The cloud – what’s it all about?
We take a look at the hosting solutions for marina management systems.
Cloud computing is no longer a mystery to most of us. It is simply part of everyday life.
But while we happily use mobile apps, yell at Alexa and bank online, the arguments for and against the cloud in business often appear more nuanced.
Harbour Assist is a true cloud product, but what does that mean?
Cloud or Server?
Before the cloud, all data was stored on servers. In a way, this is still the case, as the hardware of the cloud is racks and racks of servers. However, there is a world of difference between a company server room and high-tech data centres run by Microsoft and others.
To put it in basic terms, the cloud is a resource pool of physical servers divided into multiple virtual servers. These virtual servers are added and removed automatically as demand fluctuates.
The huge size of the resource pool means that capacity isn’t an issue – on your busiest day the system has the flexibility to deliver performance you need.
Some people still like the idea that their data is stored on-site in a server they can see. It feels more tangible than the cloud. But the advantage of being able to physically see the server is outweighed by the disadvantages.
A physical server has to be maintained, which means allocating staff time or employing an external expert, and it means investing in new hardware every few years.
With the cloud you may need someone to keep an eye on your PCs, laptops, tablets and phones, but you don’t need an expensive expert. You won’t need anyone running back-ups (or forgetting to) either.
All hardware everywhere is at risk of power failure, flood and theft. If your server room floods or the wiring overheats or vandals break-in, how will you restore your back-ups?
Nanny Cay Marina in the Caribbean chose Harbour Assist after almost being wiped out by Hurricane Irma in 2017. Part of rebuilding the business was to switch mission critical systems to the cloud, rather than relying on local infrastructure.
If you remotely access your data, isn’t that what a cybercriminal will do too? It is the data centre’s full-time job to monitor security, which is more than an in-house IT expert can deliver. Plus, statistics suggest that a high proportion of data theft is actually carried out by employees, so keeping sensitive data off-site is sensible.
Data is encrypted as it flows between the user and the cloud, and along with built-in security features and regular penetration testing, the cloud makes it easier to meet government-level compliance requirements.
Read more about the security measures we build into Harbour Assist.
Server-based software has to be installed onto the server – someone turns-up with a box of disks or a USB stick. You’ve got to wait for the person to visit before you get the upgrade.
Cloud-based software updates are released completely remotely, generally overnight or during a quiet period. This minimises down time and ensures that all users access the same software version simultaneously.
True Cloud or Faux Cloud?
Just as there are different clouds in the sky, there are different levels of cloud computing too.
Sometimes it is cheaper to adapt existing software so make it appear to work like the cloud. In this case, existing software is taken off your local server or PC and ‘put in the cloud’. You may be told that this makes it a cloud solution, but it isn’t. This kind of hybrid is known as faux cloud.
Faux cloud is an improvement over an on-site server, but it still has disadvantages over true cloud. For starters, the software is often the stuff you’ve been using for years – familiar but probably quite outdated.
Features like online form capture, customer gateways, integrations and remote payment will probably be built in another format, so the interface between old and new may be imperfect and reporting less accurate. APIs and integrations will be tricker to deliver, making them more expensive.
With hybrid systems you may still need internal IT support for updates. You may even still have a local server or run software on your PC.
True cloud benefits
- You don’t need specialist IT support
- You don’t need to buy or maintain server hardware
- You get the performance you need, when you need it
- You don’t need to worry about security
- Your business is resilient
- Your team can work flexibily and remotely
Covid has focused minds on the practicalities of cloud-based remote working, but the benefits go way beyond the pandemic. If all staff can access the same data, real-time, from anywhere, they can work more efficiently and deliver better customer service.
It may be traditional for the customer to come to the office, but wouldn’t it be better customer service to take your business to the customer? Any staff member on the dock or in the boatyard armed with an iPad or tablet has everything they need, right there.
The cloud benefits your team and your business, but also your customers too.
How can we help your business?
If you’d like to talk about how Harbour Assist can help your business be more resilient and flexible, email Nick direct firstname.lastname@example.org