There is no doubt that businesses of all sizes and types are moving from analog and paper-based to digital and electronic systems. Moving from postal letters to email, “PDF-ing” instead of printing, and EDI rather than manual order entry, businesses are taking on the challenges of transforming their processes one by one.
Cloud computing and virtualization have had a great impact in these areas, providing the foundations for process improvements and higher business intelligence than ever before. Increasingly, businesses are looking to “cloud” to help them do more with their businesses, and to do it better and more profitably.
In looking at cloud – applications, platforms, and services – it is important to understand that different approaches aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Many businesses implement a combination of technologies and services, creating their own hybrid approach to doing business the way it works for them.
When most small business owners think of implementing “cloud” in their operations, the things that initially come to mind are web-based/browser-based applications. Due in large part to how these products are marketed, web-based apps are among the most widely recognized “cloud” type of service.
QuickBooks Online edition is an example of web-based/browser-based application service. It was built to run in a browser, and you access it over the Internet. These types of applications are often referred to as “net native”, because the only exist as Internet-based service. Other examples are NetSuite and Intacct.
The key with these types of application services is that they aren’t just applications; they are subscription services that include the infrastructure and data storage as part of the solution. You access by going to a web URL in a browser, and login and use the system. You own nothing of the system – not the servers its running on, not the application itself, and (if you don’t pay your bill or export your information) not the data.
What makes these systems “cloud” is that they are running on servers – application servers, network server, data servers etc. – that are all meshed to work closely together. You do not have to worry about (in fact, you often won’t even know) exactly where in the world your system is located, and you have no direct contact with or interaction with the infrastructure on which your application and data are running. As far as users are concerned, their application and data exist “in the cloud” … somewhere.
Hosted applications can also be Cloud
Cloud or not cloud really doesn’t have anything to do with whether the software is browser-based versus disk-based (desktop). Cloud really refers to having a ubiquitous network of connected resources which allows for the creation of dynamic, agile, scalable infrastructure. Google Compute, Amazon Web Services, and Microsoft Azure are the 3 primary (publicly available) cloud platforms.
Online application services generally use cloud platforms and infrastructure to support their software and data, enabling the delivery of services to large numbers of users regardless of where they are located.
Desktop applications can also be run on cloud infrastructure, enabling businesses to access and use their applications and data regardless of location or device, but to retain all the functionality and capabilities of the more mature desktop solution.
For example, NOOBEH cloud services deploys managed QuickBooks and other desktop applications from the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. With Noobeh’s approach, customers can retain essential control of their infrastructure (Noobeh manages it for them, but it is the customer’s private system), allowing it to be configured to be exactly what the customer needs.
NOOBEH Azure hosting is provided as a subscription service and can be changed or adjusted at any time with just a restart of the system. This agility gives businesses what they need now, but also allows the platform to be adjusted to changing business needs. Not having to purchase or invest ahead of needing new resources, as well as reducing the system size if less is ultimately needed, are among the many benefits of using a true cloud platform. Migrating applications and data from on-premises to cloud platforms allows businesses to reduce or eliminate their reliance on locally installed servers and network systems, which is another step in transforming the business and its capabilities.
When a business elects to migrate from desktop to web-based applications for only some functions, the result is often that other applications and data remain active on the local systems. This forces the business to retain their expensive computers, networks and local IT management services and reduces much of the value of a cloud transformation.
On the other hand, if the business elects to migrate to cloud infrastructure it allows them to migrate all their applications, data, and processes immediately, delivering immediate business benefit and providing the right platform for further improvement.
For most small and growing businesses, it is the elimination of concerns about hardware failures, not having to purchase ahead for possible future needs, and having up-to-date secure and compliant systems that deliver the full value and capability of the cloud.
Business transformation starts with the foundation, and a strong information technology platform becomes the base upon which smarter and more efficient processes are built. Whether your company is just beginning its transformation journey or is well on the way, cloud applications and platforms are integral to helping your business keep moving forward.