The Cloud: the next revolution in computing

computing in the cloudThe Digital Imaging Association offered members and guests a unique opportunity to hear from the specialists what cloud computing is all about, its current and anticipated uses and how it impacts all aspects of computing. The Cloud is statistically the biggest shift that computing has seen.

What is the Cloud?

“Cloud computing is the ultimate global pooling of resources – rent only what you need (bandwidth, storage, processing power) in per minute increments. Pay attention, print service providers! This is an evolution that can and will have a direct impact on your business…”- Jennifer Matt “Whattheythink”

The Digital Imaging Association presenters opened the discussion on this new technology. Ron Lokaisingh, vice-president of Jump I.T., a systems integrator and reseller, reviewed cloud computing segments and their related applications; Slava Apel, CEO of Amazing Print, a software developer of print technologies, offered his well-studied insight of the Cloud to attendees. The following offers a brief summary of the depth of information provided to those who attended the presentation.

The Segments

Ron Lokaisingh broke the power of the technology down to two segments: private cloud and public cloud.

Basically, a private cloud is a dedicated server or machine that is specific to one client; a public cloud is a multi-tenant architecture, meaning that many customers have password protected access to a server. Essentially, both segments are software as a service – SaaS – residing on robust servers and storage hardware either on-site or at data centres anywhere in the world. On the customer side, it means no upfront investment in servers or software licensing. On the provider side, with just one app to maintain, costs are low compared to conventional hosting – and those costs can be shared by multiple users.

Examples of multi-tenant clouds are Google Apps, Salesforce.com and Amazon.com, to name a few. Cloud computing encompasses subscription-based or pay-per-use service accessed in real time over the Internet. A quick ROI definition is that these services offer a way to increase capacity, functionalities or capabilities on the fly without investing in capital equipment or software – essentially, they continually upgrade and extend your IT capabilities.

Leveraging Cloud Computing

Lokaisingh explained how Web service providers offer application programming interfaces that enable developers to exploit functionality over the Internet, rather than delivering full blown applications. Why buy technology when you can get what you need when you need it? Some business management examples include payroll processing, integrated Google Maps, credit card processing services, e-mail hosting, data backup, archived storage, virus protection, disaster recovery, helpdesk support – and many others.

It’s not about where your computing is located. It’s about how it’s run and the expertise of the person running it. Also, it turns a capital expenditure into an operating expense typically paid on a monthly basis.

Pick a Way to Pay and Calculate the ROI

Apel spoke about the Cloud’s payment options and the documented returns. The options are free, which means you only pay for what you use monthly. This offers you the ability to define requirements and a budget.

According to a recent report by Gartner on cloud computing, over 70 percent of IT staff’s time is spent on maintenance. Public cloud solutions eliminates most of that maintenance time. Another statistic from Telegraph Media group shows that a mobile employee is 2.8 times more effective after using cloud-based apps. Radicati Group conducted a study in 2008, which showed that companies with on-premise e-mail solutions averaged from 30 to 60 minutes of unscheduled downtime and an additional 36 to 90 minutes of planned downtime per month. Cloud computing reports less – if not zero – downtime for subscribers.

There are also costs to consider with on-premise solutions, such as costs for hardware, software, power, physical space, IT staff and continual upgrades. Apel suggests buying service as a product instead – the ultimate outsourcing – because if you own it, you’re the one responsible.

Some Pros and Cons

Apel highlighted things to keep in mind when considering cloud computing: privacy, reliability and security.

Both Apel and Lokaisingh agreed that selecting a proven service provider significantly reduces any risk associated with the three points noted. As an example, Google has been operating in “the skies” for over 10 years, leveraging its own power and innovation to offer a global infrastructure, acquiring the hardware, developing the software and hiring the best technologists to facilitate it. DIA attendees agreed that in the cloud, data can be more secure and backed up more frequently, offering true peace of mind in accessible off-site data storage.

Apel cited printing industry examples of the successful use of cloud computing:

  • FedEx Office outsources to Vista Print
  • BCT dealers are using BCT Cloud
  • Sir Speedy uses Mimeo Cloud

Apel concluded his presentation by encouraging the DIA audience to switch to the cloud. Printers, he says, will benefit measurably by storing production and business data on a cloud that hosts this data across multiple centres. He also strongly recommends migrating e-mail hosting to Cloud.

Pay less for collaboration. Pay less for maintenance. Pay less for support.

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