Hello SOTGC community,
I was going to start my opening blog for SOTGC about the new Apple Watch; I then realized that while I will focus my articles on technology of all different sectors, the first should be on a topic that you can use in business. My background is highly focused in Cloud Computing, which everyone should be investigating for their own use, so to kick things off right we will evaluate what working in the Cloud really means, and which type of cloud is right for you (yes, there are many!).
Cloud Computing is all you hear about these days, and there is good reason for that: it works! There is nothing new about Cloud Computing, it’s just finally affordable to where it is being used by the masses, and it has a fun buzz word associated with the technology now. But what exactly does Cloud Computing even mean in today’s language. It has evolved into an ambiguous term that really describes so many different types of technologies that half the time I don’t think people even know which type of Cloud they work in. I understand it can become daunting to try to figure it all out but there are 2 points out of all of this that should resonate with you:
- Cloud is not new. It’s not a fad. It’s not going anywhere. If you aren’t already using some type of Cloud technology, you would be looked at on the spectrum as a laggard, and should definitely start considering which type of Cloud to get your feet wet with. (No, I am not saying every business and firm is 100% Cloud based, but the majority are using some type of Cloud service whether they know it or not).
- There is a plethora of options when considering Cloud technologies. Before you choose which is right for you, do your research (or hire a Cloud consultant) and ensure that due diligence is done and the implementation is planned for.
How the Cloud has evolved
Cloud describes a technology that has been around for decades (really it can be traced back to the 1950’s and the mainframe computers); now, a metaphor for the internet combined with technology driven to end users. In short, Cloud is the sharing of computing resources over a network. When I first started working in the technology field back in 2009 it was referred to as ASP (nothing sexy about that acronym!). Shortly after that, Cloud was really becoming the term widely used by thought leaders to describe online access or virtual resources. Cloud is a much more marketing friendly term! It’s catchy and there is something mysterious about it; Cloud…it has a great ring to it and its vague in its reference, a win-win for technology and marketing companies alike. Today, Cloud is used to describe any type of online accessible solution and includes:
- IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service)
- SaaS (Software as a Service)
- PaaS (Platform as a Service)
- Hybrid Cloud
- Private Cloud
- Public Cloud
Deciphering which type of Cloud Computing technology a company or speaker is talking about can be difficult because they all provide very different solutions. IaaS for example will simply provide computing resources, whereas SaaS may be a vendors own software application that you would use for let’s say Time & Billing and integrate with your accounting software. The target demographic of the seller for the different types of Cloud ranges as well. A data center that sells “Cloud” is targeting software developers or large corporations that have internal IT staff that will manage the applications and users themselves. A hosting provider is targeting the SMB that doesn’t want a local server but will need technical support in every aspect of the Cloud migration including setup, configuration, and help with things as simple as printing or error codes in an application.
So you see, the Cloud can have many different meanings as to what the user experience and deliverables will be. Not all Clouds are created equal, and they aren’t all intended for your business. If you need assistance in navigating all of the different options, creating a due diligence plan, or migrating to your future Cloud consider hiring a Cloud Consultant to assist.
So, lets breakdown in layman’s terms the different types of Cloud solutions on the market today and who each is serving so that you can figure out which Cloud is best for your business.
SaaS – Software as a Service. By far the most popular method of delivery in cloud based software applications. This is where a vendor has created an online software application that is accessed via a browser and nothing is installed or running locally. There is no local desktop software to purchase and the payment for a SaaS product is usually monthly, per user like a lease option. You don’t have to purchase upgrades or install updates as these are automatic and part of the subscription. Examples of SaaS offerings would be Office365, SalesForce, QuickBooks Online (not Desktop in the Cloud), Intacct, and Tallie. There are many add-on’s to the foundation applications as well that offer users zero entry like Receipt Bank, ore programs that remove the manual labor of scanning and uploading documents like FileThis, and the ever popular Business Intelligence apps such as BodeTree and SpotLight.
IaaS – Infrastructure as a Service. This model is usually going to be deployed by larger companies that have an internal IT department or by MSP’s that will then manage the virtual machines for their clients. Often referred to as vCloud, IaaS offers the resources for virtualization without any proprietary software and/or management of the applications or users in that Cloud. The vendor will provide the space for the virtual machines, the virtualization software (either Hyper-V or VMWare), processors, virtual RAM, bandwidth etc. and the client configures and manages their environment themselves. Examples of IaaS offerings would be Rackspace, Azure and my favorite, the AIS BusinessCloud.
Hosted – The hosted model is a bit of a hybrid solution and a great one for those who still have desktop applications that they like but don’t want the hassle or expense of a local server. It’s a very popular solution for businesses that do not like the online features of their software programs quite yet but gives the anytime, anywhere access to applications like QuickBooks desktop. Examples of Hosted offerings are Right Networks, Xcentric, Cloud9 Real Time, Skyline by Unidata, Cloud Runner, and Qutera.
Storage and Portals – I reference both of these in one because many of the solutions are solving both problems. Storage clouds had originally been offsite backup solutions like Carbonite or Mozy. Then there were portal options built into websites that allowed CPA’s and Lawyers to transfer sensitive documents to their clients through a secure portal. However, now we are seeing a marrying of the two solutions by vendors, and their applications are allowing both document sharing/transfer as well as online storage. Examples are SmartVault, DropBox, ShareFile and Box.com.
In a later post, we will get more into Public Clouds versus Private Clouds and even Hybrid Clouds but I think this is a good starting point for the discussion so that when you are looking at providers you can understand which type of delivery they have to your users. And remember, it’s not an all or nothing; you can integrate different Cloud models to suit your needs.