Windows Phone 7: Good for Small Business?

There’s no ignoring the Windows Phone 7 mobile operating system: According to market researcher IDC, the Windows OS system for smartphones will surpass the popular iPhone iOS by the year 2015. The recent report predicts Microsoft’s mobile OS will account for 20.9 percent of the smartphone OS market, compared with 15.3 percent for Apple’s iPhone.

Part of the reason for this projected growth is the just-announced strategic alliance between Nokia and Microsoft, a partnership to compete with rivals like Apple, Google and Research in Motion. Certainly, more small-to-midsized businesses will consider deploying Windows Phone 7 devices to on-the-go employees. After all, there are many options for carriers, manufacturers, prices and form factors.

But will IT professionals like you feel that this OS is worthy? Is it secure enough for your company?

The Windows Phone 7: A Small-business Tool
Market analysts say you should weigh a number of factors when considering the viability of Windows Phone 7 right now for your organization.

“Security should always be top priority, and Windows Phone 7 does have the minimum security requirements, such as the ability to securely connect to Microsoft Exchange,” says Ken Dulaney, vice president of mobile computing at the Gartner research and consulting group. “Of course, it depends on the policies in place, but these smartphones include features such as strong password support and the ability to wipe the device if it’s lost or stolen.”

The partnership with Nokia will have a real impact, says Tim Doherty, a research analyst for IDC in Framingham, Mass.: “Aside from the fact that Nokia makes very nice hardware, they have the scale and brand strength outside the United States to quickly and efficiently raise the footprint of Windows Phone 7 devices.”

Your company may want to take advantage of the relatively aggressive pricing on the hardware as Microsoft attempts to grow its market share. “With some Windows Phone 7 smartphones selling for $49, it’s a bargain,” says Dulaney.

Windows Phone 7: Familiar Apps, Limited Selection
Windows Phone 7 is a Windows phone, after all, so your end users will find familiar apps, such as Outlook and Windows Live services, Internet Explorer (Web browsing), Bing search and maps, and even pocket editions of Microsoft Word (word processing), Excel (spreadsheets), PowerPoint (presentations), SharePoint and OneNote.

However, Windows Phone 7 falls short when it comes to selection. You’ll find approximately 11,500 applications available at the Windows Marketplace, says Microsoft -- compared with roughly 400,000 at Apple’s App Store, 200,000 at the Android Market and about 25,000 for BlackBerry App World.

Windows Phone 7: A Step Backward?
The lack of Windows Phone 7 apps might not be the biggest obstacle for the Redmond, Wash., tech giant. “There are those who were disappointed with Windows Mobile, and they might not want to take another risk with Windows Phone 7,” says Delaney. “Plus, people already have iPhone, BlackBerry and Android, so Microsoft has a hurdle in getting people to switch and winning back their trust.”

The current Windows Phone 7 platform also has a ways to go. “Its functionality is where the iPhone 2 is. Windows Phone 7 devices can’t copy and paste, and apps can’t be put into folders,” says Delaney. “In other words, people are understandably reluctant to go backward.”

Clearly, Microsoft is seeing the smartphone race as a marathon and not a sprint, and the company will continue to evolve and improve Windows Phone 7 for both consumers and businesses alike. “The Windows brand is strong among businesses,” says Doherty. “But Microsoft just hasn’t gotten mobility right yet. They have a chance to now.”

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Photo: Getty Images

Can Video Help Your Small Business?

Video has become a killer app for small-to-midsized businesses. You can now use live video conferencing and collaboration between remote employees, provide streaming video for websites and social networks, and more.

“Video is indeed becoming more pervasive in the enterprise,” says Phil Karcher, a researcher at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass. “Tools like online video platforms make it easy for marketers to embed video on their websites and syndicate content to their YouTube and Facebook pages.”

