ARTICLE

The benefits of remote computing may be winning over skeptics

Several years after the much-hyped term cloud computing hit the mainstream, the buzz hasn’t faded. In fact, “the cloud” seems to be a serious technology trend that is gaining altitude in the Corridor.

Cloud computing describes technologies that can be used to provide access to a shared pool of remote computing resources, often via the Internet.

The technologies usually include high-speed networks, servers, data storage, software applications and IT services.

Providers of cloud services can point to an impressive stack of potential benefits.

They often include lower overall costs, greater reliability and improved ability to “scale up” data processing and storage needs as demands change.

Hupp Electric of Cedar Rapids repairs and maintains electric motors and builds control panels. The company began using the cloud through Cedar Rapids-based Tektivity Inc., a Cedar Rapids-based applications services provider, about eight years ago — long before the term cloud computing was coined.

“Our big motivation was to better serve our customers through technology,” Hupp Electric President Kevin Hupp said.

Hupp uses its IT resources for critical functions such as electronic data interchange with suppliers and sending out test results to customers on their electric engines.

That availability is a big reason the cloud improves Hupp’s customer experience, he said.

The company’s IT budget before it went on the cloud allowed for only one IT staffer, and Hupp Electric couldn’t very well expect that employee to be on duty 365 days a year.

If something goes wrong, “they can fix things pretty quickly,” Hupp said. He said the cost is reasonable enough that it was not a significant factor in the decision.

Fortune 500 companies were the earliest adopters of cloud computing, according to Mike McHenry of LightEdge Solutions, a Des Moines-based company that provides cloud services in the Corridor. They had the resources to build their own data centers to serve all their locations — a kind of private cloud.

Small companies with extremely limited technology staffs and budgets were the next to follow, McHenry said.

For suppliers, McHenry said mid-sized companies are now the “sweet spot” in the cloud adoption.

Some of those companies, he said, already have put a number of their less-critical systems on the cloud.

“What we’re really seeing now is a drastic uptick, and people are putting their mission-critical systems on the cloud,” McHenry said.

“From end to end, companies are really starting to embrace it.”

INITIAL RESISTANCE

Tektivity President Doug Flugum admitted there’s often some initial resistance to the idea.

“People are attached to their technology,” Flugum said.

“The big thing they see is, I don’t have that data sitting inside my four walls anymore. It’s a little letting go.”

Flugum said it’s key for companies to realize that physical custody of their data isn’t the most critical thing. Tektivity tries to point out that physical custody of the data means little if critical issues such as regular data backup and virus protection updates on the network are neglected.

One of the technological changes that made cloud computing effective was the arrival of virtualization platforms, which allow servers to mimic various operating systems, McHenry noted.

Many early users of cloud computing were developers who used the virtual operating systems to test their products, saving large investments in hardware.

Data-security company Involta’s large data center in Marion provides facilities for many cloud computing companies.

Involta CEO Bruce Lehrman says virtualization products such as VMWare make it possible to “build” servers in clusters as needed and link them with a VMWare client.

With cloud computing, Lehrman says it’s often possible to get 70 percent to 80 percent use of servers versus a more typical rate of 20 percent to 30 percent.

Fewer servers operating means not only less initial investment, it also means less energy consumption and less maintenance.

The value of cloud computing “really was driven home” in the record flooding of June 2008 in the Corridor, Tektivity’s Flugum said.

Companies inundated with water didn’t have to worry much about their critical data if they had it on the cloud, and some companies that rescued servers from the flood decided to change approaches.

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