"Cloud computing" is a term that's thrown around a lot today, but it simply means accessing your data and applications without on-site infrastructure, i.e. in the cloud. Data processing, storage and backup, maintenance, administration and even troubleshooting are all taken care of by the service provider.
Some of us (like me) were skeptical when everything started being labeled as "cloud." The thought of not having a trusted IT department maintain control of data and hardware was a little unsettling at first. But after considering the pros and cons of cloud computing (and also realizing that I use cloud services like Gmail and Salesforce.com every day without hesitation), the advantages became clear, even for business intelligence.
Implementing BI in the cloud is a dilemma for a lot of organizations we work with. They're (rightly) concerned about data security, hardware failure, and anything that could take their reports offline, slow employees' decision-making process, or expose valuable information to the wrong people. Those are all concerns that have been and continue to be addressed by cloud providers. Certainly data security and back-ups have become paramount to vendors offering cloud services. But as we hear less and less about massive cloud failures in the news and executives and IT managers get more comfortable with the cloud, we've seen a shift toward the cloud becoming acceptable for business intelligence deployments. Here's why:
The cloud offers access to data, applications and other resources without the need for program installation. This equals major convenience when doing work on a portable device like a laptop, tablet PC or smartphone. Not only are your devices free from the clutter of numerous installs (which facilitates effective use of resources), but your company's IT team isn't bogged down with installing, reinstalling, and troubleshooting numerous devices for each employee. And since many of us work remotely occasionally, if not exclusively, a lightweight approach to accessing data is truly beneficial.
When it comes to BI, we've noticed that more of our users are accessing arcplan apps through a web browser than ever before. We are even talking to companies that want to deploy BI exclusively as a subscription service, meaning users would only access their apps through a browser. The install once / deploy anywhere mindset is taking over, which should help bring BI to the masses even faster as it becomes more accessible. We're looking at a new age of "I'll get it myself" information, especially as we see larger roll-outs of iPhones and iPads in the workplace that are used to access mobile BI web apps. The ease of accessing cloud applications is certainly facilitating this change.
The cloud also reduces or eliminates the cost of upgrades, maintenance and administration. It's not specific to BI, but maintaining extensive hardware investments takes a lot of time and money (just ask the IT team down the hall). So a cloud offering which acts as a central point of administration, offers backup service, application upgrades, data storage and troubleshooting at a reasonable price is something that's appealing to large and small businesses alike. For business users, this means that you don't have to wait for your IT manager to purchase and install the latest software package on your machine. Upgrades are offered in real-time by the service provider, so the entire user community is offered product enhancements once they are released.
The cloud means information at the speed of your connection. Because cloud apps are accessed over the web and applications are mirrored worldwide, the speed at which you can access data is directly related to your internet speed. If you have a high-speed connection in your North Carolina office and one in your South Africa location, users can access data equally fast from both locations. For BI, this means quick access to reports and dashboards, which in turns speeds up decision-making. The days of waiting whole days (or even minutes) for reports to download are over thanks to the cloud.
In my next post, I'll discuss the drawbacks of cloud computing and how they're mitigated in the BI world to ensure that data remains secure and online.