Monthly Archives: July 2010

July Newsletter: A Castle in the Clouds – Google Apps

A Castle in the Clouds – Google Apps

Of all the technologies that you use to run your business, chances are good that none have a greater impact than the office productivity suite including email, documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Many small companies are daunted by the task of finding a solution at the right price, with sufficient security, and with productivity features that their users can actually use without needing a lot of additional training. Google has put together some impressive web based software and services which can be an attractive solution for many small companies with limited IT resources.

Table of Contents

Google Apps – What and Why

Google Apps grew out of Gmail, a free online email offering released April 1st, 2004 that offered many fantastic features, most notably the ability to search your email using the Google ”special magic” algorithms and very large mail box storage sizes. They have continued to pour on features and gigabytes at an aggressive pace ever since.

Many people fell in love with this new product and demanded that Google offer a branded version to businesses which they did, calling it “Gmail for your Domain” now known as the Google Apps Suite. What started with Gmail branched out into Calendars, Documents, Chat, and Sites. They continually update the applications adding features and making things easier to understand and use which automatically appear without any effort from administrators or users.

Advantages of Living in the Clouds

There are so many components and nifty features which are part of Google Apps that it would take a book to talk about all the stuff you can do with them. We would like to highlight some of the parts of Google Apps that are only made possible because of the platform that powers them, cloud computing. Here are some things that no desktop software can reproduce because Google Apps is hosted in Google’s massive secure datacenters and maintained by Google Engineers.

Security - Google can provide excellent security for their services because they have so much experience doing so. The back end systems that power your Google Apps accounts are the same that they built to operate its own business services, including its core services like Google Search. The security controls that isolate data during processing in the cloud were developed alongside the core technology from the beginning. Security is thus a key component of each of the Google Apps elements, such as compartmentalization, server assignment, data storage, and processing.

Scalability - The engineers at Google have learned how to do some tasks very very well. Many would argue that in these core competencies that they are the best in the world. One of those things is ability to index, store, and search huge amounts of information. They have also mastered creating web applications that can scale up to serve enormous numbers of people very quickly. You never have to worry about buying more hardware or upgrading software because the guys at Google have it taken care of for you.

Availability - Large corporate data centers must invest in redundant systems, software built to run in clusters for fail over operation, multiple backups of data including off site backups, and other such expensive technology because their data and their operations are at such a large scale that they cannot afford to be offline or lose data. While some of that technology has trickled down to be within the reach of small businesses using local hardware and software solutions, unfortunately it is still expensive and can be very complicated. Cloud computing puts the high-availability technology at your fingertips. Premier accounts have a 99.9% uptime SLA for Gmail and the status of all services can be viewed at a glance.

Sharing - Work together without the hassles of attachments. Coworkers can share the same online copy of each doc, spreadsheet or presentation and work on it together in real time. All revisions are saved and recoverable so there is only ever one file and you never have to worry about having an old copy. You can present and publish through the web from that same copy. Presentations can be delivered to remote audiences, and documents and spreadsheets can be published internally for employees to view. Google Docs inter-operate with traditional file formats so you aren’t leaving civilization behind to work on an island of new file types. You can import and collaboratively edit or publish from .doc, .docx, .xls, .csv, .ppt, .txt, .html, .pdf and other formats. You can export to these files as well if you need to deliver your documents to somebody in a specific format.

Redundancy - For Google Apps customers, the RPO design target is zero, and the RTO design target is instant fail over. This is done through live or synchronous replication: every action a customer takes in Gmail is simultaneously replicated in two data centers at once, so that if one data center fails, Google nearly instantly transfers that data over to the other one that’s also been reflecting the actions. The goal is not to lose any data when it’s transferred from one data center to another, and to transfer your data so quickly that you don’t even know a data center experiences an interruption. Of course, no backup solution from us or anyone else is absolutely perfect, but Google has invested a lot of effort to help make it second to none.

Is Google Apps Right for your Company?

We love Google Apps in our office but there are certainly cases where it might not be the best product for specific organizations due to their needs or work flows that they have established.

Here are some of the issues that have come up when talking with some of our clients about a possible migration to Google Apps. We were able to work with a great deal of clients together to overcome or find suitable work arounds and resulted in an eventual migration to Google Apps. However some clients found solutions with other vendors that were more compatible with their needs. Having a conversation with a Google Apps Reseller is highly recommended to see how your needs match up with Google Apps.

