Life After Google’s Secure Data Connector (SDC) Goes Away

 

Google provides a service that allows an organization to surface locally stored data (e.g. on-site databases, directories, filesystems, etc.) through Google Apps called Google Secure Data Connector (SDC). Unfortunately, Google announced that the Secure Data Connector has been officially deprecated as of March 14th, 2013. So, what happens next?

 


 

What is the Google Secure Data Connector (SDC)?

The SDC can be implemented as an agent running on an organization’s local servers. It reads a configuration file (an XML document) at startup describing how to interact with Google’s servers, what users can access what resources, etc. SDC then connects to Google’s servers and resides in memory on the local server; as incoming requests for data arrive from Google, the SDC performs the steps listed in the configuration file and sends the results back to Google. Google makes those results available to applications running on Google’s infrastructure, including Google Apps Spreadsheets (via the import() method), Gadgets (via the makeRequest API), applications running on Google App Engine (via the urlFetch API).

 

As previously mentioned, SDC has been officially deprecated; it will remain supported for existing applications until April 20th, 2015. For organizations that rely on data residing on local data stores, it is imperative to investigate alternatives to the Google Secure Data Connector; for organizations that want to start using local data, an alternative to SDC is mandatory.

 

Alternatives to Google Secure Data Connector (SDC)

One way to allow applications to access data from local systems is to store a representation of the desired data in a cloud-based platform that can be accessed from applications hosted off-site (e.g. on Google’s Cloud Platform).

 

Relational Data

Google Cloud SQL provides a MySQL-based relational database (RDBMS) service hosted on Google’s cloud. This service is ideally suited for surfacing relational data that is typically stored in a database. Examples of this kind of data include product listings, inventories, geospatial data (e.g., branch locations), and so on.

 

Hierarchal User Data

Organization user data (e.g. data that’s traditionally stored in a directory service such as Microsoft Active Directory) can often be represented in Google Apps. Typically, the Google Apps Directory Sync (GADS) tool can synchronize much of this data into standard fields. For custom data, it may be possible to use custom fields in the Google Apps directory via Google’s Admin SDK’s Directory API. It’s also possible to store such data in a relational database (such as Google Cloud SQL).

 

File Data

Google provides a file storage service called Google Cloud Storage. This service allows organizations to store files on Google’s cloud where they’re regularly backed up. This allows an organization to simply copy files from the filesystems of local systems and securely upload them to a location accessible by applications running on Google’s cloud.

 

Accessing Data Stored on Google’s Cloud

All of these services provided through Google’s Cloud Platform are accessible by RESTful APIs. Often, Google provides client libraries and/or command line tools to facilitate the use of their APIs.

 

Differences from Google’s Secure Data Connector (SDC)

Google’s Secure Data Connector was designed to respond to application queries routed to the SDC through Google. As a result, data presented to applications (e.g. spreadsheets) is generally fairly close to real-time. When querying a Google Cloud Platform product (e.g. Google Cloud SQL), the data presented to applications is accurate as of the most recent synchronization. That is, if an organization synchronizes a local database with a Google Cloud SQL instance nightly, a query during the day would return data that may have been fresh 12 hours ago, but is no longer real-time accurate.

 

Applications built on top of Google’s Cloud Platform tend to be more resilient than applications that are built on top of Google’s Secure Data Connector because should the link between Google and the local data source break (e.g. the organization’s connection to the Internet dies), then the applications written to rely on that data may not behave properly.

 

Similarly, applications built on top of Google’s Cloud Platform tend to scale better than applications built on top of Google’s Secure Data Connector simply because there’s no longer a single pipeline passing data to and from local data stores as a result of each and every query. Rather, many systems can respond to simultaneous queries both from a frontend (e.g. application-facing) perspective as well as a backend (e.g. data retrieval) perspective.

 

Moreover, data stored on Google’s Cloud Platform can much more easily be integrated with Google’s Big Query and Predictive API services. That is, the organization can benefit from the ability to process and analyze data on a massive scale that, until now, has been essentially cost-prohibitive. However, with an organization’s data already resting on Google’s Cloud, the process of employing this incredible power is greatly simplified.
Life After Google's Secure Data Connector (SDC) Goes Away

Has this Technology been Vetted?

Yes, absolutely. White Stratus has built tools to provide this exact functionality. Some of the applications that White Stratus has developed around this methodology are in use in large, consumer-facing enterprises.

Conclusion

Google Cloud Platform provides services that can be used to surface data generated locally through tools like Google Spreadsheets, Google Gadgets, and custom applications hosted on Google App Engine or Google Compute Engine. While not a direct work-alike for tools that rely on Google’s Secure Data Connector, tools architected to take advantage of the massive scalability provided by the Google Cloud Platform (such applications hosted on Google App Engine or Google Compute Engine) can benefit from a more fault-tolerant, higher-capacity features associated with Google’s Cloud-based infrastructure.
Written by Wes Dean, Development Lead, White Stratus. For more information visit www.whitestratus.com.

 

White Stratus Tech Tips: Using Google Apps Script to Automate Document Creation

Google Drive is a great tool that many people use every day. At the same time, a lot of time is often spent engaging in repetitive tasks that are often best automated. The secret sauce – Google Apps Script – is a tool that many Google Apps users don’t know exist, while others think that Google Apps Script is too complex for their needs or too complicated to use.


Here’s one example that recently presented itself as an excellent candidate for automation – the creating of meeting minutes documents.

What is Google Apps Script?

Google Apps Script is a tool, provided by Google and entirely hosted on Google’s servers, that allows developers to write custom functionality for the Google Apps platform. Google Apps Script is based on JavaScript, but it also contains functionality to interact with a number of Google Apps services, including Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive, Google Contacts, and much, much more.

