If you didn't have a chance to get familiar with Jotspot before Google snapped it up and took the beta offering off the market, you are in luck... the wiki-style document sharing and collaboration service is now a part of Google's base Apps for Your Domain package (I'm starting to really not like that name... the more I type it the more awkward it sounds, right up there with Microsoft's "My Documents" as a terrible paradigm-setting for any business).
If you're not familiar with wikis, go check out Wikipedia, the most famous example of one. Essentially, it's a website with user-created pages and nodes, editable by other users. Google lists the various features here.
Sites is a useful component and provides perhaps the last key feature that Google Apps really requires (if that feature isn't off-line capability; I think that depends on the use case, however) to provide a full-fledged solution for the SMB office: file storage. Sites provides up to 10GB of storage for file sizes up to 10MB each. This isn't especially generous, considering that just Gmail allows 6GB just for mail (or 25GB if you sprung for the $50 per year per user Premier edition), but it's sufficient for the majority of small business shared file storage needs.
Still, I find it a bit disappointing, considering how long Google has had the product sequestered for testing and development. What exactly have they been up to all these months? Apparently all the staff on it decided to take their %25 personal time at the same time. Although the site touts integration with the rest of the Google Apps suite, actual integration with Docs and Spreadsheet is week at best. Others have turned up graphical and performance problems and other polish issues that are simply inexplicable considering the amount of time spent on what was already a pretty decent product.
The nice thing about the SaaS model, of course, is that the provider can and usually does continue working to improve the product over time without any major disruption to your business. One can only hope that Google will beef Sites up to be as effective as it can be, rather than a tacked-on gimme to the rest of Apps... because until it's a real integrated component, it's going to continue to be the biggest failing of the entire suite.
Joe McKendrick asks if the issues raised by Dave Linthicum in this post that I talked about in this post result in part from consultants being too IT-centric, and dealing too much with the IT department and not enough with other departments.
I won't recap his post here, it's well-worth reading in its entirety.
For my part, I tend to agree that most folks in IT are too IT-centric and that this negatively affects project and process outcomes. It's been that way for a long time, actually; SOA is just the latest victim of the phenomena.
Microsoft released some additional information today on their upcoming small to mid-sized business server packages based around Windows Server 2008. There are a number of changes and new options from the current Small Business Server package and they are worth looking into as they will affect purchasing decisions for many SMBs in coming years.
For starters, Small Business Server 2008 is downsizing from the existing SBS 2003 level of up to 75 users to a maximum of 50 users. In addition to the tried and true Exchange and Sharepoint bundled components, SBS 2008 will add integration to Office Live Small Business and include one year trial subscriptions to Live OneCare anti-virus protection, and Forefront Security for Exchange. While the first taste is free, obviously Microsoft is hoping to leverage the burgeoning SBS market to build it's "Software+Services" business, and to keep those customers away from Google in the bargain. As with SBS 2003, a SQL enabled Premium version of SBS will be available in SBS 2008, though with a twist which we'll get to in a moment.
For businesses over 50 and up to 250 user, Microsoft is offering an entirely different product now, called Essential Business Server 2008 for Midsize Companies (I'm beginning to pine for code names, here... the ultra-descriptive naming is getting painful. Did the entire marketing department disappear in some re-org that I hadn't heard about?). Like SBS 2008, it comes in a standard and a premium version, and like SBS the premium addition adds SQL Server. EBS-MC (I just made that up) adds Internet Security and Acceleration server and a beefed up version of System Center to the base applications from SBS.
The twist is that EBS-MC only comes on three physical servers, and that the Premium addition of both packages adds an additional server (so, two for SBS 2K8 and four for EBS-MC, total).
I read on the marketing website for the product that this is supposed to mean "less complexity." Uh huh.
