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Posts Tagged ‘cloud’

cloud pic8In our prior two posts (here and here) we described the fundamentals of cloud computing, and looked at today’s three modes of deployment (public, private, hybrid) and three modes of service (SaaS, PaaS, IasS).  Right after we wrote those two posts, we came across an article in the Jan. 10th issue of the Wall Street Journal that we think puts all this into pretty good perspective.  We’ll recap highlights from that article here today…

According to the Journal report, in 2011 cloud spending in the U.S. accounted for around 7% of the $53 billion spent on all IT (Information Technology) expenditures.  That’s a pretty small, though growing, share.  Some businesses can save substantially by outsourcing various aspects of their infrastructure to cloud providers. 

But business owners and managers also need to be aware of the downsides, which to most small business owners include concerns over security and lack of control over their own data. There is still a measure of confidence to be gained by the knowledge that an owner can walk down the hall to his own servers, on his own premises, under his own power, and know that the software and the data that he runs his business on is a very tangible, controllable asset.  And while cloud data centers can rightfully boast of “five nines” (99.999%) data backup and redundancy, there’s nothing like being able to see it and touch it. 

That sense is if anything heightened the first time you’re running a cloud app and “the Internet goes down.”  (We know the feeling.)  Whether it’s a router problem in house, or a provider issue at a link in Chicago, or a power issue… it matters little when it’s your company that’s down.  And it does happen.  Witness Amazon’s scare last summer when electrical storms cut power to ten data centers around Washington, D.C. and the generators they shut down left thousands ‘off the grid’.

This leads one to the same conclusion as the Journal points out: “Operating servers both on-site and in the cloud is a very effective way of reducing risk… Business owners should make the decision based on the support they have available.”

In other words, while you can put things like file backup and email safely into the cloud – applications where a few hours or even a day of down time won’t kill you – companies are still best advised to keep the mission critical stuff (financials, order processing, etc.) on local resources where you stay in control. 

Quoting the Journal again, “Financial benefits and convenience aside, some entrepreneurs are still wary of the security risks.  The top drawback for small businesses adopting cloud services in 2012 was data security, according to IDC research.”

The prudent owner will step into the cloud gently, carefully.  That’s the essence of prudence, after all.  Start with something like off-site backup, or moving your email to the cloud, especially if you currently run Microsoft’s Exchange Server in-house.  The reduced internal IT expense, in both hardware and staff time can easily make the move cost justifiable.  We’ve found that the uptime, the remote (out of office) capabilities and the overall responsiveness are every bit as good as when we ran our email ourselves.  Except now we’ve freed up valuable IT resources for more important tasks – like client application development.

But when it comes to core operational tasks like your ERP or financial system, we advise heeding the advice of my old Slovenian grandfather (and apparent cloud expert), who said it best half a century ago: “Take it slow, keep it go.”

 

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cloud pic6In our previous post here we gave a brief description of “cloud” computing and described its three main types of deployment: Public, Private, and Hybrid.  Today we’ll finish up by describing the three major cloud service models: Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).

The most common type of cloud service has been around for years, and is commonly known as (SaaS, pronounced sass) or software as a service.  It provides a complete software application, served up from the Internet (thus, it’s a ‘service’), normally via your standard web browser (i.e., Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, etc.).  At it’s best, SaaS reduces upfront capital costs for hardware (PCs, etc.) in the office, and can get up and running quickly.  As an example, Google Docs offers a suite of software applications from the cloud that provide a competitor to Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc.)  Of course, Microsoft itself offers Microsoft Office 365 to exploit similar capabilities.  Utilizing this service, users can be anywhere in the world where they have an Internet connection and a browser, and tap into, edit, update and share their documents worldwide.

Platform as a Service is geared toward application developers (again, via a web browser) and provides the underlying infrastructure and development tools needed to build and deploy cloud applications that are delivered on demand.  It allows developers to stay current with the latest tools in their arena, and enables them to stay more productive.  It’s intended to shorten the time and effort required for in-house developers to develop, modify and distribute their applications across a broad base of users.