Google Apps Script also provides a completely online Integrated Development Environment (IDE); that is, everything about Google Apps Script can be done from a web browser. So, for example, the developer has the same experience working with Google Apps Script on a Google Chromebook as they would a desktop, laptop, etc.  Moreover, because the code is stored on Google’s cloud, it can be edited from anywhere in the world with a connection to the web.

 

Standup Meeting Note Creation

The development team at White Stratus has daily standup meetings wherein development team members from around the world spend a few minutes discussing what they’re working on, what stumbling blocks they’re running into, what blockers are preventing forward motion, etc. Notes are kept so that developers, project managers, team leads, etc. can keep their finger on the pulse of what’s going on without interviewing every developer or reading a bunch of daily status updates.
To help facilitate the creation of these meeting minute notes documents, a short script was written in Google Apps Script.
The script starts with a template document; it creates a fresh copy and applies a series of macros that perform various functions to that copy. For example, one macro renames the copy so that the file is named for the date of the meeting, one macro updates the text of the document to reflect the date that the meeting was held, etc.

 

Divergent Thinking and Future Development Opportunities

Macros can be written to do any number of repetitive tasks. For example, macros could pull down a copy of the organization’s RSS feed and update the team about recent posts to the organization’s blog; another could query the organization’s source code repository and provide some statistics on recent repository commits.
Another macro could query the organization’s directory and provide a list of recent hires.
Yet another macro could query a list of Google blogs and update the team as to recent Google blog posts. Macros can interact with the team’s shared calendar and display a list of meetings and client interactions for the day or even countdown the number of days left until deadlines in the calendar arrive.
Another idea could be to query the RSS feeds of important clients and record links to blog posts, press releases, etc. This way, the development team can keep up-to-date on what’s going with our clients.
It’s possible to take this even further. There are APIs out there that can provide all kinds of interesting data. There are APIs that provide weather data, quotes of the day, UNIX tips, stock quotes, and more.
Even more interestingly, it’s possible to write web services that interact with databases and surface streams of data that would otherwise not be accessible or usable. Consider a mechanism that would interact with a Time Entry system and calculate chargeability for each developer or display commit messages from the source code repository system.
Consider the idea of a macro querying the standup – a Google+ Hangout – and tracking attendance; that attendance data could then be applied retroactively to the meeting notes.
Consider a macro that would query a database of libraries that client applications are built against and provide a report whenever new library versions are released, which tools need to be updated / recompiled, etc. That is, proactively know what maintenance work needs to happen the day after the new library becomes available.

Options for Non-Developers

For those who aren’t developers or who don’t want to start writing Google Apps Script applications from scratch, Google provides loads of sample applications that can be used to help you get started using Google Apps Script. There are also websites that cater to the Google Apps Script development or usage communities. See the links provided in the Resources section for more information.

Conclusion

So, while the examples provided may seem trivial or contextually focused, they help drive creativity to produce new tools to make life as a developer easier to manage while providing immediate value-add for clients.

Resources

 
Written by Wes Dean, Development Lead, White Stratus. For more information visit www.whitestratus.com.

A Week of Software Development from a Chromebook

Google’s wildly popular Chromebook laptop was designed around a very simple concept – provide a platform whose only application is a web browser. This allows Google to provide a very cost-effective, energy-efficient, and extremely user-friendly platform. But with only a web browser, is it possible to use a Google Chromebook to do development work? White Stratus Development Lead Wes Dean spent a week using only a Chromebook and found that it didn’t slow him down in the least!

 

Introduction

White Stratus has a core focus on using Google products in the enterprise to provide 100% Google-centric solutions. Typically, these involve using Google Apps, Google Cloud Platform and Google Map Engine to save organizations money by reducing capital (e.g. data center construction costs), and operational (e.g. energy, IT staffing) expenditures. A common question posed to White Stratus is how an organization can use Google Chromebooks to help with these costs.
A common misconception is that Google Chromebooks are only useful for surfing the web. Fortunately for all of us, more and more tools are being developed around using web browsers to provide user interfaces – there is a decreasing need to install a different software package on a computer for each and every task the end-user wishes to accomplish.
Google is leading the charge for moving more and more applications to the web. It wasn’t long ago that millions of users were on the office application suite purchase and patch treadmill, easily spending hundreds of dollars every year simply to have access to software that allowed them to accomplish very simple tasks like writing documents. Now, with free applications like Google Docs, anyone with a web browser and a connection to the Internet has access to a word processor, a spreadsheet application, etc…
While it’s great that Google provides these free tools, there still exist software packages that don’t have web interfaces. Google Chromebook critics often point at these as proof that Google Chromebooks won’t work in their environments. Fortunately, there available solutions that allow users to use these non-web applications from their Chromebooks.
To demonstrate the viability of using a Chromebook in a demanding environment requiring a variety of non-web applications, White Stratus Development Lead Wes Dean took on the challenge of working exclusively from ChromeOS devices (i.e. a Google Chromebook and a Google Chromebox) for an entire week.

