Grounding the Cloud Hype
Enterprise Software Considerations
By Alex Hatzopoulos, Operations Manager at Aeros, a Cultura Company
“The Cloud” has been a marketing term since 2006 when Google and Amazon started using the term “cloud computing” to describe the way people would be accessing their software and files. Since this innovative marketing revolution, every new enterprise solution adds cloud to their offering. Aeros is doing the same.
This has led to a lot of confusion as to what type of solution one is buying to assist their organization. In my attempt to cut through the marketing fog (pun intended), I think of “the cloud” as a rebrand of “the internet”. Others may try to add more sophistication to this, but in the end the one key feature of the cloud is the internet. Keeping this in mind, here are some thoughts on how to be pragmatic about the cloud and learn where it can make a difference for you.
The very first question you need to ask yourself when you are exploring a cloud solution is how reliable and robust is your internet? Despite investment from the federal government, telecom companies have not provided coast to coast broadband coverage. It may be tough to believe if you live in a city, but broadband is not available in many rural areas in the United States and prevents cloud solutions from functioning effectively.
I will always remember a time where I learned that one of our customers did not have internet at the office at all. The customer took their server to grandmother’s house to get online in order to access updates and support. For many it is not that bad, but there are more than a couple of Aeros customers with only satellite access available.
Accessing the internet this way lacks speed and has significant delays. This leads to a less than satisfactory experience with a cloud solution. If you do not have reliable broadband internet, the cloud is truly not an avenue worth exploring and you can probably stop reading this and choose a solution that is not cloud.
Where Web-Only Doesn’t Work
When looking at the type of solution you need, if your software needs to access local network resources, the cloud may not be the best option. An example of local resource that is often overlooked is local file storage. If you have terabytes of data sitting in a shared drive that you need your solution to access, you may want to consider how that data will be accessed.
Another example of a local resource that a web-only cloud solution will not be able to solve for is printing. If you need to print without a dialogue to confirm, then an application is required. This could be for check printing out of an ERP system, or perhaps just receipts from an order system.
Internet based solutions work great for document-based tools which are purely digital, but what happens when things being tracked and managed are physical and only accessible on your local network? At Aeros, we have integrations with local solutions that track inventory, order logistics, and feed production. Many vendors for these third-party solutions are not available through the cloud, so any integrations become more complicated. Reviewing your current solution vendors and their ability to work with the cloud will go a long way with preventing surprises later.
Another consideration of the cloud is responsiveness. Client server applications tend to be more responsive than pure web-based solutions. Facebook famously devoted their development towards a web only platform for their mobile apps, but quickly backtracked on that when the performance of the applications suffered. With less dependence on the internet than pure web-based solutions, installed applications usually offer a better user experience.
The cloud is a “newer technology” and that often means less time to develop the features that a more mature solution has. With product strategies like Lean development with MVPs (Minimum Viable Products), these newer solutions often trade robust feature sets for time to market which can make that feature set disparity even larger. This difference may not be directly evident in a demo either. Oftentimes it’s the details of the way a feature is implemented that makes the difference, and this won’t be discovered until implementation.
Lift and Shift
On the other hand, long-standing industry solution providers must evolve their robust client-server solutions to the cloud. The “lift and shift” strategy is often the first effort client server solutions make when they start their way to the cloud. This is a hosting model where the client and server are hosted by the solution provider, and the user accesses the system through a terminal service like Citrix Xenapp, Microsoft Remote Desktop, or a new entrant – Amazon Appstream. This lift and shift strategy provides a robust solution with the new access model and allows you avoid the large upfront capital expense of purchasing servers, as well as avoiding the long-term maintenance costs of those servers that a cloud-first solution offers.
The difference between cloud security and client-server security is stark. Often client-server solutions are behind firewalls which prevent any unauthorized users from accessing the system. An analogy would be like having a guard tower at the entrance to the parking lot checking employee IDs before allowing entrance. If your IT has done a good job preventing unauthorized access to the network, then you should be in good shape with a client-server solution.
A cloud solution is available to everyone on the internet, so from the ground up it has to be developed with security in mind. This often leads to better security practices because of the built in necessity for it. A similar analogy would be having bars on the windows of a house. It is more secure than a house without it, but if you are in a neighborhood that requires it, are you safer? I don’t mean to raise alarm with the cloud as security should be a concern in any enterprise implementation, but security should be an even bigger focus for you and the solution provider when it is being provided over the cloud.
One Size Fits “All”
Another consideration when comparing solutions is that cloud products are often developed as one size fits all solutions, meaning there is one solution for all customers. This model prevents or creates difficulties when customizations to your specific needs are identified. When signing up with a solution that will be running critical aspects of your business, make sure there is an avenue for custom development. It is inevtiable that you will require customization at some point. This flexibility is a critical feature of the system and the organization as everyone runs their business similarly, but amazingly different.
In short, there is no perfect solution. You will likely review different offerings that hit a lot of points with one set of features but completely lack another set, so compromise is necessary. A helpful strategy is to know where you and the vendor are today, and where you and they will be in the future. If you sign up with a vendor that is devoted to an industry and has a track record in that industry, it is hard to pass those credentials up.
At Aeros, we are a partner that is in it for the long run. We have worked with our customers in the egg and poultry industries for over 45 years. Those decades of experience in providing solutions to the industry are something Aeros is proud of as we look forward to another 45 years of service. If you are interested in learning more about our solutions, please reach out to Monica Lizar at firstname.lastname@example.org.