Finally, Infrastructure as a Service provides network builders and architects with computing, storage and networking resources on a foundation built for scalability and flexibility.  Companies like Amazon and Microsoft, among many others, are building out these mega-platforms that they intend to have serve the future of computing needs for thousands, even millions of users and firms worldwide.  Think of these as the next utility “grid”.  The payoff will be in terms of lowered infrastructure costs for users (it’s a pay as you go rental model) that can scale immediately: all you have to do is contract for more resources.  You no longer have to build it, or buy and manage the hardware, you simply open the spigot (and the wallet) to more service.  You don’t spend money on resources you don’t need or use, and conversely, when you do need more, those resources are there quickly. 

As readers will note, cloud is real, it’s here today, and it’s growing quickly.  Knowing which parts of the cloud paradigm are right for you, and when, is of course a much more complicated question, one best discussed with your IT provider.  It’s a technology platform that is both inevitable, and in the earliest of stages.  It took the Internet to make it possible.  And it took a couple decades to make the Internet ubiquitous.  Look for cloud computing to have just as much impact on your life and business – only probably faster.

 

 

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You can’t live in the information technology age today and not hear the constant drumbeat of “cloud”.  Today, we’ll look briefly at the major initiatives afloat in the cloud universe today, and what they mean to a small business.  Some of the information below comes courtesy of CDW, a leading provider of hardware and infrastructure products and services to the IT world.

On its simplest level of course, cloud is simply using the Internet as a computer resource.  You probably already do this today.  Your email is likely served up from the cloud, or Internet, if you’re using a service like yahoo or gmail.  When you shop at Amazon, you’re using cloud based services.  For some folks, even your phone system might be lodged in the cloud (called VOIP, or voice over internet protocol), much as we do at PSSI.  So in its simplest form, if you use a PC or mobile device, you’re already in the cloud.

But for the benefit of our many small and midsize business customers, cloud options today can basically be best divided into two major groups: deployment (of which there are three main varieties) and service models (again, featuring three choices).  We’ll look at the deployment options first, in today’s post:

There are three main options from which to choose in a cloud model: public, private and hybrid.

Public clouds are built and managed usually by large service providers who deliver their computing resources based on agreements they negotiate with their customers.  These services cover a range of possibilities, from complete solutions that include a company’s entire IT infrastructure and development environments, to more modest offerings like email or sales force management.  The advantage of a public cloud is its scalability (ability to grow larger, fast) and the fact that it frees up an IT staff from many of the mundane tasks like managing your network and the constant upgrades and fine-tuning that come with it.

Private clouds are a cluster of shared resources that can scale well enough, but are designed and managed solely for the needs of their (private) owners.  The internal IT staff (or perhaps an outside contractor/provider) still manages this type of cloud, and the scalability is limited to the resources and investments of the organization (or company) that owns it.  On the plus side however, that company can then tailor the cloud resources and experience to its own liking and, for better and for worse, manage the underlying security directly for greater, and more private, control of those resources.

Hybrid clouds are a mix of the public and the private, intended to combine the strengths of both.  Thus, a company might put a mission critical application such as its ERP or financial system within its own data center for a heightened sense of control and security, but link itself to a public cloud to take advantage of the scalability of those other resources – again, an external email system that is based in a public cloud can provide access to all users in your company, even as you keep the financial side local and private (exactly, by the way, what we do at our company).

In the second of this two part post, we’ll look at the three “service models” available in the cloud.  Stay tuned…

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In the buzz of all the talk about Cloud computing these days, ComputerWorld, in a recent article, makes an illuminating point: While nearly half (47%) of surveyed IT professionals would put their resources into a “private” cloud (i.e., an internal cloud infrastructure whereby applications are served up only to company staff or an otherwise restricted set of customers)… only a paltry 7% would utilize a “shared, centralized computing environment,” or public cloud.

In view of the many recent and very visible cloud failures and security breaches, it’s no wonder.  Business owners are less wowed by the latest tech fad and much more interested in making (and saving) money.  ROI matters: private clouds can deliver, and apparently at a safer degree of service than public clouds.

The two biggest concerns about cloud computing: security and cost were neck and neck. 