The Test

To prove that the Chromebook was a usable platform, six tests were crafted that relate to software development. If those tests were passed, the experiment would be deemed a success. These tests included:
  1. Basic Functionality (web browser, email access)
  2. Media Support (voice and video conferencing)
  3. Source Code Editing
  4. Command Line Access
  5. Graphical Applications
  6. Printing

Test #1: Basic Functionality

The first goal was to achieve basic functionality for a usable platform. At a minimum, this included two monitors, keyboard, mouse, webcam, microphone, speakers, and local storage. While a Chromebox was ultimately chosen, the setup for a Chromebook would work just as well.
The Chromebox had six USB ports (four on the back and two on the front), a standard (3.5mm) audio output jack, and two DisplayPort ports. Adding the keyboard, mouse, webcam and microphone were simply a matter of plugging the devices into available USB ports. Similarly, the speakers connected to the standard audio output, as expected. The two monitors required separate cables. As the monitors had HDMI inputs, DisplayPort to HDMI cables were used (HDMI) although DisplayPort to VGA cables were also available. Local storage was added via a 32 GB flash drive attached to an available USB port. Lastly, the Chromebox was connected to the office’s existing wired network; however, both the Chromebox and the Chromebook have on-board wireless network adapters, so using the office wireless network was also an option.
The keyboard, mouse, webcam and microphone were all recognized and made available for use without any configuration.
This setup allowed basic web browsing, email access (via Gmail) and office productivity (via Google Docs).

 

 

Test #2: Media

White Stratus conducts most meetings online using Google+ Hangouts. This allows White Stratus developers in New York, London, Tokyo, etc. to collaborate face-to-face, despite being scattered across the globe without any cost to the organization. As such, supporting media beyond simple text and web pages (e.g. video, sound, etc.) is critically important.
Because the Chromebox recognized the webcam and microphone, video conferencing (via Google+ Hangouts) and telephone usage (via Google Voice) were also possible without any configuration. Moreover, work from the Chromebox was made a little more comfortable by streaming music stored on Google Play Music.

 

 

Test #3: Source Code Editing

Moving beyond simple web applications, the next goal was to get to work developing software by facilitating the editing of source code.
The first concept that was explored was the use of a Google Drive application that would provide a web interface to access source code stored on Google Drive, much like Google Docs, but for source code. For this, Neutron Drive was selected. Neutron Drive provides an editor with many common programming aides, like syntax highlighting. Furthermore, Neutron Drive implements the Google Drive SDK’s Realtime API; this allows multiple developers to collaborate on the same files at the same, just like with Google Docs. Lastly, Neutron Drive allows developers to synchronize files between Google Drive and a server using Neutron Beam. This allows developers to work in the cloud while having their files synchronized back to a development server for compilation, revision control, deployment, etc…

 

 

Test #4: Command Line Access

After source code has been written and edited, it often needs to be processed somehow. For example, Java source needs to be compiled, tested, archived, JARed, deployed and placed into revision control systems. As none of these applications traditionally involve web interfaces, a different interface mechanism is required. As development work at White Stratus typically involves a UNIX or Linux environment for these tasks, Secure Shell (SSH) is typically employed to provide access to development tools.
Google provides a free SSH Client extension for Chrome that uses Native-Client to communicate directly with SSH servers without relying on SSH to HTTP proxies. As the Chromebox came loaded with the Google Chrome web browser, an SSH client was only a click away.
The Chromebox had no issues running the SSH Client extension. The extension can run in a tab like any other web page, or it can hide the browser interface completely and appear like any other application (including fullscreen).

 

 

Test #5: Graphical Applications

The last test was to determine if graphical applications – not just applications with web or command line interfaces, but applications that were full-blown graphical applications – could be run or accessed from the Chromebox.
It turns out that there are several options available to provide access to graphical applications.
For applications that reside on a server running Microsoft Windows, there are several extensions to Google Chrome that provide Remote Desktop capabilities. Google provides Chrome Remote Desktop, a free extension that allows users to connect to computers that they’ve previously enabled Chrome Remote Desktop access. The protocols used with this extension allow secure, encrypted access to any computer that can browse the web, even through firewalls or network address translation. That is, if a computer can launch Chrome and bring up a web page on the Internet, they can use Chrome Remote Desktop as either a client or host, regardless of platform (i.e. it runs on both Windows and Mac platforms).
Another Google Chrome extension is Chrome RDP which provides a true RDP client. Therefore, if the server being accessed is running RDP already, Chrome RDP can access it without further configuration. However, unlike Chrome Remote Desktop, Chrome RDP is not a free Google Chrome extension.

 

 

Yet another option is to use VNC. RealVNC provides a free Google Chrome extension called VNC Viewer for Google Chrome. This allows access to systems running a VNC server, such as the freely available TightVNC package which runs on Windows and UNIX / Linux. Mac OS X provides a Screen Sharing feature based on VNC, so you may use the VNC Viewer for Google Chrome extension without having to install a VNC server.
For systems that are running an SSH server (e.g. UNIX / Linux systems), you may use port forwarding to tunnel a VNC session, effectively encrypting everything that goes between the client and the server. (Use port forwarding so that a local port (e.g. 5901) is forwarded to the port that the VNC server is listening on on the server; for OpenSSH and the SSH client extension for Google Chrome, the flag is “-L 5901:localhost:5901″ (no quotes), then use the VNC Viewer for Google Chrome to connect to localhost instead of the actual server.)

As most users’ devices are under-loaded or idle most of the time, it’s possible to consolidate multiple users’ desktops down to a smaller number of centrally-managed servers.
To take that concept to the next level, Google Cloud Platform includes Google Compute Engine, a cloud-hosted virtual Linux server. Google Compute Engine allows you to allocate processing power, memory, network interfaces, temporary and durable storage, and more through a web interface. So, instead of purchasing new servers every few years, an administrator need only click through a web interface and provide the most effective amount of computing power possible.
The Chromebox had no problems running the Chrome Remote Desktop, Chrome RDP or VNC Viewer for Google Chrome extensions. Like with the SSH Client extension, the browser interface can be hidden so that the application appears like a traditional application. Moreover, by making the VNC Viewer fullscreen, using the remote system looks and feels just like using a local system.

