Software as a Service — These traditional applications running online, also know as Web 2.0 or the 1st generation of the cloud. This is mostly of interest to companies who just want to run the application, and aren't concerned with controlling every aspect of the environment, like one can do with an in-house system. They prefer simplicity. They still have some control over the application, and can make changes to the configuration parameters, but not the underlying code. They are not concerned about the infrastructure as long as it is secure and it works.
Platform as a Service - Cloud based development environments designed for building online applications. This is mostly of interest to programmers or larger companies who develop online applications, and want the infrastructure to be handled by someone else, but they still want control over the development environment. (for example, they can change the application as much as they want, not just configuration). They don't want to worry about the operating system and the hardware. But you are limited to the languages and environments that they support.
Infrastructure as a Service — In this case, we have control over everything except the physical hardware and the network. The best way to think of this is as virtual servers, or an operating system for the data centre. This is of interest to medium sized and larger companies who want to replace physical servers or complete data centres, or companies who implement applications, and want to provide another way to deploy them, which has many advantages.
Private clouds run within companies, use similar technology, and can inter-operate with public clouds. Public clouds are moving towards standardization, but we are not completely there yet.
Benefits of Cloud Computing
Platform independence. Can run applications from any machine, such as a Mac, Linux or Windows. All you need is a web browser.
Available from anywhere. All you need is a machine, and access to the internet
Agility. Get up and running quickly, without requirements for physical servers and infrastructure. Less of a commitment is involved to get started.
Lack of up-front investment. Pay only for resources that are used. Advantages for cost and cash flow.
Temporary situations or supplement to existing systems. (In the case of Infrastructure as a service) - Good environment for development, staging, testing, seasonal peak periods or new projects. Can also be used for backups of data, programs or entire servers.
Google Apps for Your Domain
These applications were developed by Google using their own App engine, which is also available to other developers. You are probably already familiar with the personal editions of Google mail, Calendar, Docs, Sites, and others. Google apps for your domain takes this to another level by allowing you to use them in a business environment. This is accomplished by adding administrative features, allowing you to associate them with your company domain name, and enabling you to share them with co-workers.
The setup process involves redirecting your email to Google apps and is done automatically if you chose to create a new domain. Your domain is automatically associated with the Sites application, which you can use as an intranet or as a full fledged public web site. For example, I created a domain called openacct.ca, which was automatically associated to my mail, and other apps. You just have to follow the wizard driven setup steps. After you have everything up and running, and fully tested, you can also associate another domain (such as your old domain) by assigning an alias. This will redirect all traffic to your Google apps mail and external sites.
Flavours of Google Apps — (see exhibit II for comparison between Standard and Premier Editions)
Personal edition - Apps that you are probably already familiar with, like gmail, docs etc.
Standard edition - Free corporate edition
Premium edition - Extends on the free corporate edition, with features listed in the exhibit II
Team edition - Designed to be a departmental solution for large enterprises
Educational edition - Intended for schools
In its most basic form, it can be used as a cloud based mail server for sending and receiving all mail for your company. In many cases, the free standard version is a suitable replacement for Microsoft exchange. In addition to saving money, there is less maintenance involved (for example you never have to worry about upgrades). You can run it from any kind of machine that has a browser (such as a Mac, or your mobile phone), or access it from anywhere, such as at home, on vacation, travelling etc. The security and SPAM control is very good. I like the "threaded" view which shows all messages in a conversation together. The search features are very good, as you would expect from a search engine like Google. There is also a chat feature, but I never really use it. You can use a contact list or address book, which can be shared. There are also several full blown CRM systems in the apps marketplace, which integrates with the contact list, and the e-mail. (see below).
This service makes it easy to create sophisticated internal or public sites without having to know html. Included are site templates for all kinds of sites such as wiki's for documentation, blog announcements, project information etc. You can also create your own templates for other people to use, by copying an existing site. There are also web page templates for things like filing cabinets with folders which you could use to share files with co-workers or clients securely. You can use this as a repository for things like documentation, videos etc. This can become a simple to use knowledge management system. You could give clients access to only their section of the system, which may contain their Financial statements in PDF, and/or tax files and give them access to other private content. This is more secure than sending client files by e-mail over the internet. (see security controls in exhibit I)
You can also allow other employees to contribute information. The pages allow attachments, comments, links and other things which are useful for collaboration, or a public online presence. The content management system is not quite as elaborate as something like Drupal or Joomla, but is much easier to use and adequate for most companies. You can embed documents like spreadsheets from the Docs app, or deadlines from the calender app, for example. When you make changes in the spreadsheet, the changes will automatically be updated on your web site. You can embed a presentation on your site, that you have in your google documents, and it will also be linked in real time. If you create a form document, and place it on your web site, it will automatically feed the data into a spreadsheet in your Google docs. For an example, have a look at my public site at http://openacct.ca
Documents like spreadsheets, text, presentations, and web forms can be created and edited online, or downloaded and worked on offline. These documents can be accessed from anywhere, shared or integrated into the other applications. You can grant access for other people to view or edit the documents, so that they can contribute content or comments. You can also do simple presentations online during a conference call, for example. Documents can be grouped in folders, and permissions can be controlled. Many people make the mistake of comparing Google documents to Microsoft Office, which is really missing the point, as far as I am concerned. They are each designed for different things. There is no reason why you can't develop a document offline in MS Office, and then upload it to Google docs for backup, collaboration, or use it on your web site for example. (Personally, I prefer Open Office for offline editing of documents, but that's as whole other discussion).
