which one is the latest version.
With document sharing you can control if the file is shared outside of your domain. For example, if one of your users creates a document inside your domain that contains confidential information, you can make sure that the document is not shared outside the domain.
You can share presentations, word processor documents, spreadsheets and other types that should grow as Google Apps expands.
Google Apps also has a messaging capability through video and text. This is great if you have people you are collaborating with in another city, state or even country. Keeping everyone connected, engaged and focused is what business is all about.
The down side is many of the Google Apps are still in Beta, so the setup can be a bit daunting if you want the application to take over mail services for your existing domain. Before you do that, you may want to take advantage of their free 30 day trial period. I did. I used a domain name that I didn’t care about and used that as my sandbox. After I played and tested it out, knowing that this was for our company, then I did the production cutover.
On Google Apps page there are many companies that will install Google Apps for you for just $49! It’s a bargain! I’m more of a technology masochist, so I feel the pain and understand what’s under the hood.
For $50 per year, per user, we would spend far more in software and hardware purchases, personnel to manage the server and business continuity backup costs for an offsite location. Google Apps Premier also includes technical support, which is not included in the free version.
We moved our company’s email and calendaring to Google Apps Premier for Business and I’m glad we did.
For more information, contact Jon Perry at 817.857.3557 or toll free 877.577.3779.