Test #6: Printing

There’s a strong push to ‘Go Paperless’ by eliminating as many tasks that require paper as possible. While Google Forms and online web applications can be used to facilitate paperless input, there are still times when people need to print documents.
Printing from the Chromebox was accomplished using Google Cloud Print. Google Cloud Print is a free service provided as a part of Google Apps. Just as users can share documents using Google Docs, users can share access to printers using Google Cloud Print.
To use Google Cloud Print, a user with a printer attached to their computer registers the printer to Google Cloud Print. Then, they share the printer with whomever they wish to allow the ability to print. Then, use the print dialog to select the printer you wish to use under Google Cloud Print and continue as usual.
In addition to allowing individual users to share their printers, it’s also possible to use Google Cloud Print in conjunction with print servers – dedicated computers configured to allow multiple users to print to one or more printer attached to the print server rather than the end-user’s computer. Google provides Google Cloud Print services for both Windows and UNIX / Linux servers.

 

Conclusion

The six tests prove that it’s definitely possible to deploy Google Chromebook and Google Chromebox devices while providing all of the tools needed for users to work effectively.
  1. Basic Functionality (web browser, email access) : PASS!
  2. Media Support (voice and video conferencing) : PASS!
  3. Source Code Editing : PASS!
  4. Command Line Access : PASS!
  5. Graphical Applications : PASS!
  6. Printing : PASS!

 

By deploying systems running ChromeOS – including Google Chromebook and Google Chromebox devices – organizations can save money through reduced energy consumption, simplified IT support and management, and reduced costs associated with the end-users’ devices.

Written by Wes Dean, Development Lead, White Stratus. For more information visit www.whitestratus.com.

White Stratus Tech Tips: Using HTML and CSS with Google Sites

Google Sites is often overlooked as a web content hosting service. After seeing the limited selections of theme and layout options, it’s easy to dismiss Google Sites as too simplistic for the needs of a web site with a sophisticated design. Here’s how to use your own HTML and CSS in Google Sites; the only way people will know that it’s a Google Site is the one line of footer text at the bottom of the page required by Google. Other than that, the design options of your site are limitless!

 

Introduction

Google Sites has a lot of functionality that is hidden under the surface. The HTML Editor, for example, can be used to edit the HTML for your page. By placing our own HTML in the HTML Editor, we have control over exactly what tags are used where. Moreover, we can use inline CSS attributes on those tags to control exactly how they’re displayed. This process works for the vast majority of CSS attributes, but there are some attributes that do not work.
Web content editors can use Google Sites the way they always have to edit page content while page templates can be used to allow web content editors to quickly copy an existing page design and apply it to new pages.
As a result, Google Sites can be used as a web content management system (CMS) while retaining the Google-provided infrastructure, access control/sharing mechanisms, and user-friendly content editor, but also employ innovative designs built on custom HTML and CSS.

Quick Overview of Steps

  1. Manage Site to set the Theme to “Blank Slate”
  2. Edit Site Layout to Remove Unused Site Content
  3. Use Page Settings to Remove Unused Page Content
  4. Create Inlined CSS
  5. Paste HTML Content into HTML Editor
  6. Preview your Page
  7. Save the Design as a Page Template
  8. Create New Pages Using a Saved Page Template
  9. Edit Content with Google Sites

Detailed Steps

1. Manage Site to set the Theme to Blank Slate

On the “More” menu, go to Manage Site:

 

 

 

From the “Themes, Colors, and Fonts” menu, choose the “Blank Slate” theme.

 

Click the “Save” button to save your changes.

2. Edit Site Layout to Remove Unused Site Content

Next, go back to the page you’re editing (click on the Site’s title that has the < to the left of it), then go to “Edit site layout” under the “More” menu:

 

In the Site layout editor, deselect as many components as you can (typically Header and Sidebar), and set the Site width to 100%.
Click “Close” to save your changes.

3. Use Page Settings to Remove Unwanted Page Content

Next, under the “More” menu, click “Page settings.”  Deselect as many components as you can (typically, “Show page title” and “Show links to sub-pages” are selected by default).

4. Create Inlined CSS

Next, create HTML with the CSS applied “inline;” that is, instead of a <style /> tag in the <head /> of the document, each element / tag should have a style attribute that specifies exactly what styles should apply to this element.
N.B. There are online tools available on the Internet that greatly simplify this “inlining” process. One such tool is the “Automatic CSS Inliner Tool” provided by MailChimp. beaker.mailchimp.com/inline-css Typically, this tool is used to inline CSS for HTML that is destined for use in formatted email, but it works very well for inlining CSS for a Google Site as well.

5. Paste HTML Content into the HTML Editor

Next, edit the page you wish to update (the pencil icon) and open the HTML editor by clicking on the <HTML> button (the right-most button on the toolbar). Don’t use the “HTML Box” from the Insert menu; use the actual HTML editor.

 

Copy and paste your inlined code into the HTML window, click update, and save your page.

6. Preview Your Page

To see what your page will look like when viewed outside of the Google Sites editing environment, click on the “Preview page as viewer” option from the “More” menu.

 

7. Save the Design as a Page Template

Under the “More” menu, click “Save as page template” so that new pages can be created with this design.

8. Create New Pages Using a Saved Page Template

New pages can be created using page templates; they’ll inherit all of the HTML and CSS – the design – from the template while allowing the editor to change the content. Click on the create page button (the sheet of paper with a folded down corner and a + symbol in the center) and select the new design’s template.

9. Edit Content with Google Sites

Despite the fact that custom HTML and CSS was used to generate the design, the standard Google Sites content editor can be used to modify content.

