Are you ready for the cloud?

Ken Weinberg, vice president of Carrier LogisticsKen Weinberg, vice president of Carrier Logistics

Most, if not all, transportation companies use at least one cloud-based software system or “software as a service.” Some also host their software and data in the cloud rather than on the office or “on premise” servers.

The cloud is far from new or leading edge, at least in concept. IBM developed network computing in the late 1960s long before the Internet arrived. Businesses could lease phone lines and connect their “dummy” computer terminals in the office to vendors’ mainframe computers, offsite.

The cloud today is really nothing more than a remote data center stacked with applications, processors and other computing resources. Any device — a smartphone, tablet, PC, etc. — with a Web browser and Internet connection can access the applications and data remotely, and thus be the “front end” of a system.

The decision every business must make today is not if they should use the cloud but which of their resources belong there.

Various factors guide this decision, says Joe Pampel, director, enterprise architecture and cloud computing at SunGard Availability Services. It helps to think of the cloud as a tactic and not a strategy. The cloud is one of many options for executing an IT strategy to improve performance, lower cost and risk, etc.

Any software system you use, from an e-mail server to a central dispatch system, requires regular maintenance as well as resources to ensure high availability and reliability. How much of your IT spend is going towards these functions when they are not differentiating factors for your business?

“Would you rather pay someone to patch your Window servers or to pay a business analyst to write reports for your business?” he says.

Businesses typically spend about 70 percent of their IT budget on maintenance. Twenty percent goes towards “business as usual” such as software upgrades. The last 10 percent goes towards innovation and new products, he says.

One advantage of hosting your software in cloud data centers, such as SunGard, is to be able to try out new software applications using your data. You can copy a production database from one system, such as your dispatch software, to another server in the cloud and immediately experiment with a new application.

One area where the cloud may not make sense is for the applications and data you use for analysis. A data warehouse, for example, is a database that is created specifically for analysis. With cloud-based software you cannot always query and manipulate data without experiencing a delay.

“You do not want to have to pull a large amount of data over the circuit,” he says.

As an example, Carrier Logistics offers on-premise and cloud-based versions of its Facts management system for asset and non-asset transportation providers. The system’s core specialty is multi-stop truckload and less-than-truckload.

“We allow customers to make the choice as to which way they want to go, but we see much more interest in the cloud solution,” says Ken Weinberg, vice president of sales and one of the company’s founders. “We think the cloud is a much more secure environment for most companies.”

The company has a business intelligence module for the system called Facts View. With the module, users can monitor, drill down and analyze business metrics using familiar Microsoft Excel tools.

When analyzing business performance, instant results are critical. For this reason, Facts View resides on a server in the office. The server pulls data daily from the cloud-based version of Facts into its data warehouse. Facts View can be accessed through a browser in a “local cloud” computing environment.

“We’ve gotten to point that people are comfortable with data being in the cloud,” Weinberg says.