Cloud-hosted systems and software-as-a-service are fast becoming more and more prevalent in the agenda management space. We’ve actually posted quite a bit on the benefits of SaaS/cloud-hosted system in previous posts. A member of our team performed a demo today that I joined and after the demo the discussion got deep into how our AgendaPal application is hosted. I had to jump on the website and write a post as it seems that there is quite a bit of confusion on the topic of SaaS or cloud agenda management solutions.
Reasons for the proliferation of the cloud are fairly simple: Massive amounts of computing power and storage hosted in top-tier redundant data centers with massive data pipelines that perform far better, and for far less money, than buying it all yourself. Quite simply…why on earth would you buy something of lesser quality for more money? However, the way that a solution is built really defines how much of the cloud they can take advantage of.
In some cases, ‘old’ software solutions simply can’t run in the cloud as they are not compatible with the newer architecture that the cloud requires. However, in many cases, these old solutions can be deployed on independent instances in the cloud. What this means (in plain English) is that the company is setting up a separate environment for each customer in the cloud. While many of the benefits of the cloud can be delivered using this method, for instance, having the system run in a top tier data center, much is lost as compared to a solution that is built to take advantage of all the benefits of the cloud.
When a system you are using has been deployed as a separate environment for each customer, there is typically less redundancy. That is, they setup your environment but there is not a duplicate environment for you that takes over if your environment goes down. Why? Usually it is because it would cost twice as much to host your environment. What happens when trouble strikes and your environment goes down? You can’t access the system until someone fixes it, which can take hours or days in some cases.
Solutions that leverage the full benefits of the cloud are built such that there is only a single code base to support all customers. In plain English, there is one system with massive amounts of computing power to serve all clients. Please note, this doesn’t mean that your data is not safe…quite the contrary as your data is kept completely separate from other customers. What this does provide is greater performance and much greater redundancy. Rather than having 20 separate environments running 20 separate clients, you can have 20 super fast computing instances running all clients. If one happens to break, the other 19 keep chugging along without any interruption of service. Another benefit to this approach is that it simply costs less in terms of human resources to manage one very large environment than multiple individual environments. These cost savings are passed along to the customer.
When it comes to upgrades, there are some distinct disadvantages to individual environments as compared to shared environments. If you upgrade one large environment, you do it once and everyone benefits from the new version. If you have to upgrade 20 environments, it is much more costly and prone to human error. The problem is that many providers do not disclose many costs while in the sales process. For example, upgrades may be ‘free’ but you have to pay to have them installed. If you are like me, that does NOT make sense.
So back to the discussion after our demo today…one of the people at the demo told us that they were only looking at cloud solutions and that we were one of three. This is where we jumped in for some clarification and asked them to ask the two most important questions to identify whether the other organizations were truly pitching them cloud agenda management systems.
1. How long will it take to get the solution up and running?
2. When it comes to upgrades, how frequent are they and do they carry ANY cost?
The answers to these questions should be as follows:
For question #1: “Less than 24 hours.”
For question #2: “We upgrade every month and there is zero cost to you.”
With a true cloud system, setting up a new client is simply a flip of a switch. This is because it is one large system that you are just adding a new client to. Also, upgrades are deployed to all clients at once, with little effort, so everyone benefits.
We concluded our demo, exchanges pleasantries, and went on about our day. A few hours later, that potential client called back and thanked us as he let us know that the others were out of the running based upon their responses to the questions we provided him.
The cloud is here to stay. Unfortunately not every solution out there is built to take full advantage of it. Make sure to do a bit of homework when looking into ‘seemingly’ cloud solutions. They may turn out to be far from delivering the benefits you expect.
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