The Engineers at Google have approached each of the Google Apps products without the prejudice of keeping traditional methods and features. They try to evaluate the actual requirements for each component and strive to find the best solution without being scared of breaking new ground. This approach has resulted in some aspects of Google Apps being very different from other platforms. Most of the complaints and negative feedback we hear from people contemplating Google Apps is that things are not done the traditional way.  If you have a client that will put up a great deal of resistance to changing procedures or an organization full of users that fear change, then those users may require additional training to become comfortable.

No Folders - One clear example of this type of being “different” is the lack of folders for organizing mail. Many users have extremely complex folder hierarchies that they have built over their years of using email and have invested hundreds of hours creating and maintaining. Gmail uses labels to organize messages. The benefit in doing so is that a message can have multiple labels where the folder structure forced users to either nest folders or to make decisions on which folder it was going into.

Gmail is not Exchange - Google has put a lot of effort into creating their Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook tool to allow you to continue to use the mail client that you are used to using with Google Apps. They continue to update it and in general it works great, but some things are a bit different, especially the “high level” non-core proprietary functions that have been created by Microsoft.

Beta Releases - Google isn’t perfect and they are still working on getting some of the things that others have mastered correct. For that reason they often release things in Beta form and they can be turned on/off and enabled with Google Labs for your users. However as the title says, these are in Beta form and may have some bugs until they are fully released. Anything that is questionable or is having problems is able to disabled if you find that it does not work for you.

Contacts - Google Apps released their Contact software a few months ago and users were excited to hear of its release, but you still cannot share contacts, which is a highly sought after feature. There is no way to edit your Global Address List (GAL) from the administrative console. A GAL is dynamically generated from your user list but it doesn’t include groups.

Downtime Helplessness - Google doesn’t go down often (99.9% uptime SLA) but when it does, everything you do and own is now offline. You are stuck having to wait for Google to fix the problem. Some of the most scrupulous people would much rather have direct access and ultimate responsiblity for their own problems.

Protecting your Precious Data

One of the most often asked about topics and one that often is the most critical in making the decision to contemplate utilizing a hosted or cloud based solution is data privacy and to a lesser extent, data ownership. The idea that a hacker could access your companies’ data or that Google might be looking at or allowing other companies to see your data is very troubling to many executives and decision makers.

Google is well aware that this is the most critical aspect for so many people and is doing everything it can to try to put in place safeguards in order to build a level of trust with its clients and prospective clients. At the end of the day Google is asking you to put your data will be in the hands of a third party, and they are aware of this. They also know that they cannot drop the ball here or all of the great technology and features will be for naught. The biggest commodity they have is the trust of their clients to protect their data.

The Data Liberation Front says on their home page, “Users should be able to control the data they store in any of Google’s products. Our team’s goal is to make it easier to move data in and out.” Google makes great efforts to make sure that there are methods to both migrate your data into services they provide, but also ways to extract your data, which is yours, back out in a portable format to do with as you please. The Data Liberation Front is an internal group at Google whose job it is to make sure that the door out is never locked. This should give you great peace of mind that if you do ever want to leave, you can take your ball and go home.

Why a Reseller

The primary means of offering assistance for Google Apps is with their online Help Articles and their Help Forums. While these are generally excellent as far as self-help solutions go, few people would want something as integral to their business to be without a live human support resource to answer questions and fix problems. Google does offer phone support but only to report service unusable issues. They have email support but often the response times are notoriously long.

Google’s vision was to fill this void by creating a market for resellers to provide services and support to customers who want more hands on support. Here at MxToolBox we have sales and support techs available via phone or email to answer questions and offer suggestions on how to best to leverage Google Apps to achieve your goals. We have a ton of experience with deploying Apps in many different environments so we can guide your migration to be smooth and customize it to tailor fit your organization. If we do run into a technical snag, we can contact Google on your behalf as a reseller and work with their techs and your technical contact to find a quick resolution.

MxToolBox is proud to be a certified Google Apps Reseller. We would be happy to talk with you to determine if Google Apps would be appropriate for your business. Please contact us for more information, you can call 866-MXTOOLBOX or click here to fill out a contact form.

Helpful Links

Migration Information - The migration tools below are offered directly from Google but we would highly recommend enlisting a reseller to answer questions as to which might be best for your organization.

Updates - Google has several blogs that highlight all of the great features, but one of our favorites is the Google Apps Update blog. It provides updates of Beta and Lab features and features that haven’t been released yet. Make sure to add this to your RSS feed:

Top Ten Advantages of Google’s Cloud - A quick Top Ten of the best features of Google according to Google.