 

Conclusion

Google Sites provides a lot of functionality that isn’t immediately obvious; this makes Sites easy to dismiss as a non-option for a serious web site. However, with some creativity, Google Sites can host visually sophisticated, elegant, attention-grabbing web content. Page templates allow a single design to be used on multiple pages while the standard Google Sites editor facilitates content changes without requiring in-depth HTML knowledge.

Written by Wes Dean, Development Lead, White Stratus. For more information visit www.whitestratus.com.

Enterprise Cloud Adoption and the Winds of Change

Several years ago I broadcasted a poll on LinkedIn gauging professional colleagues’ and acquaintances’ opinions on the hype vs. reality of “Cloud”. It was relatively early in, so the verdict was still out, and the response was fairly mixed.

Fast forward and Cloud is something that won over techies and adventurous users; it was trickled to and widely embraced by the consumer first, (see YouTube, Facebook, Gmail, eBay, oh yeah- LinkedIn) and the Enterprise later. Despite this fact, change management continues to be the key to a trouble free journey to the enterprise Cloud- much more of a strategic consideration and much less of an afterthought.

That verdict on the reality of Cloud is now in, and as many of us in IT suspected, it is much more than hype and more like a revolution; spawning similar revolutions such as Big Data (verdict is still out for some, but those in “the know” recognize the pattern): the proverbial “tip-of-the-iceberg”. Though after passing through the boardroom and making it through Finance, one of the last hurdles in your enterprise migration is actually getting your users to embrace the change.

Here are some benefits that we’ve found from experience make the changes more enticing, and therefore easier overall:

BYOD- People love their tech gadgets, and by using your own iPad at work it not only makes users comfortable but gives people a way to almost play “hooky” from their ball-and-chain PCs and laptops

Processes- Cloud can automate and streamline many of the tedious and disruptive functions your users would love to see gone. Oftentimes we see members of an enterprise salesforce who can perform quotes, sign contracts, etc right from their tablet

Teleworking- Statistics show that because people feel more conscientious about the fact that they aren’t in the office, they are more diligent about time spent working from home, including leveraging that wasted commute time

GTD- We work primarily with Google and Google Enterprise technologies, and find that features like Google Hangouts, live simultaneous Document editing, respond to email by chat and more help keep things flowing as opposed to users jumping in and out of multiple systems

Change Management is all about planning and being proactive. Every enterprise is going to be different, and one thing that goes a long way is leveraging your Comms and/or HR teams to conduct polls and put the feelers out before the whole ball gets rolling. There is also technology out there that can analyze and report on way your users utilize your current systems for data that ends up being valuable in migration scenarios.

Above all, work closely with both the stakeholders and the IT management team to ensure that you have the “Before” and “After” views for your Architecture and your Corporate Culture when all of the changes take place. Strive for universal governance and resist siloed clouds for different services within the organization.

If you have any questions on cloud, cloud migration, change management or related subjects feel free to contact info@whitestratus.com

Could Enterprise Social Media be the New Unified Communications?

Enterprise social networking leverages intranets, social media and relevant tools to connect business users and supply access to the knowledge and resources crucial to the goals of the enterprise. Forrester Research estimates growth in Enterprise Social Software at an annual compound rate of about 61% over the next four years.

Unified Communication is considered a suite of services comprised of Presence, IM and Collaboration deployed within the enterprise. With UC you may send a message via one service and receive a response via another- a concept that has reinvented the enterprise network for Cisco, Microsoft and other tech giants with portfolios comprised of big ticket hardware and software. But the combination of the social enterprise (2.0) and the emergence of the cloud is changing the the game in a revolutionary way.

The ultimate goal of UC is to integrate communications to maximize business processes, and we find that there are three core business-driven purposes:

  • Collaboration
  • Productivity
  • Enterprise Transformation

You’ll notice that these are also benefits of the Social Enterprise Networking play (aka Enterprise 2.0), which actually goes a bit further. We take for granted in a business world that wants to be 2.0, but often in reality lives simultaneously in 1.0 that users can waste countless hours sending multiple emails or making several calls with little response and will often consider it the norm.

Taking dynamic, tangible, real-time communications and centralizing them into a browser / intranet and making them accessible from any device, anywhere and at any time means that you get the benefits of cloud, and much more. Rather that emails, docs and CRM records being statically accessible as one way vehicles of communication, true enterprise collaboration, productivity and transformation are available without borders of any kind in a more dynamic way. Some of the most notable benefits include:

Better access to leadership and leadership messaging- blogs and even video broadcasts can be something that’s available to everyone in the organization, along with opinion polls
Reduction in costs for an extended period of time- no need for so many phone lines and Webex accounts with things like instant Google Hangouts within your intranet
Better response time from employees and teams- driving agility and revving competition
Centralization of processes and systems- social enterprise networking can often give access to everything a user needs in one interface, including training and knowledge management
Revitalization of corporate culture- bringing the team together and making everyone accessible, from onboarding to cheering on successes*

*One tip, though: ditch the hierarchies and embrace openness to drive adoption of your social tools in the enterprise

Unified Communications has made reaching and even communicating within the enterprise much easier and more predictable; but now that enterprise social networking has nearly instantaneous communication, enterprise engagement can truly be transformed.

If you have questions or an interest in intranets, enterprise social solutions and cloud transformation in general, please contact info@whitestratus.com

Seeing the Cloud for the Data

Neither the concept of Cloud, nor that of Big Data really need introductions at this point in the Enterprise Game. Cloud is consuming the enterprise across business process, applications and more, while data is the first name of the “data driven Enterprise” and is created to the tune of 2 1/2 quintillion bytes a day, prompting investors to bet the farm on the concept of efficiently mining vast amounts of data to identify unforeseen relationships missed by competitors gathering the same crop to edge the others out.

