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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Internet update From: Property Management, Volume 29, Issue 2
In previous updates, I have often focussed on particular topic areas and web sites that could be of benefit to the readership. For this update, I thought I would turn the table a little and consider one particular area of the internet and how it can be of benefit to individuals. References to relevant sites are therefore rather thin, in part because there are so many different resources to go through that it is hard to pin down any in particular. I have provided a few references at the end of this article.
What I am talking about is “The cloud”. It is becoming increasingly common in people’s day-to-day lives. I am not talking about the white fluffy stuff in the sky, but cloud computing. A neighbour of mine who works in the IT industry has been talking about it for a while, he probably regards many of us as being dumb for our ignorance of the power that the cloud offers.
So what is it, and what are the implications for the property industry? Well, taking the simple definition from Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org), it defines cloud computing as:
Internet-based computing, whereby shared servers provide resources, software, and data to computers and other devices on demand, as with the electricity grid.
Many of us actually already use the cloud without realising. Anyone who has accessed web-based mail such as Gmail, or even use Facebook or Twitter will have used the cloud.
The infrastructure of cloud computing consists of services delivered via a common centre, built around servers. The cloud therefore provides a single point of access for a consumers’ needs. Unlike traditional IT infrastructure, in which individuals or companies may build their own networks and utilise in-house servers; in the cloud, customers do not own the physical infrastructure. In effect consumers pay only for the resources they use.
This can be of benefit for small and medium sized businesses. For many, they cannot justify or afford the large capital expenditure of IT. They may also have less existing infrastructure, flexibility and smaller budgets for purchasing infrastructure. For those who use just traditional packages such as email and office packages such as word processing, spreadsheets and presentations, then there could be benefits. Instead of having all the software packages sat on the hard drive of a desktop or laptop computer as we often do, users could draw down the software and files that they need from a server located anywhere in the globe. In doing so, users can then access files and information that they require wherever they are. Companies could also manage costs. Instead of paying for a full office suite, they might only need pay for use of a word processor if that is the only package an individual uses.
The cloud also provides scalability. For business that are growing fast or have seasonal spikes in usage, the cloud can allow users to build systems that can grow quickly. Companies can also draw on usage statistics more easily. In this way they can best tailor services to their needs.
For property professionals who are often out in the field, the benefits can be great. An individual can access their e-mail or report files out in the field. They can make notes or capture data using a proprietary system, or something that has been custom built for their needs – albeit the latter may be too expensive for a small company. Users could also easily contact colleagues wherever they may be. Messaging services such as Google chat can become a powerful tool for users. With cameras and video now being built-into devices, it is easy to share pictures or clips with others more easily.
Microsoft’s Sharepoint package is cloud enabled. Many people already use this service, which amongst other things enables users to work from and access a single file. In large corporations, individuals will often only have access to their local servers. Through SharePoint everyone, no matter where they are have the ability to work on common files. This is a particular benefit if managed properly, having previously worked with colleagues globally on just one or two files in this way. A further example of sharing files is Emerald’s own use of Scholar One manuscripts for the peer review of articles.
For some companies the cloud is providing benefits of unity. Many global companies may buy their IT services locally, this could mean systems may not communicate easily between each other, or users may have difficulty when visiting overseas operations. Drawing on the cloud, companies can standardise their offer across all their markets, with individuals accessing the same resources; this could also bring cost benefits.
So far corporates have been slow to adopt the cloud. Opponents of the cloud will highlight some downside issues. What happens if you go offline? If you rely on drawing on your software externally and the network collapses, what do you do? At least with traditional office programmes on a desktop or laptop you still have access to programs even if the network goes down.
Security and trust is also an issue. Is your data or even that relating to customers, safe being stored on external servers? Will hosting services in this way meet legal compliance or data protection needs? Is it right to have all your data held in one single external location? Those providing cloud services will argue that there are now sufficient proof-points and back-up systems should problems occur. Many large corporations already have data held in one or more external server farms for improved continuity. If services are mirrored in more than one location, if there is a problem with one, it will be easy to switch to a back-up.
In the coming years we are likely to see the wider adoption of the cloud. The growing popularity of consumer related sites will grow into the wider use and adoption by business. At a time when many businesses look at the bottom line, and current and future efficiencies that can be made using the cloud are likely to be built upon. For further resources try some of the following links:
The views expressed are those of the author and not those of DTZ.
Nigel AlmondAssociate Director, DTZ. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org