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Cloud computing: It can work for you

This article appears in the issue January 2011, [Volume 20, Issue 1]
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Few technology areas are showing the kind of dynamic growth evidenced in cloud computing. Gartner predicts that worldwide revenue for cloud services will increase more than 16 percent this year, from about $60 billion in 2009 to nearly $70 billion in 2010. With its potential for cost savings, greater flexibility and a reduced burden to in-house IT departments, cloud computing is attractive to both large enterprises and small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Cloud computing can benefit many applications but is particularly helpful to knowledge management solutions in which agility is a valued quality.

Flexibility

Cloud computing provides on-demand IT services and scalability in a multi-tenant environment. It achieves flexibility by allocating IT resources as they are needed rather than through dedicated servers. In traditional infrastructures, server capacity must be able to accommodate maximum demand, which means that resources often stand idle. Cloud computing is also designed as a service, so users pay for the services but do not have the upfront capital expenditures for hardware and software. Not having to physically build out the infrastructure for each new project means that users can speed up their time to market for new applications and easily add new customers.

Presidio Health developed an innovative software product called PerformMD that helps emergency room physicians and urgent care providers document and bill for their work. Offered via the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model, PerformMD analyzes electronic medical records (EMRs) and transcriptions of patient visits before the physicians submit the record to their medical billing company.

By ensuring that the documentation is complete, PerformMD allows physicians to receive reimbursements that reflect the level of service that was provided. In addition, it helps set standards for best practices by analyzing treatment codes and outcomes and detecting inconsistencies or exceptions that might indicate divergence from best practices.

As the number of clients grew, Presidio Health realized it needed more scalability and reliability in its infrastructure and began exploring a move to cloud computing. After looking at a number of options, Presidio Health selected the CloudIQ Platform from Appistry.

“Our software suite is built using the open source Spring framework for Java,” says Tom Gregory, CTO of Presidio Health, “so we needed a cloud platform that would allow us to leverage what we had already built, and afford us an easy migration from our current servers.” CloudIQ’s robust support for Spring was a strong selling point, along with its scalability and manageability.

CloudIQ is offered as a software product that is run in customer or third-party data centers to create a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) environment. The platform serves as an interface or mediator between the user, who is typically a developer, and the IT infrastructure. PaaS is distinguished from infrastructure as a service (IaaS) in that it provides a greater degree of automation in managing resources. IaaS supplies the raw servers, but PaaS pools those resources together to deliver application scalability. The PaaS also shields users from the complexity and change that occurs at the infrastructure layer.

More selling points

The use of Appistry’s CloudIQ Platform on the cloud has reduced costs for Presidio Health and simplified the process of managing resources. “We gained 70 percent more computing power for the same cost,” says Gregory. In addition, CloudIQ and CloudIQ Storage have improved the performance of managing the servers that deliver Presidio’s software service to its customers and the delivery of content required by its users.

“We manage a lot of image files,” Gregory continues, “including EKG results, copies of patients’ drivers licenses and other files. When these are moved into the user interface for viewing, CloudIQ takes care of deciding which server is best able to handle the request.”

Appistry’s cloud products continue to evolve based on the work the company has done for large customers, including the federal government. “We realized that with the explosive growth in the amount of unstructured data,” says Sam Charrington, VP of marketing at Appistry, “organizations needed better options for storing it.” Focusing on a business’ data storage challenges allows the company to provide much-needed scalability, but the benefits accrue equally from the lower investment costs and increased speed to market.

Planning for the cloud

Before jumping into the cloud, it’s important for organizations to get a clear understanding of their needs. “There is no general decision to be made about cloud computing. The best place to run an application depends on what’s best for your organization,” says John Brown, director of cloud technologies at Planet Technologies. “For some financial services companies, keeping data in the cloud is just not an option, for regulatory reasons. On the other hand, for a small company that provides building services, the cloud might be just the right solution.” Planet Technologies is a systems integrator for Microsoft technologies, and provides guidance to companies considering the move to cloud computing.

One significant change that Brown has noticed is a shift in the consumers of technical services. “The time has passed where the IT department is the customer,” he explains. “The decisions being made are business decisions, not technical ones. Customers are not talking about bytes and RAM, but about productivity, collaboration and cost reduction.”  In addition, businesses have become aware of the “greener” nature of cloud computing, which results from its efficient use of resources.

Cloud computing not only uses resources more effectively, but makes the infrastructure more resilient. “The systems can, in essence, monitor themselves,” Brown says, “so that if a server begins to fail, service is automatically moved onto another platform. Service delivery is not affected. Loss of hardware is not a critical event but a business-as-usual event that the system takes in stride.” Given the many mission-critical knowledge management solutions currently fielded, that increased reliability seems certain to strike a chord with customers.

Evolution or revolution?

As with all new technologies, cloud computing is beset with a certain amount of hype. “What we see in the marketplace is everyone wants to attach cloud to their cause, just as they did with Web 2.0 a few years ago,” says Mike Brevoort, enterprise Web practice manager at Avalon Consulting. “In fact, it’s a fairly evolutionary technology.”

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