|Software Solutions for the Jewellery Industry
The Cloud and EasyStock
The big buzz 'phrase' at the moment is "Computing In The Cloud". Many application suppliers are now either offering the ability to use their solution "In the Cloud" or are promising that future development will enable this feature. But what is "The Cloud" and where could it fit with how you work as regards your stock control application? Here we discuss.
What is the cloud?
In its simplest form, "The Cloud" is the concept of running applications "On Line" via the internet while storing your data at a remote site. The reason it is called "The Cloud" is that you have no real notion of where the actual data is. It could be in a single location on a server close by or be spread over many servers all across the world. Google Apps is/are run as applications in "The Cloud". You have access to Word Processing, eMail, Calendars, Spreadsheets and chat. At no time are any identifiable runtime code - traditional software programs, installed onto your own machine. When you save the data, your documents, there is no physical identifier to say where that data is. You can access the 'applications' and your data from any machine as long as you have your username and password to hand and the application can be used on many new devices such as tablets (iPads), smartphones and 'thin' pc's. The attraction is that you have access from anywhere, data can be syncronised across many devices and locations and you do not need to worry about losing your data through hardware failures. Or can you? See later.
Why was it 'invented'?
The origin of 'The Cloud' revolves round the ability to provide 'software as a service'. Traditionally to install a Word Processing or Spreadsheet package, you would (and still do) download from a web site or physically load CD or DVD into your machine and install the application onto your machine and that machine only. All the modules required to run the software and all the data the application generates is held on your machine or the central server in your office/headoffice. Primarily you can only use the software and data while sitting at your machine.
Recently the ability to connect to your own network and desktop using products such as LogMeIn or Remote Desktop has meant that you were/are not totally restricted to being sat at your physical desk to use or access your word processing data.
'The Cloud' is an extension of this concept but more so.
With the cloud the primary idea is to remove the idea of you having a central store locally for your data and, more importantly, your application software. Instead of installing the software on your machine, you sign up for a subscription (or as with Google) a 'free', account. Within the account you get access to popular software solutions such as Word Processing, eMail, Spreadsheet and other applications. The primary driver is the ability to both work from anywhere and the ability to 'share' your documents with work and social colleagues.
The important element to understand is the fact that yu do not store the applications or data locally. Instead these items are stored elsewhere and only accessed when you need them. With something like Google Docs, your data NEVER reaches your machine at all, you just 'see' part of the word processing document your are accessing.
From a hardware point of view, as the applications are usually browser based, your own client hardware can be very simply and quite low powered. Also, as the servers are owned by someone else, it is up to them to keep them maintained, upgraded and securley backed up..
What is it today and why is it being promoted?
Initially 'the cloud' was the concept of large organisations such as Microsoft, Google and recently, Amazon providing various services to end users for accessing and sharing data from various devices anywhere in the world. With Google and Microsoft, this was in the form of Word processing, Spreadsheets, Calendars, Images etc. Amazon are slightly different and closer to where we want to be, they provide the ability to fully move ALL your in house applications to a remote site and server.
This concept that Amazon provides has now been taken on by more and more suppliers such that even the smallest networking or hardware supplier with a bit of capacity in their office.
Instead of you or your company purchasing expensive servers which have a predetermined lifespan, usually 3 to 5 years (or better if you are realy lucky), installed in your own office(s) and serviced by either your resident expert or hardware supplier, these machines are located elsewhere. To avoid the capital expendeture for a central hardware server and server software, you instead sign up to a rental charge where the supplier provides a service. The server instance(s) is/are supported and maintained, your data is backed up and your software programs are maintained and supported without your intervention. All you need is a simple, cheap device to connect to the Internet and your application runs.
How does EasyStock fit into "The Cloud"?
