Google I/O: Extending Google's enterprise reach

At its annual developer conference last month, Google extended its enterprise portfolio boosting its security, storage and MDM products

Google has extended its enterprise apps portfolio with functionality that could make it a viable alternative to traditional enterprise software – especially for governments and in regulated industries, where data protection is key.

During its I/O conference, Google unveiled Google Drive for Work and Android/Samsung Knox integration, which aims to boost security.

But is this enough to make Google Enterprise and Android a viable option for government departments and regulated industries, where data security and auditability are key buying criteria?

With the Government Digital Service (GDS) looking to deploy Google Apps for government departments, some aspects of the Google portfolio will appeal to certain government sectors. 

As the GDS wants to push civil servants to use consumer technology, these new security elements from Google could signal an attempt to secure more contracts such as this.

Andrew Rose, principal analyst for security and risk at Forrester, believes that, even with the improved encryption of Google Drive for Work, if Google still has the encryption keys, there businesses should continue with caution.

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However, current guidelines issued by the government for device security say data-at-rest protection on devices running Android and Samsung Knox “has not been independently assured to Foundation Grade". This means data related to the encryption is stored on the device when it is locked.

Despite this, there are several security problems for Android devices other than Knox devices, including unapproved applications, lack of policy enforcement on USB, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and lack of detailed logs – all features that may change once Knox is available on all Android devices.

Rose said the combination of Samsung Knox and Android may signal a change in security standards so departments consider using Android devices as part of a mobility plan.

“Some government departments who aren’t dealing with the most sensitive data might think we’ve reached enough security here, we’re going to trust where we are and take some steps now to start to use Android devices or Google Drive’," said Rose.

Last month, the European Commission (EC) received a cloud guidelines document – aimed at helping users save money and increase cloud trust – from service providers and industry bodies. The EC will now test the SLA guidelines with users, in particular SMEs before formalising it.

Dale Vile, research director at Freeform Dynamics, agrees that the NSA scares in the US have contributed to a lack of trust for cloud storage and mobile devices in European enterprises and that, until the keys for encryption are placed in the hands of the enterprise, this lack of trust will continue.

“I think, particularly in Europe, we’re going to see is lot more focus on data encryption within cloud services as time goes on, and in a public sector context, that’s going to be a pretty key part of the decision making process," says Vile.

Same direction, different tactics

Thomas Davies, director of Google Enterprise, explained the main reasoning behind Google Drive for Work was the IT department wanting to regain control it has lost through the BYOD and BYOA trends.

I think what we’re going to see, particularly here in Europe, is a lot more focus on data encryption

Dale Vile, Research Director at Freeform Dynamics

“The thing that we then learnt was we’ve gone from bring your own device to bring your own applications and, candidly, IT has said ‘alright we get it, we get the technical, the business, the cultural value that collaboration value of allowing people to work in different ways to work in teams, but we would really like a level of granularity, of control’ and that is what we’ll be adding in," said Davies.

Vile points says over the last few years, the BYOD push has led users to store work data in personal places such as email or cloud sharing applications, because their consumer-facing brands make them appealing to users. This then causes a casual adoption of an application, which challenges the IT departments as they are unaware of user and data activity.

“They’ve come to the market at the right time because this is a very real problem amongst many organisations now.” Vile says “It’s not just about BYOD though. Lots of organisations are looking at how to deploy mobile devices, smartphones and tablets in particular, in a way that allows users to mix up business and personal data.”

Ultimately Rose believes that as cloud storage improves, the level of trust will also grow, and organisations will start moving even their most sensitive data into the cloud.

Rose says: “The only solution is to say ‘ok we’ll encrypt the data but you hold on to the keys so you have complete control of your own data’. At that point, then it does become a transformative technology step.”

The competition

Instead, Vile thinks Google Apps, Google Drive for Work and other similar applications, though not Google’s main strength, are an attempt to present Google products in a more enterprise-driven manner.

Vile says: “They’ve had some success with that, but they have suffered from a bit of a credibility problem because most of the time they’re competing against lots more established incumbents in pretty much every category.”

Challenges Google will face in its enterprise push

  • Android and Samsung Knox devices store data internally on the device when the device is locked, meaning that devices running Android or using Knox have not been independently assured to Foundation Grade.
  • NSA scares in the US have contributed to a lack of trust for cloud storage and mobile devices in European enterprises.
  • Google will face several competitors in its Drive for Work push, including Microsoft, Box and Dropbox

When it comes to competition, Google Drive for Work will come up against the likes of Box, Dropbox and OneDrive, while there are many MDM suppliers who can offer a containerisation solution, although Knox is the only one of the only to offer government-certified security that complies with the US Government and the Department of Defence.

However, when it comes to competition, Mark Ridley, director of technology at job site – heavy users of Google - believes that for applications such as Drive for Work, Google has created its own worst enemy in the form of Google Apps.

Ridley says: “I think the biggest competitor to Drive for Work will be [Google] Apps, because we actually chose Apps with Drive over Box because of cost. Box is a fantastic service but Drive had the features that we wanted at a really compelling price, and so it’s become that central storage for us.

"I think if organisations are using gmail for work and using Drive for collaboration it’s a very easy path to move down because the integration is so good.”

With Microsoft acting as the biggest competitor to Google Apps and Drive for work, as one of the only other providers to offer a full solution in the form of Office 365 with OneDrive integration, we can only wait to see how Microsoft responds to Google’s recent changes.

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