Most of the surveyed companies, which were culled from 1,200 entities from small to large across business, health care, government and education, have not yet tried cloud services.  Among those who have not, predictions of savings were lower than responses about savings from those who had actually used cloud services.  Overall, cost reductions were seen by over 80% of those who had tried using the cloud.

The ComputerWorld article did not note what sort of cloud applications were being used, but given the constituency, it’s safe to say that services like email and storage/backup were common.  And given that “businesses” comprised only a minor part of the survey, we suspect criteria for usage would vary greatly between, say, a manufacturing company and a local high school. 

The poll was performed in March for CDW by O’Keefe & Co. 

As the technology develops, we expect to see a strong drift towards the “private” versus “public” cloud approach utilizing cluster infrastructure like that offered bySouth Bend’s Union Station – a major Midwest Internet node owned by Global Access Point.  There, a variety of companies are engaged in managed services offering hosted services for individual companies seeking the cost benefits of cloud servers and applications, delivered on a carefully refined private basis.

 

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In an online article titled “Microsoft is ‘All In’ for the Cloud, but What About Dynamics?” Hunter Richards, an “accounting marketing analyst” for Software Advice(*) attempts to stir up some debate about whether Microsoft’s Dynamics product line is indeed ‘cloud-worthy.’  [Disclaimer: Our firm is a long-established Dynamics NAV reseller.] 

(*) Software Advice bills itself as a free service to software buyers looking for solutions.  According to its website, the group researches the market, identifying the best solutions for each buyer.  Their advice is free to buyers, but they get paid by software companies for making a ‘good match.’

In this and the post following we’ll look at Mr. Richards’ positions, insert a bit of our own commentary, and hear some of his alternatives with regard to what he thinks Microsoft should do.

Richards notes that Microsoft Chairman Steve Ballmer has claimed that “we’re all in” when it comes to the cloud.

He next cogently points out one of the Achilles Heels of cloud applications: that while migrating office aps to the cloud is one thing — no customization or integration – it is quite another challenge to migrate ERP systems, with their unique workflow demands and their hundreds of thousands of clients, to the cloud.

Richards posits four key challenges Microsoft will face in its efforts to move its disparate ERP aps(#) to the cloud. 

(#) Microsoft currently sells four major ERP systems: Microsoft Dynamics NAV (formerly Navision), Microsoft Dynamics AX (formerly Axapta, which merged with Navision shortly before its Microsoft acquisition a few years ago), Microsoft Dynamics GP (formerly Great Plains), and Microsoft Dynamics SL (formerly Solomon Software).

Among those challenges (we’ll look at two today, and two in our next post):

Architecture: Richards points out that “current Microsoft Dynamics ERP products are built on a single-tenant, hybrid client/server and web-enabled architecture… But they don’t have the pure web, multi-tenant architecture required to take full advantage of the cloud’s economies of scale. Getting there will require a major re-write of the Dynamics architecture.”

We would note that at least one of the Dynamics products with which PSSI is most familiar, NAV, is building a platform that is heavily oriented toward web services via its SOA (services oriented architecture) and we believe over time that NAV’s interoperability with other available web services and external applications will make it a formidable cloud product — in time.

Multiple products: Cloud migration is daunting enough, but the challenge is further complicated by the existence of four different architectures – AX, GP, NAV and SL.

True enough.  Only a company like Microsoft has the resources to tackle this dilemma.  A few years ago their Project Green was touted as being a seven year solution over which time all its various ERP applications would one day be merged into a single code base.  Microsoft stopped talking about Project Green a year or two after that, and that project is now apparently officially ‘dead.’  This is clearly a formidable challenge.

In our next post, we’ll look at two more challenges to Microsoft’s cloud-ERP strategy, and some of Hunter Richards’ conclusions…

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In an article in Business Solutions (“Growth Strategies for the IT Channel”) entitled “What Does 2011 Hold for IT?” editor Gennifer Biggs offers her take on what’s in store in the year ahead in Information Technology sector.  Hey, her guess is as good as yours (or mine), so here’s what she has to say…

First, says Biggs, “The channel will get over the cloud.”  I agree with her when she says “if I have to watch one more misleading “To the cloud” ad from Microsoft or listen to one more panel expound on how the cloud won’t put the channel out of business…”

Truth is, those of us on the “channel” side that provide real value to our customers (via advice, consulting, software, solutions, integrated products, better ideas, process improvements and all the rest) will do just fine.  As Biggs says, “provide value to your customers, continue to build your relationships with them, and [then] get over it.”  Customers have been using the cloud for years – just like they’ve used laptops or smartphones.  Did we worry about losing customers over laptops?  No.  And as we sort through the various cloud-based offerings from our key vendor partners, we’ll continue to provide value-laden solutions for our customers, when those products are right for them.

