Wisps of white, then pink, then orange, floated across the sky as I watched the sun set yesterday. Being a technologist, this got me thinking about cloud computing and what it could and will mean to the printing industry.
What is Cloud Computing?
Cloud computing is defined as "a computing capability that provides an abstraction between the
computing resource and its underlying technical architecture (e.g.,
servers, storage, networks), enabling convenient, on-demand network
access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources that can be
rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or
service provider interaction." Simply put its like renting a movie from Netflix where you pay a flat rate to have a movie delivered to your home. When you order the movie you are not at all concerned, let alone interested, in the complex web servers, databases, or delivery route through USPS that is used. The same is true for cloud computing where you are renting time on another company's equipment and services to accomplish your computing needs without having to know the technical minutia of how it is done.
- On-Demand, Self-service
- Broad Network Access
- Resource Pooling
- Rapid Elasticity
- Measured Service
Say again, what is it?
Chances are you have used at least one service, as most consumer based examples of cloud computing are masked as software as a service (SaaS). Perhaps you have used such as service to log into your company's corporate network through a VPN. Virtual Private Network service was one of the first forms of cloud computing but there are others. Salesforce.com, web based e-mail like gMail, Adobe's Photoshop express, are some other examples. Currently, the only real examples to be found within the printing industry are Web2Print applications that are not hosted by the print company, although most Web2Print vendors offer both varieties.
How does it work?
Web savvy companies such as Amazon already offer up their hardware for cloud computing, but new entrants like Rackspace are popping up to compete in this new market as well. You pay the provider a per hour charge for the usage, including the amount of data transfer, and receive a virtualized server with a fixed amount of memory and storage space. Again, it is similar to having your own server with the heavy lifting done by the provider. A 2GB memory server with 80GB stoarge from Rackspace is estimated at less than $100 per month with up to 10GB of upload and 45GB of download. The cheapest server currently offered by Dell is listed at $699 or $58.33 per month which does not include the price of hosting and administering the server. With wider adoption, the prices and performance of cloud computing will outpace the need for small businesses to purchases and maintain complex computing configurations. This technology is not yet ready for explosive growth and adoption because the uses for cloud computing are limited to what software and services can run within their infrastructure. After all, how many graphic arts vendors currently offer any software that their customer can easily deploy and run in a cloud?
Why will it be important?
Software vendors who supply the industry with solutions from MIS to shipping software will start to utilize this technology where appropriate. By effectively outsourcing the technical overhead, the solutions could offer many tremendous benefits for both the vendor and the printer.
- Cost of ownership will be contractual based upon usage instead of high
upfront capital expenditures. Imagine being able to utilize a prepress
production system via the web instead of hosting it on servers within
the print shop.
- Updates will be done in the cloud, reducing the amount of expertise and administrative IT tasks done by the print shop.
- SaaS applications create and empower a more dynamic workforce that can be geograhpically dispersed. Employees can work when they want and where they want while still providing value, not to mention higher retention rates for the company.