Is Google Becoming Big Brother?

Between the activities on your Android phone, reading your Gmail’s to regurgitate advertising back to you, and tracking search as well as social media actions, Google has a pretty good idea about your preferences, interests and purchasing history. The company has now extended its ability to potentially collect information from living rooms across the country with its $3.2 billion purchase of Nest Labs, which presently manufactures smart thermostats that gather data that goes far beyond controlling temperatures in the home.
 
The capabilities that make these devices smart include processing household members’ behavior patterns around the home for the purpose of providing climate controls in the most efficient manner possible. The devices also “learn” temperature preferences for specific times of day based on an aggregation of daily temperatures that are programmed in to the device. For example, if you have regularly set your thermostat for 68 degrees upon arriving home at 6:15, the device will start doing it for you once that pattern has been confirmed through its algorithm. 
 
While this type of feature sounds highly convenient and relatively innocuous, there are other aspects that are giving privacy activists pause, including motion detectors that gauge movement around the home, ostensibly to learn the areas of highest activity, determine the times you’re not home, and the times that household members go to bed. In theory at least, Google could process information from these devices to gather intelligence and then, for example, display advertisements on a variety of devices around the home about sleep aids just prior to the usual bedtime.
 
At this point the hand-wringing over Google’s purchase of a company that makes thermostats is being criticized by many as over-wrought and premature, while others cite the acquisition as the company’s first step toward gaining information about the daily routines of households across the country. Considering that Next Labs will surely be introducing new lines of smart devices that provide more intimate details about households’ behaviors combined with Google’s business model of packaging these actions into profiles and selling them to advertisers, the worries about privacy could be well-warranted.

3 Steps to Moving Your Business Toward the Web

For many businesses that operate in a physical location, the thoughts of moving even a portion of operations toward the web can range from skepticism to job overload. The fact is the internet is becoming a critical aspect of operations for virtually all businesses that sell products and/or services, whether the web is used simply as a channel to communicate with customers or the majority of technological infrastructure is moved to the cloud. If you are still resisting the movement of your business to web-based applications, here are three of the early steps to take to ensure that your move will be successful.

1) Focus on the web-based applications that will benefit your business the most – Make sure that the aspects of your business that you plan on moving to the web will align with and improve current operations. In some cases, moving only your marketing efforts to the web will be most beneficial, while other situations may call for infrastructure and operational integration as well.
2) Don’t expect perfection – Your move toward the web and engagement afterwards will not be flawless, so be prepared for mistakes. In certain circumstances, such as new social media initiatives and other customer communication channels, be ready for false starts, delays, and ambiguities that challenge your team. Commit to working through these issues as quickly as possible.
3) Commit to the process – The move toward the web will be a new and long-term aspect of your business. Commit to this process and communicate your vision with the people in your business.

Your competitors are heading toward the web if they’re not already there. Take these 3 steps to ensure a quick and successful transition of a portion or all of your operations to web-based applications.

Has Apple Become the Next Microsoft?

As Microsoft became the new IBM almost two decades ago with a brand that symbolized a stalled behemoth that couldn’t get out of its own way, Apple’s recent mis-steps are making it appear that the one time leader of everything cool in electronics could become the next Microsoft. It would have been hard to imagine a year ago that Apple’s “piece de resistance” iPhone could be considered inferior to Samsung’s Galaxy SIII but that is now the case in a growing number of circles.
 
What bogged down Microsoft and IBM before it was a slide into a form of stasis where innovation came to halt and initiatives that were supposed to reinvigorate the company failed miserably. It’s now going on two years since Apple has introduced a product that separated the company from the pack and the reputation that the company built as an innovative force in its industry is now showing signs of wear.
 
In terms of mis-steps, “Apple Maps”, which replaced Google Maps in the most recent mobile operating system iOS 6, has been disaster with a magnitude so great that Apple CEO Tim Cook apologized publicly and suggested that new iPhone users access Google Maps using the phone’s browser for directions. “Siri”, the virtual voice recognition assistant, has been a running joke since her introduction as the poor recognition aspect of the app results in comical answers to questions that haven’t been asked.
 
Whether these issues continue and Apple becomes the next tech behemoth to lose its way remains firmly in the control of Apple. Getting back to its innovative ways would be a step in the right direction. If the company can’t regain its edge, people will be looking for the next Apple instead. 

Google Applications

When other tools aren't available, many employees simply use a variety of Google apps to satisfy their need to collaborate with peers, customers, and other business partners. In some cases, management actually authorizes the use of easily-accessible programs like Google messaging, Google Docs, Gmail, and Google Calendar because these programs are seen as useful, free resources that solve a legitimate business need. At other times, frustrated employees turn to these familiar apps out of frustration. Every business owner should examine this practice to decide if these cloud-based technologies provide enough security to safeguard their company’s sensitive electronic resources.

Although using these Google apps actually means that company resources are stored on non-proprietary servers in the “cloud,” Google assures everyone that the data is both safe and secure. In fact, this Internet giant uses a multi-disciplined approach to safeguard all data stored on their servers whether it is personal or business in nature. Here are the primary methods used by Google to accomplish this goal:

 

Corporate Policies

Google’s commitment to information security is documented in a detailed set of corporate policies that each employee must read and agree to follow. The corporate security policy is reviewed and updated on a regular basis. Employees are also educated frequently on best-practice security procedures for the Tech Industry as a whole.