Another point Ms. Biggs makes: “Telepresence is the new travel.”  In today’s tightly budgeted world, reduced staffs and increased productivity demands, teleconferencing will become an increasingly important part of clients’ infrastructure, especially as prices drop and solutions become more ubiquitous. 

The term “Systems Integrators” takes on new meaning, going from building IT networks to “owning the modern office.”  Systems now include all manner of collaborative technology including security and storage and mobility and so on. Today’s (and tomorrow’s) IT provider will increasingly need to master new domains.

We rely on partnership relationships with IT providers ourselves to deliver those kinds of services and technologies to our clients.  To that, we add our own expertise in software, process and work flow, ERP, accounting, manufacturing and the like.  Together they and we forge deeper relationship with our often mutual clients, to the betterment of all concerned.  In the end, it’s all about partnering with the right vendors, providers and customers to build a win-win for everyone.

And every time we help our clients make more money, we generally get rewarded in turn (with their future business and referrals).  Now that’s the definition of a true win-win.  And a pretty valid prescription for success in the new year.

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Part Three of a Three Part Series

So, in our prior posts we talked a bit about The Cloud, and a few of the obvious advantages and (sometimes not so) obvious disadvantages.  So, who is it for, and is it for me?  You be the judge.

Who’s it for?  Well, for one, people who need to collaborate, a lot, over great distances.  Web-based presentations – and the shared collaboration they often require — are a good example.

Traveling salespeople and other road warriors are another example.  You keep your applications data in one place, in the cloud, and it’s accessible from wherever you are, assuming Internet availability.

The hardware-shy are yet another.  Hardware and infrastructure costs are minimal in the cloud.  For software, if they can pry your cold dead fingers off your Microsoft Office applications, then Google aps, shared documents over the web, may be just the ticket.  If money’s tight, you’ll consider this option, certainly.

Users who prefer to let the web take care of their ever-increasing storage and backup needs may find the cloud preferable to deeper investments in hard drives and other storage devices.

And who might be best to stay away from the cloud?  The answer varies, but those who are Internet-illiterate spring first to mind, along with the internet-impaired, that is, those with limited access, or limited bandwidth.  A lot of us live ‘in the country’ where it takes a stiff breeze and a dry day to get up to all of 28K in dial-up connect-speed.  In such places (and I live in one), the Internet is not a happy place.

The security conscious have their own concerns.  Cloud computing is safe, but it’s not guaranteed.  Hackers are numerous.  When security matters, know your risks.

Application development of industrial strength business applications is a work in process.  I know companies who made the move to the cloud for ERP and accounting, and are now moving back to in-house server-based applications due to performance problems.  It’s not a mature market — yet.

As I noted in an earlier post, the cloud is evolving.  The best notion I’ve heard is that it’s not the Year of the Cloud, but it may be the Decade of the Cloud.  Barriers from the technical to the business model, and from security to compatibility, do exist.  They will be worked out in time, just as America’s nascent electrical grid grew, over decades, to serve a nation (and is now in a state of significant disrepair, but that’s another story). 

Like all disruptive technologies, cloud computing, if it is to succeed grandly, will do so in fits and starts, but move inexorably forward.  You don’t need to be in a hurry.  You just need to pay attention, and make your move when the economics and the technological and the security issues are aligned right for you.

For some, it’s the ultimate open source liberation technology.  For others, Big Brother has really arrived, and he holds your data. The truth usually lies somewhere in between.

P.S.: For grins, try searching by Images on “Cloud Computing Images.”  The array of cloud-metaphor cartoons and humor is already pretty impressive.  I’ve borrowed a few in this three-part series and tried where possible to include author info.

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