Easystock was originally developed to use the technical elements which drive the concept of "The Cloud". EasyStock works both using the data in a remote environment such as a hosted server with the Application program running locally and as a fully hosted service where both the data and application are run remotely. If you already run EasyStock as a 'multi shop' instance, you are already using elements of 'the cloud'. Your data and applications are stored at a central location, the remote clients are connected via the internet over a private network back to your headoffice. The only difference is that you own and have responsibility for the servers in headoffice.
How could it apply to me?
As you can see by the paragraph above, EasyStock already has the technology to run in the cloud.
Certain considerations must be met but if you feel that you need to move you servers out of your business then running EasyStock remotely is a definite consideration and can already be done. With EasyStock, there is nothing to stop you moving your central server to a cloud provider. We already have a number of our clients using this method with others looking into it.
Advantages of hosting yourself
- All hardware and software is under your control
- You have physical control of you data and data backup.
- You can decide when and how hardware is maintained and upgraded
If you currently host your servers in your head office, control of both the hardware and software remain with you. The downside(s) could be considered as:-
- If your offices were to burn down, your server could also be lost
- It is your responsibility to carry out backups and get the backup data away from site.
- Hardware failure would have to be addressed, either by repair or replacement
- It is your responsibility to replace and/or upgrade your server hardware as time progresses
- High up front capital cost to purchase and commission hardware and software
What do I need to consider if I were to move my application to a remote provider?
Advantage of moving to "The Cloud"
- No initial front end capital investment in server hardware
- Subscription based finance structure allowing control of budgets
- Based upon your agreement, all hardware is kept up to date
- If a server was to fail, it is up to the provider to fix and repair.
- Financing of upgrades can be built into your subscription
- Servers are held in secure, safe environment
- Mirroring of servers ensuring maximum up time(subject to agreement).
- Data backups held in remote secure location
But what are the disadvantages with remote hosting?
- If the hosting company were to fail and disappear, would you be able to get hold of your data?
- If you were to be involved in any payment issues, would your supplier prevent you from using your application and having access to your data?
- Do I have access to my security backups?
- If I were to decide to move back 'in house' would I have access to my data and would it be compatible?
- Is my data secure? Could it be 'hacked', stolen or corrupted by a third party?
But what about my Internet Connection and if it was to fail?
IJS Ltd took a big risk in developing EasyStock in the way it has been and its requirement to connect to head office in real time via dial up and broadband internet connections. Our competitors will quite quickly say that this method is not sustainable and that their method of daily synchronisation is far safer. Unfortunately for them, the IJS method has stood the test of time and it is now them that are having to change thier phylosophy to accomodate the now reliable and fast internet connections. The reliability of the Internet is why it is now possible for "The Cloud" to be a viable proposition. IJS Ltd were just 10 years ahead.
Our Experience of "The Cloud"
Already there are a number of suppliers offering to provide you with the infrastructure to deploy and run your applications out in The Cloud. Either as a totally transparent service or by a local company who will provide with a dedicated server hosted in their own premises.
Upon investigation we have been able to speak to a number of larger organisations who have explained why they have ported some or all of their own application to a cloud infrastruture. Most commonly the opinion is that "The Cloud" presently provides a great way to test new projects before committing to the purchase and hosting internally the servers and other hardware required to do so.
For example: A company wants to write a new piece of software to address a certain need. The software requires a lot of computing power and lots of data storage. In the past, this would have required a large budget to initially purchase a development and test environment. Companies are avoiding the large capital investment required to start the project and instead, signing up for a short term subscription with a "cloud provider", they develope, test and commission the project. They then go to management with a completed project and request the investment in the infrastructure for a complete and working system, therefore avoiding and initial investment in a solution which may not work. But, the important thing to realise here is that the final solution is NOT run in the cloud, it is simply moved back into a traditional internal environment once complete.
Yes, there are also companies who are running solutions which need to be accessed remotely, but these tend to be such elements as Field Sales Representative management such as timesheets and order processing. There are very few who have committed there own private and important data such as payroll, sales, purchase and nominal ledger, recipe costing and other sensitive data to a situation outside of thier own control.
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