Unraveling the Mysteries of Cloud Computing
August 10, 2014
We have all heard the phrase “cloud computing” or “it’s stored on the cloud." But not everyone knows what it means. Well this article will help unravel that mystery for you.
What is it?
Cloud computing is “the practice of using a network of remote servers hosted on the internet to store, manage and process data” (Google Search).
This is different from traditional computing, because none of the data itself is stored on your own computer or device unless the service provides some kind of downloadable version of your content (like Amazon Music, which has both online and offline components). At most, a cloud software may store information to help pages or certain tasks to load faster in your browser cache.
Honestly, the marketing buzzword “Cloud Computing” has been around for a lot less time than actual cloud computing or internet based software. While its roots have been claimed to be traced back to Compaq circa 1996 (Technology Review), the popularity of the phrase took off around the time that streaming services and other Software as a Service (SaaS) companies really started gaining popularity.
Common examples of cloud computing.
The most common forms of cloud computing include consumer based operations like online gaming subscriptions such as World of Warcraft, music services like Pandora, video rental and streaming services like Netflix and even personal organizers like Google Calendar.
From a professional context, examples of this might include Adobe’s new CS6 Web Tools, Microsoft’s new Office 365, sophisticated email marketing software such as MailChimp or Constant Contact, Intuit’s Quickbooks Online program for accounting and even iClassPro.
The pros and cons of cloud computing.
PROS: Accessibility from any web enabled location can be a major advantage to cloud computing versus traditional installed content. Most software that you purchase has a limited number of licenses that restricts the number of computers or devices that can utilize the program. While some SaaS businesses may still have ways to restrict the number of concurrent users or access points, you still have the option to access your information from essentially anywhere in the world with a suitable internet connection. On vacation? No problem. Access is at your fingertips!
CONS: On the downside, internet connection stability can be a major issue. You may have trouble with unstable or overpopulated wi-fi connections slowing your speeds, equipment malfunctions or superficial limitations which prevent access. Not to mention, network congestion (a bunch of people using the same service or online in your local area) can cause packet loss or latency which causes necessary pieces of information to be lost in transit to or from your device- resulting in a variety of complications (Enabling the New Era of Cloud Computing, page 217). (For a more detailed list of complications for SaaS, click here.) The bottom line is that, given the nature of the internet, there are a lot of potential fail points. You need reliable service and security on your devices.
PROS: The trend towards cloud computing did a great deal to boost the number of competitors in software industry. It’s now far more feasible and cost effective for new businesses to gain a following online via websites, directory listings and social media than it is to simply package software and put it on a shelf somewhere, with the hopes of hitting the right markets and selling a few hundred copies. That means that no matter what business you're in, you can probably find a few software solutions available online. And a quick Google search will help you find valuable information like review sites and testimonials.
CONS: With a plethora of competing products comes the trouble of sorting through your options. In some cases, the same software company might have two or three different solutions that seem to fit your needs. This kind of marketplace crowding makes doing research about your options a vital step in the purchasing decision. Finding or choosing the right solution requires research, actively participating in the review and taking control of the sales conversation to make sure that the pain points of your business will be addressed with the product/service.
PROS: Try before you buy! Cloud computing made getting a free trial of software a lot easier. Many businesses have an automated process that allows you to fill out a form, click a button, open an email and get started all on your own free time. Not on someone else’s schedule. And no waiting for a flash drive, CD, or DVD to arrive in the mail. Setting up free trials not your cup of tea? Ask for a demo and show up prepared to ask the hard questions. From the perspective of a software company, the entire goal of the free trial period, or in some cases a demo, is to help answer your questions and get you to the purchase decision.