Organizational Security

Google has hired a team of leading experts in the fields of information, network, and application security to make sure each and every security policy is followed and that all facets of the infrastructure include state-of-the-art security features. This team monitors all Google networks for suspicious activity to quickly recognize and correct any security threats. Google also performs internal audits as an additional safety point and has a highly-trained team of physical security experts to keep all Google facilities safe from physical intrusions.

Asset Control

Google uses a widely-distributed network of servers to ensure that no single machine is a point of failure or a dedicated storage device for all the information owned by a single account or enterprise. All requests for access are verified, authenticated, and authorized to ensure each one is valid even within Google’s own network. Access to the production environment by Google staff to perform maintenance tasks is always controlled by secure shell authenticated connections. Google uses a three-phased approach to media disposal to ensure data is completely eliminated.

Personnel Security

All Google job candidates are subjected to an extensive background check in addition to signing a confidentiality agreement prior to officially becoming a Google employee. Every employee is given security training relative to their position in the company.

Physical Security

Google is composed of many different physical locations so that a single breach wouldn’t compromise the entire organization. Each building is safeguarded with a variety of different security measures depending on its location and the area’s perceived risk. These measures may include alarm systems, security cameras, software systems, and security guards. All facilities are restricted to authorized employees, visitors, and third-party agents.

Operational Security

Google takes every step possible to prevent malware from infecting its user’s computer systems. This involves both automated and manual monitoring as well as blacklisting. Google employs several teams including vulnerability management, incident management, network security, and operating system security to ensure a safe infrastructure for both Google employees and Google users.

Controlled Access

Every Google employee is required to use a unique user ID to access the system. This ID is used to track their activities and to control their access. Google requires the highest level of password strength and immediately disables each account when an employee leaves the company.

Systems Development

Google evaluates the security impact of every new system in addition to modifications to existing applications. A dedicated security team reviews each change and implementation plan to ensure that all security policies are followed. Software developers are trained to follow the latest security measures, and the security team is available for consultations if any questions or problems arise during the development process.

Disaster Recovery

Through data replication, regular backups, and geographical diversity, Google has minimized the chances of any wide-spread outages due to a localized event. The company also has a continuity plan in place for its Mountain View, CA headquarters to cover any major disaster in that area.

Compliance with Regulations

Google follows all privacy regulations when faced with third-party requests for data access. The Google Legal Team thoroughly evaluates each request to ensure it’s valid before releasing the information. Except for legal requirements and emergencies, the owner of the data is notified. Google has developed a strong privacy policy and has passed a SAS 70 external security audit.

Although Google has implemented a well-rounded set of security precautions to safeguard user data, there is always some level of risk when corporate data is stored on non-corporate servers. While this risk may not be acceptable for mission-critical data, the level of security may be sufficient for non-confidential communications in exchange for the cost savings of free applications.

Virtual Storage

While it’s true that information is king, he’s definitely a greedy ruler! As the business world continues to demand the storage of more and more data for longer periods of time, the need for increased amounts of disk space grows exponentially larger each year. To compound the issue, the low price of storage space means that many software developers no longer feel the need to make their products space efficient, and government regulations seem to increase legislative requirements for the retention of critical information each year. As the business units see the price tag on servers and disk space become more affordable, they can’t understand why adding just one more should be a problem. They fail to recognize that the cost of a growing computer room includes more than just the initial cost of the storage units.

The Shocking Cost of Maintaining Storage Units

Most non-IT workers would be shocked to find out that the cost of managing each storage unit can be as much as four to 10 times the original purchase price. In addition to putting a big dent in the IT budget, ever increasing storage units lead to server sprawl and a constantly declining operating efficiency. Increased maintenance can also be disruptive, expensive, and burdensome to the entire enterprise. To solve this problem, system engineers have been working on file virtualization methods to eliminate these issues. Their goal is to reduce storage and server inefficiencies while permitting infinite growth. Let’s take a look at exactly how they intend to accomplish this lofty goal.

Breaking the Tight Connection between Clients, Servers, and Storage

The old strategy of tightly coupling storage space with clients and servers is a big reason that adding a new storage unit becomes expensive to maintain. When machines from a variety of vendors are added to the network, they may not all integrate seamlessly creating individual islands of storage to manage. When applications are physically mapped to a specific server for storage, any changes, including additions, require modifications to this complex mapping algorithm. In some cases, adding a new device or moving a system to a storage unit with more space requires expensive and annoying downtime. This often leads to an under-utilization of the actual storage space, an expensive proposition, because system administrators over-allocate space to minimize the need to take an outage. To break free from this outdated methodology, file virtualization relies on the ability to remove this static mapping process to allow storage resources to freely move between applications as needed without restricting access to the data.

Adding a Layer of Intelligent Design to the Network

File virtualization adds a layer of intelligence to the network to decouple logical data access from the physical retrieval of the actual files. This separates the application and the client from the physical storage devices so that static mapping is no longer needed. With this change, the existing bank of servers can be maintained without disrupting the core system or the user’s access to valuable information. After implementing a file virtualization strategy, many IT shops find that they can consolidate storage units and increase their overall utilization. In this way, they may be able to simplify the system configuration by decommissioning older storage devices that are no longer needed or that they can go much longer than anticipated without adding additional disk space.

In today’s IT world, most shops are finding that using a file virtualization system is not only a “best practice," it’s a must-do to continue operating. IT shops with budgets that continued to rise each year just a short time ago are seeing their available funds shrink more and more each year. With increasing pressure to reduce costs or keep the flat, file virtualization is also a virtual requirement.