Considering the general industry movement toward server consolidation and virtualization, this decision to offer these products only on multiple physical servers seems like a hand-out to the hardware manufacturers. There is absolutely no reason for this restriction otherwise, unless Server 2008 is such a dog that it really forces you to buy that much extra horsepower to be useable. Looking over the SBS boxes my clients have now, they rarely see more than 5-10% processor utilization, and perhaps 50% memory utilization even during peak loads. I'd be crazy to advocate they go out and buy another box in those circumstances; yet that's exactly what a recommendation to upgrade to either of these packages would probably mean.
The unfortunate thing is that this will seem like best practice to many small business consultants, who are used to years and years of Microsoft products not running well without having a dedicated server for each application. It's sad that just as Microsoft is getting it's act together (SBS 2003 has been dreamy in this regard, with no conflicts to speak of and excellent integration to boast about) it's sending out the message that we're back to NT4 with respect to server provisioning.
Speaking of which, and this is entirely unrelated, but I thought when NT 4 came out we were going to be able to patch servers without having to reboot them? Whatever happened to that? Did they just give up and count on everyone using clusters (or Linux) for mission critical applications?
At any rate, I think this is a limiting move for Microsoft, even as their small business offerings have been improving. In the face of increasing pressure to outsource these sorts of services entirely, SMBs are now facing even greater hardware expenditures than before in order to bring Windows Servers in-house, and I think the economics of the decision will be thrown into sharp relief when it comes around to buying time later this year.
Dr. John Halamka posted yesterday on dealing with some of the negative e-mail he receives regularly as the head of three large medical IT organizations. His advice boils down to the typical "Take a deep breath, think positive, and write an e-mail about it when you're upset." Which is good advice, certainly. The thing that struck me, however, was his stock response to negative demands or requests:
"Thanks so much for your thoughtful email. There is a process to evaluate your request and I will personally supervise your request during that process. Your peers and the clinical leadership of the entire organization will evaluate your request based on
Return on Investment
What a great response! It achieves everything that I, as a much less positive or considerate person than Dr. Halamka, look for in my own responses to unreasonable demands or threats. I don't just want to turn the other cheek or take a deep breath and think positive thoughts--I want to hold a mirror up to the person making the demand and show them that I am the calm, collected, and rational person in firm control of the siutation, while they are a gibbering toothpick of a person with a shaky grasp on reality and suspect control of even their own bladder.
John's advice achieves this perfectly, even down to recommending that you wait a day before sending even the form letter above... the better to let them stew on the matter. Then they get what amounts to a brush-off instead of the personal attention they were hoping for directly from the CIO, clearly outlining what the real priorities of the organization are, and a subtle hint that their own tirade is going to be taken in front of a larger group of people, who will almost certainly have a good chuckle before moving on to more serious business.
Study at the feet of such a master!
While I'm not the genius John is, as I said, I try to achieve something similar whenever I am addressed in such an unprofessional manner--I want to show them who the real pro is, and how ridiculous they look in a business context. Go home and yell at your family if you want; they may have to put up with it, but true professionals don't have time for hissy fits at work, they want to get things done in as smooth and productive a manner as possible. As a consultant, of course, I always have the option of walking (so do most employees, but few of them seem to realize it), but my experience is that when I respond calmly and professionaly to people who are starting to get out of hand with their demands, they stop and think for a second and then we have a realistic conversation about their needs and our capabilities.
Secretly, I hope some day that someone absolutely blows their top instead and I'll walk off with a great story to tell, but so far, alas, the technique simply serves to get everyone on the same page and keep the engagement running smoothly.
Of course, not more than a day after I finish setting a client up with Google Apps, the Old Fashioned Edition, Google announces their newer, easier Team Edition. Although it comes without Gmail (which actually was a critical component for this client, so I needn't whine), it's faster and easier to set up because no mail routing needs to occur. It's a snap for the average user to set up quickly and begin using in a small business or department... no consultant, no IT staff required.
I imagine this will be the next big thing for undermining corporate IT and setting up rogue intranets; but if you have permission or think you can get away with it, I highly recommend it.