The future of information technology may well be cloudy for many produce companies, but in a good way. Cloud computing presents itself as a viable solution to crucial cost and accessibility issues, but a lack of understanding often makes this a nebulous proposition.
“Cloud computing” is the practical use of the Internet to store data on servers away from a company’s physical site. At its most basic, the cloud is the Internet, tracing its history to the earliest shared information sites, like the bulletin board system, the forerunner to the World Wide Web from the late 1970s to the early 1990s.
Today, companies can access applications and store data over the Internet with confidence. Cost efficiencies vary, though the greatest benefit may be for small and medium-sized firms with significant data and application needs but limited resources. Regardless of size, however, cloud services can remove a multitude of technology headaches from an operational standpoint.
“Many industries struggle to determine whether cloud computing is right for them,” explains Dave McCary, cloud solutions architect and manager of software sales at Zumasys, Inc. in Irvine, CA. This should not be the case with produce, however, since the technology can provide easy access to data from the office, on the road, or from the field or packing house.
Evolution: Rising To The Cloud
The modern iteration of cloud computing began with the development of Windows Terminal Server, which had the ability to connect applications from other locations. This was followed by the growth of Citrix server, and a decade later, the concept of running a business without onsite hardware and software was no longer far-fetched but becoming the norm.
According to a 2013 report by ChangeWave Research, 39 percent of its corporate respondents used cloud computing services, and 36 percent planned to increase cloud spending in the next six months. Consequently, many respondents also planned to decrease traditional information technology (IT) budgets and expenditures.
In rating cloud services for reliability and security (with ‘10’ being ‘very reliable’), the report’s mean score was 7, while security scored a 6 on the survey. When asked why their companies did not use the cloud, 42 percent of survey takers cited security concerns as most important, while 13 percent reported the complexity of integrating cloud services with their existing IT infrastructure.
Exploring Your Options
There are two major options for cloud computing, although it is possible to blend the two versions, according to Don Walborn, an industry consultant at Mount Dora, FL-based BP&SS Consulting. The first option, software-as-a-service (SaaS), has monthly fees which end-users pay to an application software provider (ASP), which takes care of the software and hardware, leaving the user responsible for minor issues, such as Internet connectivity, and local printer and monitor support.
The second option is for a company to actually buy the software and possibly the hardware, but to locate it in an offsite data center—often referred to as a “rack”—where basic necessities like redundant power, onsite Internet, air conditioning, and backup are provided.