Advantages of using Google Apps - Info Crystals put together a good concise list of the advantages of using Google Apps for your Business.

June  Newsletter
Malware, and Spam, and Viruses! Oh, my!

 

From all of us at MxToolBox, thank you for your business and your time.

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Blocking Non-Delivery Report (NDR) spam with HTML Attachments

We have posted a few helpful hints for users that are experiencing problems with Password Reset requests, UPS, Western Union, Youtube and other forms of spam. However, it looks like the spammers are altering the message to adapt to the changes that Postini and other vendors are making, so more updates to the filters are expected.
We are recommending that a temporary custom attachment filter to block all messages with a .html attachment is enabled within Postini. NOTE: If this filter is applied, it will block any legitimate message with that type of attachment. See below for the steps to enable the filter and the recommended settings:

Attachment Manager Filter Steps
  1. Access the customer’s Postini User Org and enable the Inbound Attachment Manager.
  2. To build a custom filter for blocking .html attachments, select Filter and follow the image below:

  3. We highly recommend enabling ‘Scan inside compressed file types’ and ‘Enable binary scanning’ as this may also help with any future evolutions.
  4. Be sure to add ‘html’ under 2. Custom Filter Types to either User Quarantine (in case of false positives) or under Quarantine Redirect.
  5. Click Save and the filter is applied.

MxToolbox has partnered with WebRoot to offer Web Filtering to protect your network from attacks through the web browser. For more details on the protection that this program can offer, go here.

Malware, and Spam, and Viruses! Oh, my!

Malware, and Spam, and Viruses! Oh, my!

We have started to see a wave of spam emails containing links to sites hosting malware which are getting past the filters of even the best anti-spam services. Some of these emails have a customized subject with a claim that you need to reset your password. Here are some recent examples:

  • Subject: Reset your ‘domain.com’ password
  • Subject: Your ‘domain.com’  account information has changed
  • Subject: UPS INVOICE NR1234XXX

The link appears to be to your own domain, but in fact it goes to a site that attempts to install malware on your computer. We have developed a content filter for this type of spam and we have applied it to our customers already.

It is important to have multiple levels of defenses in place because no one technology can ensure 100% protection. Defending against spam, malware and viruses is a reactive process which means that any new threat will pass through for at least a few users before the identification engine learns to block it. For email and web traffic anything that passes through before these patches have been released, the damage has been done.

We are seeing more and more spam tactics like this that include links to malware or other harmful scripts designed to infiltrate your network which are not actually attached to an email message or file. In addition to being vulnerable to these types of attacks due to definitions that have not been updated, almost every spam filtering service allows you to define whitelists which are not scanned for content, however they still enforce virus scanning for attachments. These attacks are propagated in the content so your whitelist is effectively removing your protection from these types of attacks.

What you really need to do is approach the actual source of the problem which is your web browser, when instructed, it follows the harmful links and brings back any threats included on the web page. Only scanning your email for attachments is like locking the doors and then leaving the windows open.

MxToolbox has partnered with WebRoot (June Newsletter) to offer Web Filtering to protect your network from attacks through the web browser. Webroot eliminates spyware and viruses with best-of-breed scanning engines and offers a 100% guarantee. In addition to protecting against malware you have the ability to enforce web access policies and it generates detailed reports. For additional details on the protection that this program can offer, go here.

May  Newsletter
Web Security with Webroot

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Youtube Spam with Malware Links

Yesterday we highligthed an issue of spam from several different sources that when a user clicked on the included links they were brought to a site with malware on it. Today we have another version of this spam, and they are impersonating Youtube. For our Postini customers we have created a custom filter to block these messages and place them in the Quarantine (in case there are false positives).

Postini Content Filter

  1. Login to your Postini Administrative Console
  2. Access the User Org
  3. Access Content Manager
  4. Create new custom rule with these parameters
    Match: All Rules
    Subject Line – Contains Text: Welcome to Youtube
    Entire Message – Contains Text: http://lifetimewebaddress.com/amazon.html
    Entire Message – Contains Text: lifetimewebaddress.com
    Routing: Delete (Blackhole)
    Copy to Quarantine: Add Quarantine Address: Recipient

  5. Hit Save and this filter will be applied. We chose to send it to the Quarantine in case this filter catches any false positives.

Example of Spam Message

MxToolbox has partnered with WebRoot to offer Web Filtering to protect your network from attacks through the web browser. For more details on the protection that this program can offer, go here.