CONS: Unfortunately, with the ease of free trial creation it is not uncommon for shoppers to get over-zealous and sign up for three or more free trials at once. It might seem like a good idea at first, but it also gives you less time to evaluate each solution. If you're offered a 30 day free trial on three different products and sign up for all of them at once, in reality you're only getting 10 days on each product unless you rule one out early on. Not to mention, learning a new software takes time and learning more than one can definitely get confusing. With too much going on at once, it's easy to get frustrated. And if your free trial period expires before you can perform all the testing and inquiries you need to make a decision, it can be a real problem. While many companies will extend your trial period if you ask, it's usually best to sign up for one to two trials at a time. (The roadmap in this article can help you better prepare your evaluation techniques to avoid this problem.)
PROS: With the large boom in the number of available competing products on the market, businesses which provide these solutions are being forced to provide higher volumes of customer service, quickly. As a result, the number of support call centers and employees have greatly increased. So getting in touch with a human is a lot easier. Many businesses even compete with each other based on the knowledge and value that their customer service technicians can bring to the table.
CONS: It may not seem like having more support could hold any negative side effects, but think again. With the high demand for support, many businesses are finding themselves outsourcing customer support call centers to third party services. That means that the customer service representative you speak with may be supporting not only this product, but two or three others. They may not be completely up to date on recent problems or changes. And they may not have dealt with your specific problems very often- which can mean long hold times while they research information.
Real Time Response.
PROS: Before cloud computing, software companies could get away with forcing you to pay for upgrades, patches, and fixes. But those practices are gradually becoming a thing of the past. Enhancements are often made monthly, weekly or even daily to cloud-run systems to improve your experience. Even a lot of installed services now run background programs to look for updates. While you may still have to pay for large scale changes- such as access to completely new versions of a software- you are far less likely to get saddled with a product that won’t be making any improvements.
CONS: Having to make frequent adjustments to a system has significant cost implications on the provider. Now, customers demand immediate changes- which requires hiring on additional staff to get the job done more quickly. As a result, providers are covering much higher overhead costs. That means that the subscription rate you pay for SaaS systems can often increase as often as yearly. And you will likely pay more over the lifetime of the subscription than you would for an installed version of a similar product. Plus, many small to medium sized providers only operate off of a few server banks, meaning scheduled updates to hardware or security measures at those physical facilities can take the software offline and if it conflicts with your business hours, there's not much that can be done about it.
PROS: Not only does cloud computing increase the demand for updates and real time response, but it also puts the consumer in the unique position of having more authority over product specifications and features. With a much larger number of competing products to choose from, developers are hard pressed to listen to customer feedback and meet new needs as they arise. If not, a competitor surely will. So you will often find product feedback forums, beta test groups and more to help you get what you need out of a SaaS company. That leaves you, the customer, with a much larger stake in terms of content and features than previously seen in the tech and software industry.
CONS: However, this kind of control over the marketplace can also provide an element of frustration for customers. Typically, software companies reach a point where they have enough of a client base that they tend to use the 80:20 rule to make programming decisions. According to this rule, any changes which occur to the way things work within the system must potentially meet (or at a minimum, not interfere with) approximately 80% of their customer’s needs. With all the competitors in a market racing to meet the needs of the majority of customers, some customers find themselves in the minority on certain feature requirements. Because these software companies are interested in saving time and making money by chasing down the right set of features based on market feedback, the customers in the 20% can have trouble convincing businesses that there is enough demand to make the changes they need. After all, when it comes to software, there is such a thing as too much flexibility. Too many settings, combinations and outcomes can mean the software becomes much harder to use for straight-forward business practices or bare-bones users. And quite frankly, those are the software company's ideal customer. Why? It's simple, they require the least amount of investment (time and money) to keep happy and if they're happy, they're not looking at the competition.
While there are many more pros and cons to cloud computing, this article should have helped you understand the basics. Hopefully you can take away a few points that help you decide whether or not cloud computing is right for you or your business.
Of course, if you think cloud hosted software is the right choice and you're in the recreational class business (dance, gymnastics, cheer, cirque, etc), we'd love to help you out! iClassPro has some great features to help transition your business from the office to the cloud and offer online registration, payments and more! Click here to view our features!