The concept of the cloud can best be articulated by the photo to the right and in this article that ran in Key West the Newspaper....

22 January 2010
TECH: Why Is Everyone Hanging Out on a Cloud?
Or better yet, why aren’t they?

It’s a question everyone is asking lately, what is all this talk of doing business in “THE CLOUD?”

Essentially, the concept of “the cloud” is hosting business services such as email, calendaring, documents, invoicing and bookkeeping out on the web, and accessing these services from any computer in the world with internet access.  

Hey, let’s face it, times are changing. Our cell phones are now as powerful as our desktop computers were a mere four or five years ago. The concept of a small business, or government agency hosting these services in house is not only outdated, but it has become archaic.

Historically, a business or agency would build the infamous “server rack” in a “server room” which would include the necessary hardware to host all these services. Staff with thick rimmed glasses and pocket protectors would then be concerned with patching servers, worrying about equipment failure, concerning themselves with a reliable power source, making data backups, and budgeting for the life cycle replacement of this entire mess of hardware and wires. The points of failure were countless, and the downtime was inconvenient to say the least.

But today, with the advent of companies like Google developing all these services in a web based platform, small business and government agencies can migrate it all out to the web, and need only concern themselves with reliable internet connectivity to obtain the same if not a better system performance.

Companies like Google have teams of engineers, and much more reliable equipment to host the services, ensuring less downtime, better access, and greater security. As a business, your only concern is providing staff with convenient access to the internet, and this gets easier every day. Further, with the ever increasing methods of obtaining internet access, reliability and accessibility become the norm versus the hope.

The concept is demonstrable by looking at the advent of online banking. Most of us can remember the time consuming effort of writing checks, licking envelopes, and incurring the expense of postage. Yet now, all this can be done for free in a fraction of the time by using online banking available at almost every bank.

One local administrator who has taken advantage of the concept is State Attorney Dennis Ward. Ward turned to local consultant Matt Gardi, of ViaVende Technical Consulting to bring his email and calendaring system into the twenty first century.

“I parallel the difference to snail mail versus email,” said Gardi. “At the
State Attorney’s Office, by deploying Google Apps, we were able to migrate their email and calendaring systems to the cloud, increasing functionality, accessibility, security, and reliability all at a fraction of the cost of what Microsoft was providing.”

Aside from the direct cost advantage of licensing fees, Gardi sees tangential cost savings by leveraging the systems in the cloud. “I give a lot of credit to forward thinking administrators who are able to look past the hurdle of systems migration, towards the benefits achievable down the road.”

Gardi also credits Public Defender Rose Enright, who with his assistance last year migrated their case management system to a web based platform. “For instance, being in the cloud would allow for an attorney to access case information, create a motion, share it with her legal assistant, and update a co-councel’s calendar to reflect a change in a hearing date, all from a mobile device while she’s waiting for the bus.”

When asked what other agencies he believes could benefit from the cloud, Gardi said, “Well, I could argue almost any business or government entity would realize cost savings and increased functionality, but seeing as Google Apps provides many of these services free to educational institutions, what comes to my mind immediately is the Monroe County School District.”

Google Apps provides a wide array of cloud based applications such as email, calendaring, documents, company intranets, and web hosting.   With an ease of use and administration, utilizing an integration of these services creates a cost effective, collaborative environment where businesses are only just scratching the surface on capitalizing on the realm of possibilities.  For instance, an office manager on vacation at a cafe in Paris, in a matter of minutes, can check their email, add an appointment to their calendar, see the results of a staff survey, collaborate on a company brochure, get the phone number of a colleague, and update the company website all from one convenient web based application on their cell phone.  And they can do all that, while their main office in the Florida Keys is closed at 1 AM, and experiencing a week long power and utility outage.  Oh yeah, and they can do all this while saving money when compared to the old "server room."

That, my friends is the power of the cloud...and Google Apps.