Round-the-clock access, less IT work makes this new technology worth the investment.

Photo courtesy of Trimble

As businesses look to trim costs on information technology (IT), many are gravitating to cloud computing as a way to increase efficiency and economics. But what is the “cloud” and how can it help your business?

In very general terms, cloud computing is hardware and software pooled in a hosted infrastructure that can be accessed over the Internet. Typically a cloud service provider runs the Internet-based service and sells its use as a subscription or via a pay-per-use basis. You access the cloud the same way you access the Internet: via a computer, tablet or handheld device that connects to the Web. It can be accessed anytime and anywhere, whether in an office or remotely in the field.

Because cloud providers offer hosted storage, the customer doesn’t take up space on its own server. With cloud computing, companies can increase computing capabilities while reducing the costs associated with equipment, licenses, storage and IT personnel. Other benefits include increased flexibility, scalability and fewer IT support requirements. If the solution exists in the cloud, IT personnel are then free to work on other projects, meaning greater efficiency and higher productivity.

Cloud computing services

There are different options when choosing a cloud service. They include:

  • Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), in which the cloud provider owns and houses the infrastructure - servers, storage devices, networking components - and provides the appropriate services to users.

  • Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) delivers development environments as a service. This includes all the components required to support the life cycle of building and delivering Web applications such as programming languages, testing and debugging capabilities.

  • Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is a central hosting service for specialized application software and its associated data, which is accessed using a Web browser. Using multitenant architecture, SaaS provides a single application to thousands of customers through their browsers.

     “The SaaS form of cloud computing is very well-suited to businesses with mobile field operations such as plumbing firms, utility services and so on,” states Wayne Johnson, general manager of Trimble Field Service Management, Global Channel Alliances.

  • Types of cloud

    In general, individual users access a cloud that’s available to the public.  A wholesaler that has already invested in computing resources might create a private cloud within its own data center to use existing resources and control security policies. The drawback is that the burden of support stays with the wholesaler. A more logical approach may be a hybrid cloud, which is a combination of both a public and private cloud.

    For those who choose to outsource, trusting your cloud supplier is critical. Know your security requirements and make sure the service provider can meet them. Determine who will have access to the data and on which devices it will be stored. Will it be archived? Look at the provider’s server capability and uptime record. How does it manage and back up data, and what is its strategy for redundancy so you have round-the-clock access to your data if a cloud server goes down?

    Using cloud computing - whether in-house or through a provider - can mean a significant improvement in technology capabilities and customer service at a very attractive cost.