However, there are a few challenges in keeping up with the Joneses -- from taxing network resources to privacy and security concerns. Is video really worth it for your business? Consider the following:

The Value of Video
Even though it takes some planning on the part of IT, Forrester Research says your business can’t afford not to embrace online video. Video is 53 times more likely to appear on the first page of search results than text-related pages on the same topic.

Unlike television, radio and newspapers, online video also lives forever, is forever searchable and helps create a personal connection with the viewer, as it can generate discussion and debate between commenters. As opposed to other media, Internet video can also be viewed whenever, wherever -- whether the viewer uses a computer, a smartphone, a tablet, a portable media player or an Internet-connected television.

Video Conference for Productivity
Companies are also recognizing the added value of video conferencing, says John Bartlett, principal of NetForecast, a consulting firm that benchmarks, analyzes and helps improve performance of networked data, voice and video apps. “It’s a better way to establish and enhance a relationship,” says Bartlett. “Video enables the ability to read body language when communicating with a client and provides a more efficient way to collaborate with colleagues.”

However, video conferencing presents a bigger issue for your network, says Karcher. “The major gating factor is the network’s ability to handle two-way video, which is more sensitive than one-way streaming video,” explains Karcher. “Desktop videoconferencing puts a lot of pressure on the network backbone, therefore companies that add more video to the network need to think about tools to manage bandwidth and assure reliable performance.”

Choosing a Network for Your Video Needs
Depending on your company’s needs, size and budget, you’ll have to decide if a regular Ethernet connection can handle everything, or if you should invest in a dedicated enterprise-grade pipe to handle your business’s video and other applications.

“Companies need to understand the impact on the network,” explains Bartlett. “If Skype is acceptable to you, then your regular broadband connection might be fine. But an enterprise network, while more expensive, will give you more bandwidth and better-quality video.”

Privacy and Security Concerns for Video
Don’t embrace video without a security strategy in place, cautions Bartlett. You’ll need a secure firewall, and you must “consider tools or services for encrypting video calls so the man in the middle can’t listen in,” he says. “You need to think of how it affects content management, compliance and security -- and you will need tools to search, secure, track and report on video too.”

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Photo: Getty Images

Google Chrome OS Notebook: A Security Game Changer?

Google’s much-hyped Chrome OS notebook is just a few months away, promising to deliver a lean, minimalist approach to mobile computing. Fast startup time, long battery life thanks to lower power consumption, and a heavy emphasis on cloud computing add up to plenty of interest from businesses of all sizes.

But will this new operating system mean fewer security headaches for you as an IT professional? Yes and no, say technology experts who are familiar with Chrome OS, scheduled to power mobile computers from the likes of Samsung and Acer by the middle of this year. Here’s what you should consider.

The Google Chrome OS: Effective but Limited
Dino A. Dai Zovi, a New York City-based independent security consultant, says he has been playing around with Google’s Chrome OS notebook prototype, dubbed “Cr-48,” for more than a month. Although he thinks it’s an effective tool for Web communication, it likely won’t be his primary computer.

“I don’t see how you’d want Chrome OS as your main computer, because there isn’t support for popular Web apps, such as Skype, and it’s unclear what native clients will run on Chrome OS,” says Dai Zovi. “But Chrome OS could be useful as a secondary device, as a competitor to, say, tablets.”

Google OS Chrome Security Is Relative
Although Google OS Chrome notebook files are stored in the cloud, Dai Zovi says that doesn’t translate into bulletproof security. “One big limitation for business is no support for encrypted emails -- unless you use a third-party Web-based encryption product,” says Dai Zovi, who has co-authored the books The Art of Software Security Testing and The Mac Hacker’s Handbook.

Consider whether you’re willing to entrust your data to one entity, say the experts. “With Chrome OS, you need to ask yourself if you’re putting too much trust in the hands of Google,” says Bruce Schneier, a security tech consultant and author. “If you’re someone like my mother, who isn’t tech-savvy and is afraid of losing information, sure, you might prefer for someone else to take care of it. But if you’re talking about Citibank corporate accounts, forget it.”