The symbiotic connection between Cloud and mass Data creates infinite opportunities inCloudBigData the Enterprise, but also a long series of headaches for roles ranging from the (obvious) CIO and CFO to these days even including the COO and CMO.

Data can be farmed to outperform, reign in BPs, avert risk, consolidate systems, increase efficiency, streamline mergers, cut wasteful spending, modernize IT, identify potential markets, boost innovation, on and on… But do you really need all of that data? Who determines what is kept and discarded- or what is the value of what isn’t trimmed vs the cost of storage and backup? Have you seen the cost of the heavy lifting for juggling data of this size? The processing power needed for Enterprise-sized data is Enterprise-priced for on-prem and owned (-even colo) data centers, and then you have to plan, build, manage and scale it all on top of that.

That’s where Enterprise Cloud and the “Back-to-the-Basics” concept of Cloud as a utility come in. Cloud backed by a provider such as Google has the on-demand power, scalability and elasticity needed by the Enterprise on an as-needed basis with wholesale prices. This comes with multiple, redundant, secure data centers managed by the best in the business, and all wrapped into the same price to deliver what the Enterprise really needs: actionable and data-driven business insights.

‘Michael J. Franklin, Professor of Computer Science at UC Berkeley, remarked that [Google’s] BigQuery (internally known as Dremel) leverages “thousands of machines to process data at a scale that is simply jaw-dropping given the current state of the art.”’

Google states that “BigQuery is a web service that lets you do interactive analysis of massive datasets – up to billions of rows. Scalable and easy to use, BigQuery lets developers and businesses tap into powerful data analytics on demand. BigQuery works best for interactive analysis of very large datasets, typically using a small number of very large, append-only tables. For more traditional relational database scenarios, you might consider using Google Cloud SQL instead.”

For some actionable insight into BigQuery, take boo-box as an example. boo-box is an advertising network with clients like Intel, Fiat and Unilever that places 3 billion ads across 350,000 sites on just a monthly basis that uses BigQuery over MySQL and Hadoop to gain all but real-time insights into their business.

White Stratus is leveraging BigQuery to help Enterprise customers in sectors like retail to drill in on the who, what, where and why of their customers- live, as it happens, improving supply chains and streamlining their teams. And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the possibilities laid out by the powerful combo of Cloud and Big Data for the Enterprise.

If you would like to hear more about Cloud, Big Data, Google or BigQuery for the Enterprise please contact info@whitestratus.com

The $’s and Sense of Cloud Scalability

Tony Evans Tony Evans, Managing Director of AUS and NZ, White Stratus

In today’s world there are two basic models for cloud computing: One is utilizing a particular application for a particular purpose, SaaS; two is the process of developing applications with the specific purpose to run an app engine, IaaS. Now don’t get me wrong, both of these service models have a wealth of positives about them, but they are inherently limited by definition. What you are essentially doing here is creating building blocks and placing those blocks in an environment specifically designed for them to succeed. The blocks do what you intended for them and the environment thrives because of it. What limits the services is the lack of flexibility of the blocks. They are extremely rigid and stubborn applications which, in the end, are forever constrained to their singular task in their singular environment.

The progression forward when dealing with this inflexibility issue is to get away from a predefined solution and move towards raw computing power, and that is what Google Compute Engine is. In the past 4 years, Google has begun a movement away from traditional server sellers such as IBM, HP and Dell and positioned itself as the world’s fifth largest server maker. The cloud-based, elastic environment Google created has the potential to be best friend to everyone from garage startup to enterprise corporation:

Example #1: Steady State Organization
A technical solution company has been around for 4 years now and is well established. Their clientele has grown at a steady rate and in turn their number of employees has reached 50. They have a discovered that at their peak work hours they will need about 100 servers to support their entire business model. They had the capital, so they simply went out and bought the servers. What management didn’t consider is the servers rarely, if ever, run at 100 percent. According to Gartner research, Server utilization is often at the low end of the performance range, averaging between 7 and 15% of their potential power. In addition, they are only performing account process for about 3 hours each night, and sit dormant the remainder of the time.

The servers filled an immediate need and the company could afford it, so they can live with the down-time of the servers. What they fail to understand is that by moving these servers into Google’s Compute Engine they would have had a much more dynamic conversion of capital expenses into growth profit. The cloud enables a firm to pay only for the servers while they are using them. The servers would stretch out to the power of 100 servers during peak work hours when everyone is in the office, then scale back down as people begin logging off at the end of the day. By doing so capital IT expense is dramatically decreased.

Example #2: Startup Organization
A Government agency is following the growing trend towards e-government and online service for citizens. Their initial intention was to start online conveyancing and transactions of property sales. In the old world it would take a 5 year, 75 million dollar binding contract to accomplish the goal with an IaaS solution. Again there would be the inherent risk that would be taken on by either the agency or a service provider, lets say IBM. With a million transactions per year, the agency will pay IBM just 15 dollars per transaction. Pretty sweet deal right? Wrong. The deal may seem advantageous at first glance but, this same function could be created in the cloud for one-hundredth of the cost.

Furthermore they cannot easily repurpose that infrastructure when they decide to cut ties with IBM and cancel the project. In all likelihood they could end up having to pay IBM even more money just to come and take the servers away for them! This far too much risk for an organization in the public sector to endure.

If they take their same business plan forward into the cloud model the risk immediately vanishes. They can start with 1 transaction that requires about 1 hour of processing, and thats all they will have to pay for. From there the number of transactions/processing can build and the servers will expand and retract as needed. On top of that, they are free to walk away from the infrastructure whenever they want, with no cancellation fees or useless, space-consuming servers lying around. Further, speculative startups that are unsure of their business model can confidently use cloud based IaaS to grow as the opportunity grows. The engines will scale up or down as your business needs dictate.

