Cloud computing: Pie in the sky?

July 6, 2009
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A Food Engineering Exclusive

Cloud computing could make it easier for small- and medium-sized processors to afford sophisticated software applications.

Pay as you go software provides a new entry point for small and medium-sized processors.

You’ve got a job to do. Your computer connects you to your process, supply chain and customers. Windows, Linux, Mac, Solaris, Blackberry: Do you care what operating system your computer runs? Probably not, but you do care about your connection to the Internet and to your process, supply chain and customers.

According to Bob Palumbo, Progress Software vice president of partner marketing and partner development, the Internet will become the “operating system” of the future. “We’re a big proponent of what is called software as a service (SaaS), or some call it ‘cloud computing.’” The terms are sometimes used interchangeably.

Progress Software provides the tools (Open Edge) for application developers to craft the software end users, such as food processors, run in their day-to-day jobs. Think of these basic tools as the platform that hosts your ERP, warehouse or customer relationship management (CRM) system.

You’re probably familiar with cloud computing because you’re already using it. A good example is Web-based banking or income tax software. The software doesn’t reside on your personal machine. Instead it runs somewhere else in the “cloud,” and your machine and its Web browser is simply a client.

“Does anyone really know what OS or database Google uses? Do they care? The user just wants to login to his/her software. As we move in the direction of SaaS and cloud computing, the choice of an OS, tools or database-other than for the company providing the services-is irrelevant,” adds Palumbo.

Progress Software may write platform software, but it also purchases software. And Palumbo says, if there’s a choice between a software product that runs on native servers in his building or off premises on the Web, his company will opt for the Web-based SaaS or cloud version because it represents much less of an impact on the Progress IT staff. So, why wouldn’t a food processor look for a SaaS application when it doesn’t have the time or an adequate staff to handle IT chores?

An important consideration for cloud computing is the user interface, which must support the application and not be overly complex. While most end users want access to their systems over the Web with a GUI-based desktop look-and-feel, the GUI may be overkill for someone in the warehouse environment who needs a simple character-based wireless terminal. What’s important, adds Palumbo, is that users want to get the job done with the appropriate technology. Cloud computing can make this happen more easily.

A decade age, purveyors of SaaS applications were known as application service providers (ASPs), says Palumbo. “Clearly then there were data concerns, reliability and security issues,” he adds. Because users’ data resided off site, there was a concern for protecting the data from prying eyes and worry about the longevity of the ASP itself. Some users were stuck when their ASP went Chapter 11 without a word of warning. Now, tools are in place to protect data from theft, corporate espionage and Chapter 11 scenarios, says Palumbo. And the Internet is far more reliable as well.

Small to medium-sized food processors stand to gain from cloud computing. They don’t have to spend a lot of money on software. Instead, they pay as they go-just like a month-to-month lease. Their applications are kept up to date by the SaaS provider, and the hosting and database management is done off site, requiring no expensive hardware investments. While small processors may not have an IT staff, they still can take advantage of sophisticated applications the big companies use.

Of course, this model won’t fit every processor and every application, says Palumbo. While processors wouldn’t want to run a process control system with SaaS, it might make sense to investigate cloud computing for tasks like ERP, CRM and inventory management, says Palumbo.

For more information, contact Bob Palumbo via e-mail or 781-280-4627.

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