Google’s cloud-based apps provide a uniform standard of security that works great for many people, but Schneier cautions it may not meet your organization’s standards if you need to adhere to policies or regulations. “If you have to ask Google where your data is being stored and if it’s leaving the country, then it’s not for you,” he says.

Weigh the Convenience vs. the Risk of Chrome OS
Your end users are likely to enjoy the convenience of Chrome OS’s cloud-centric approach, says Dai Zovi. After all, you can access files from virtually any online device in the world. You can collaborate and share documents easily, and data is protected from local damage, such as flood or fire or computer theft. However, there may not be adequate layers of protection for your organization’s online data.

“If your data is simply protected by a password and no additional layer of security, that’s simply not enough for many businesses,” says Dai Zovi.

Dai Zovi says Google may be considering expanding its two-step authentication system that is available on Google Apps, where the user receives a text message with a code to type in for access to the application, along with a password. But even a two-step security measure isn’t foolproof, says Dai Zovi, who recalls a recent Firesheep (Firefox extension) vulnerability that led to “sidejacking” attacks among Gmail, Facebook and Twitter users.

As it is, it’s not clear exactly how the system will be embraced. “It’s a new platform, so it’ll take a while to see how this can be a good fit for consumers and businesses,” says Dai Zovi.


How to Pick the Right Cloud Provider

As cloud computing pervades more and more of our everyday lives, it's not surprising that small to midsized businesses are also seeing the benefits. The question is, How exactly do you go about embracing the cloud?

To find the right cloud provider, you want to do more than type the names of a few providers in a search engine. But sorting through the mushrooming number of cloud providers crowding the market can be difficult. Because there's no third-party rating system for cloud computing firms -- and no directory either -- experts advise that the best way to seek a cloud computing provider is to do it the way you'd find any other service provider. "My biggest recommendation is forget about the cloud and just think we're finding a vendor to work with," says Patrick Grey, president of the Prevoyance Group. "Don't get caught up in the cloud." 

On the other hand, Charles King, principal analyst of Pund-IT, notes that cloud computing has its own particular issues. "You're really looking at something you're going to be engaged with 24/7/365," says King. "You really have to have a mind for what you need and what constitutes good quality."

Both Grey and King agree, however, that the key to finding a cloud computing vendor is following best practices. A few guidelines:

  • Use metrics. Set benchmarks to measure good performance. Be realistic, though: 100 percent isn't always achievable, but maybe 99.9 percent is. Get a sense from prospective vendors what is possible and what's not.
  • Network. The best resources for choosing prospective vendors are other IT decision-makers and other vendors. You might have luck cold-calling prospective vendors with a Google search, but you're better off talking to people who actually deal with the vendors. "You would be well-advised to touch base with vendors you work with closely," says King. "You basically have to get out and work the networks and see what you can find."
  • Make a test case. A good way to test a prospective vendor is to give them a non-essential part of your business first. When you eventually move more critical pieces over, though, internalize Murphy's Law. "You have to have a plan if everything goes south," says Grey, and that plan would likely be to move to another provider or to move everything back in-house.
  • Consider data storage and security. Take a look at how a cloud provider’s data storage, data security and security infrastructures work. How do these firms protect your data? What kind of security measures are in place?
  • Use a service-level agreement. For critical, sophisticated or big projects, include a service-level agreement detailing which metrics need to be met and what penalties will ensue if they're not met. Gray recommends "penalties that escalate at an increasing rate as the severity of the violation increases."

King cautions that the cloud computing business is the Wild West right now. "There's an awful lot of interest in the cloud area right now," says King, "but a lot of companies can't quite deliver on the services they're promising." Beyond kicking the tires, King suggests that you have a good idea of what you want if you’re in the market for a cloud computing provider. Otherwise, says King, "It's a bit like going into a grocery store without a shopping list. If you don't know what you want for dinner, you're going to wind up with a lot of stuff in your cart."

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