Example #3: Need to Start then Eventually Shut Down
The need to begin a project that has a designated and limited run time is not uncommon. Whether you’re business is managing a transition from analog to digital TV broadcasts or running a promotional website for the Summer Olympic Games, the need to quickly create and easily shut down a process is an absolute must. When you are managing a project like this with Google Compute Engine, there are a number of glowing qualities that will enable a smooth and successful project. During the development of the necessary infrastructure you can utilize the cloud to test interim and potential platforms. You can move specific testing environments into the cloud, without transferring the entire business over. This allows for something of a trial-and-error process in designing your platform. If an idea is created in the cloud then deemed unsuccessful there will be absolutely zero decommissioning costs and you can simply wipe the slate clean and start again.

Now if this situation is carried out in the old world IaaS, it is a completely different story. If, after a month of developing a new website you find that there is more work to be done than originally predicted and you’re in need of increased computing power, you will be in the position of ordering say 6 more servers to support the growing project. Those servers will probably ship in from HP in about 6-12 weeks. In the cloud a request for more servers can be filled in about 2 minutes. This ability to make smart and quick decisions about infrastructure is simply revolutionary.

So back to the “shut down” part of this example.. The Olympic Games are over, you no longer have need of the servers and it’s time to shut down this successful project. Instead of being stuck with unused servers taking up space in a data center, or trying to sell them to another department, you now have the pleasure of walking away from the infrastructure contract when you are done with it. No clean up crews, no cancellation fees. You paid for it while you used it, you’re done using it, so you’re done paying for it. No longer do you have to watch the profits of a successful six month promotional campaign dwindle away as you pay the IT costs involved with making the whole thing happen in the first place.

Conclusion
Google Compute Engine has the speed, agility, elasticity and web scale that businesses of all shapes and sizes absolutely need in today’s digital world. It puts IT in a much more responsive position with less capital risk.

Written by Tony Evans, Managing Director of Australia and New Zealand, White StratusFor more information visit www.whitestratus.com 

Google+ [Almost] For the Social Enterprise

David Watts, Director of Business Development, White Stratus

The potential market of enterprise social collaboration is expected to multiply by ten over just the next four years, according to Forrester Research. But when “Bob in Marketing” shares some positive initial campaign statistics with his company’s Sales “Circle” on Google+ and schedules a follow up video Hangout on Air to gather live feedback, that’s not what’s on his mind. All that “Bob in Marketing” knows, is that there’s a way for him to share information in a collaborative stream within his existing apps environment that doesn’t involve jumping into another system, writing up a time-consuming mass email or calls around the enterprise to people who may or may not be there. His collaboration is social, specific, and effective as opposed to static and peripheral.

The social enterprise collaboration space is made up of many names now swept up by the larger IT providers: Yammer, Chatter, Jive and Quad to name a few. The landscape is cluttered to the point of confusion around who owns them, to what extent they have been integrated with their owners and how viable they are based on your enterprise investment in Salesforce, Cisco, Microsoft, etc. Beyond this, many platforms have been built for silos of the enterprise, like Sales or IT and are not a great experience for connecting the broad, far-reaching needs of an organization. Meanwhile, the smaller players are typically more vertical and SMB focused and don’t hold much confidence in the enterprise realm. All of this leads to tug-of-wars between CIO’s, CMO’s, CFO’s, HR, business and IT regarding strategic direction and investment.

Enter Google+, late to the Facebook, Twitter, etc. social party on the consumer side and seemingly filled to the brim with excitement- the young kid that was never invited and seemingly doesn’t have a clue. The platform was very nice and even different enough to be innovative, but really only adopted by specific circles such as techies, photographers and FB haters. The entrance was drawn out rather than grand, due to the invite-only release, the lack of iOS acknowledgment, no API info and other issues which had nearly everyone writing G+ off as another flop, a la Google Buzz or Wave.

But was this another Google Wave, or a Google Sleight-of-Hand? Google has a reputation to-date of taking applications that have been tried and tested in the consumer realm en mass, and ushering them into the enterprise (see also “consumerization of IT”, Wikipedia). Competitors and critics say that this “made-for-consumers-and-delivered-to-the-enterprise” approach is backwards, but many experts in the space are beginning to see what they think is an intentional Trojan Horse approach where the “freemiums” work out all of the kinks, endear the product, spread the word and “need” it at work (oh and BTW, BYOD is as conducive to this model as it is to Google’s cloud delivery model). Does everyone remember one of the greatest enterprise plays of our era, Gmail which now serves 40+ million businesses around the globe? Truth be told, this Google Trojan approach brings back an oft-quoted line from The Usual Suspects: “The greatest trick [he] ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” So, backwards or strategic?

Cut to today: Enterprise organizations, especially those already on Google Apps, have had a taste of Google+ and so far they really, really like it. We now see that the tools that are working together for the Enterprise in G+ like Hangouts, Docs, Circles (for Depts, Projects, Distro Groups), Search, and now even recently Events – are valuable pieces of the overall product, which can consolidate enterprise tools across many budgets including collaboration (expensive) and even UC (more expensive). The formula that makes G+ work is the sum of all of these features, plus the actual user experience. This of course equals the social piece: that organic connection that closes the gap between a faceless name and “Bob in Marketing” who’s from the same college, has worked in the background on common projects and happened to drive the product awareness that led to your most recent sale. Additionally, out of all of the enterprise social platforms out there, Google+ is the one that really seems to “get it” by leveraging actual real-time collaboration across time, space and device. Dennis Howlett of ZDNet said it best, “There will be the inevitable comparisons with Yammer, Chatter, tibbr, Streamwork and many others who think (wrongly) that this is just about social networks. In my world this is about getting things done and on the basis of what I see today, Google is on the right road…”

So the invitations are in the mail, but this party hasn’t quite started. As many organizations begin to see the potential for G+ in the Enterprise, they’re also beginning to see holes in the scorecard:

  • What if “Bob in Marketing” accidentally shared that info with a vendor who also happens to service a competitor (or a Circle of Vendors)?
  • What happens when an employee is fired and he/she still has access for sharing/ranting into the stream?
  • What’s to keep company info from being shared outside of professional profiles?
  • Overall, how do you manage G+ from an administrative and policy level rather than just a user level?
  • How can you capture and retain information from a social stream, especially when the interaction may carry across departments, countries, etc?
  • What if we’re planning a bday surprise cake for “Bob in Marketing” and he’s part of the Circle I need to plan with?