Includes all the basic functions for making appointments, scheduling meetings, reminders etc. You can share your calender with co-workers, and check theirs if they are made available to you. Each one is colour coded, so you can look at several schedules at the same time, or individually. This app can be integrated with the time tracking or CRM applications in the marketplace. (see below)
There are a large number of free and commercial applications which were built to integrate with the basic Google app components. Some interesting ones of note, which I am in the process of testing and evaluating are:
Myerp.com - basic accounting, including time tracking
Zoho CRM - customer relationship management
ManyMoon - project tracking
gTrax - time tracking
These apps are free for 2 users, so you can easily try them out for as long as you like. Intuit has a marketplace payroll app, but it only supports US, at this time. The number of third party marketplace apps is growing rapidly.
As with all cloud applications, you are still responsible for backups:
Mail, Calender, Address Book
I prefer an offline mail client called Thunderbird, but Outlook also works. This way you always have a second offline copy of your mail, in case you decide to change services for example. I have a utility which also synchronizes my online calendar with my offline mail client. It is called "Provider for Google Calender". I have another utility which synchronizes my address book from the online version to my mail client. It is called Zindus. I prefer Thunderbird as my offline mail backup because it will run on any platform, such as Mac or Linux, and doesn't require MS Windows. But you can use Outlook in the same manner.
I downloaded a simple utility to backup all my sites offline as well. It is known as "Google Data Liberation" for sites. There are utilities being developed to allow you to backup all of your Google data offline, which I recommend.
Important documents, I work on offline, and upload, or download if they were created online. I use Open Office, but it will also work with MS Office. Again. MS Office will only work on Windows.
Security and Reliability
I briefly read through the Google literature on security. There is a white paper and a lot of information about this online. Since the issue of security in a SAAS environment is a whole other topic, I will only touch on it. The servers and security employed by Google are "industrial strength". I won't go into the technology because it is far too technical for this discussion. I will put a quote from their Security FAQ in exhibit I, with more details about their SAS 70 compliance. (Equivalent to section 5900 of the CICA auditing handbook)
What does a Google Apps SAS70 Type II audit mean to me?
«An independent third party auditor issued Google Apps an unqualified SAS70 Type II certification. Google is proud to provide Google Apps administrators the peace of mind knowing that their data is secure under the SAS70 auditing industry standard.
The independent third party auditor verified that Google Apps has the following controls and protocols in place:
Logical security: Controls provide reasonable assurance that logical access to Google Apps production systems and data is restricted to authorized individuals
Privacy: Controls provide reasonable assurance that Google has implemented policies and procedures addressing the privacy of customer data related to Google Apps
Data center physical security: Controls provide reasonable assurance that data centers that house Google Apps data and corporate offices are protected
Incident management and availability: Controls provide reasonable assurance that Google Apps systems are redundant and incidents are properly reported, responded to, and recorded
Change management: Controls provide reasonable assurance that development of and changes to Google Apps undergo testing and independent code review prior to release into production
Organization and administration: Controls provide reasonable assurance that management provides the infrastructure and mechanisms to track and communicate initiatives within the company that impact Google Apps «
Standard Edition Premier Edition
Gmail and Google Calendar
Google Docs and Google Sites
Google Video and Google Groups
25GB email storage per user
BlackBerry and Microsoft Outlook
SSO, forced SSL, custom password
99.9% uptime guarantee SLA
Other Useful Google apps (in the personal space, that you might not know about)
Store important links online so that they can be accessed from anywhere, shared etc.
Jot down important notes, passwords, web information etc. So that it can be accessed from anywhere that you have internet access
For reading RSS feeds from important blogs. Saves you from having to go to each blog for updates on issues that you are following
Can be used for posting information on various topics of interest to co-workers or clients. For a sample, look at the one I created at http://openacct.blogspot.com
Discussion groups on various topics. Anyone can start one. The free version is public. The one in the premier version of apps can be private.
Translate web pages from other languages
Google's answer to Twitter, integrated with gmail
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