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Cloud Computing – Getting the Benefits whilst Maintaining Uptime

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We rely heavily on cloud computing, so far as we don't have ANY files saved locally except a few pdf's that have been downloaded and a handful of MS Office documents. Everything else is stored up in the cloud - email, documents, our complete warehouse management system, our accounts - the list goes on. Given we don't have any files locally, it also follows we have almost no software in our office, bar a web browser, pdf viewer and a printer driver.

The benefits of cloud computing are that I can work on just about any PC, tablet (or even a few phones recently) and can work as if I'm very much in the office. Everything is there, just where I left it and it's always the most recent version I was working on no matter what PC I happened to be using last.

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We can share information, both inside the company and out. I quite often work simultaneously on a document with colleagues or pass revisions for review without the need for sending the document. It's also the way that we give all of our clients access to live information about their fulfilment accounts. Since our 3PL warehouse is managed using an online system, the data is available instantly to all of our clients - we don't need to send it or copy it, they can access the very data that's stored on the live production server.

To accomplish all this we use a lot of Google's services, specifically their Business Apps package, and also our own virtual cloud server. Both use heavily redundant systems, back-ups, disk arrays and mirrors to ensure they have 100% (or as close to) uptime. See here for a few of the features we use.

The pitfall of this anywhere computing is that it is hugely reliant on an internet connection. Which means if you're working in the middle of nowhere, or your connection fails, you may as well be looking at a blank screen as without the web there is absolutely nothing to see or do. This gives two choices - keep duplicate local copies so you can keep on working (see Google Gears for their version of this) though the reality is this often causes more problems than it solves - or install redundant connections.

Given the wealth of benefits, we chose the latter and have 2 completely independent connections to our building. It's worth emphasising that they need to be completely independent. For example, two broadband connections on separate phone lines, from separate providers may seem independent, but if the telephone exchange goes down it will take out both lines unless you are lucky enough to be able to get lines from different exchanges.

Much better is to opt for a mix of technologies such as broadband, 3G/HSDPA, Cable, Satellite; giving a higher level of security. Combined with a mutli-WAN router you'll be able to switch seamlessly between several connections at once.

Unfortunately, this doesn't solve the issue of working in the middle of nowhere - unless you are willing to put up with the size, weight and cost of a mobile Satellite dish?

March 1st, 2011 by Hannah Newman

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