As a consulting organization centered around cloud (particularly Google cloud) solutions, one of the top questions asked of us here at White Stratus by enterprise CxO’s is when, exactly Google+ will be enterprise-ready. The unofficial word-on-the-street is that it may happen in the next 12-18 months, but not only are there rumors that Google+ acquisitions are actually now on hold, but Google’s iterative dev/release process can always lean towards demand in other areas of Google Apps.

Our answer to this problem in the Enterprise space is a platform that began as a solution commissioned by a client (one of the largest international retailers in the world), that emulates Google+ and not only has all of the needed security but adds integrated access to Google Apps tools like Mail, Contacts, Docs/Drive, resources like HR documentation/forms and even allows for the information to be migrated at some point down the road to either G+ (for the Enterprise) or another system. Our Google Social / Intranet Solution is built on Google solutions, making it both solid (CTO) and affordable (CFO) for the enterprise.

Now that word of this solution has trickled out to Google and their counterparts, we all but have a waiting list of enterprise organizations interested in demos for their teams, as this solution effectively sidesteps the need to create a costly external system in the interim and even stores streams and content for migration at a later date.

So now “Bob in Marketing” has a solution that not only meets his collaboration needs with associates, but can be managed and integrated in the enterprise: leveraging both the powerful enterprise ecosystem of Google Apps and an enterprise’s most valuable resource- its people.

“Collaboration will be the critical business competency of the internet age. It won’t be the ability to fiercely compete, but the ability to lovingly cooperate that will determine success. Rather than focusing on stomping the competition into the ground, true leaders of the internet age will focus on creating value for their customers, intelligence and skill in their talent, and wealth for their investors and shareholders.” - James M. Kouzes

For more information about our Google Social Enterprise solution:
Visit our website at www.whitestratus.com/wssolutions/social-enterprise or email socialenterprise@whitestratus.com

Written by David Watts, Director of Business Development, White Stratus

Finally, Google Apps Customers Have an Enterprise Ready Social Solution

Tim Drury, CEO, White Stratus

In the last 24 months many companies have caught Facebook Fever and decided that adopting Social technologies in the enterprise can help drive significant value. Some of the benefits sought are higher levels of employee engagement, better access to the right experts and lower communication costs. Additionally, many employees have used social tools on a personal level for years, leading to rapid adoption curves in the enterprise when they are available – something rarely seen in traditional IT / HR controlled intranet style environments.

The rise of social in the company has seen the rise of a gang of competitors vying to offer their services – Jive which went public in Dec 2011, Yammer (recently acquired by Microsoft, reflecting the heat of the sector), Chatter launched by Salesforce and Tibbr by Tibco.

These tools, to differing degrees, do ‘Social Enterprise’ very well. But they all suffer a major flaw from an IT strategy perspective – they are point solutions. Deploying them creates, for the CIO, yet another source of siloed information in the organization, and another source of cost (software cost alone for these tools can be hundreds of dollars per employee per year).  Microsoft stands alone as having the potential to integrate Yammer into SharePoint, Office and Lync and offer a truly enterprise-wide collaboration environment, but knowing Microsoft how long will that take, and what will be the cost is anybody’s guess?

Given the excitement in the space it is not surprising that Google Apps has captured the attention of many large organizations as a possible solution for Social Enterprise. What excites them is a platform that offers not just Social, via Google+ the Google Social offering, but a complete enterprise-wide collaboration environment that supports structured data such as intranets and team sites, voice and video communications, real time document creation and editing, storage of terabytes of data and of course traditional enterprise mail and calendar.  That is a lot of IT consolidation opportunity. And all of this for less than the cost of a stand-alone Social Solution, backed by a company with an unparalleled track record for pushing the boundaries of product innovation.

The unfortunate reality is that right now, Google+ is not viewed as ready, by some enterprises. It lacks a few key features such as ability to limit posts to within the domain, ability to sync groups – called circles – with the official corporate employee directory.    Given the pace of innovation in the Google Apps suite (250 new capabilities released last year alone), we can expect that these gaps will be closed soon but for Google customers wanting to add Social Enterprise to the long list of capabilities covered by their Apps platform, they have to play an uncertain waiting game.

That is until now. White Stratus has launched an Enterprise-ready version of Social for Google Apps Enterprise customers. The solution closes gaps like the ones mentioned above and offers the ability to tailor your Social Enterprise environment just the way you like it. Twitter Integration? Private circles for execs? Keyword Monitoring for compliance? These can all be done using the White Stratus Google Social Enterprise solution.

The best news? The Google Social Enterprise solution is free for our Enterprise Google Apps customers and data can be migrated over to Google+ when it is Enterprise ready.

For more information visit page on Google Social Enterprise, or if you are feeling nostalgic for the good old days, email socialenterprise@whitestratus.com

 Written by Tim Drury, CEO, White Stratus
Contact: Tim.Drury@whitestratus.com