In a previous article, we examined the shifting meaning of the term ‘streamlining efficiencies’— exploring how this term once reinforced and encapsulated Frederick Taylor’s scientific management principles of the early 20th century to its now, overuse in contemporary businesses.
In this article, we’ll focus on another term that’s freely tossed around with the same lackadaisical regard: cloud-based.
Here’s why being cloud-based is not such a nebulous thing, after all.
Cloud-based simply means using intangible hardware. Instead of investing in and maintaining expensive servers, organizations purchase time—or resources—needed from a remote provider.
This mirrors the convention of computer timeshares from the late ‘60s—
“Timesharing allows a central computer to be shared by a large number of users sitting at terminals. Each program in turn is given use of the central processor for a fixed period of time. When the time is up, the program is interrupted and the next program resumes execution.”
It was 1968, in fact, when an 8th-grader by the name of Bill Gates first cut his teeth on a computer through the use of a timeshare at Lakeside School in Seattle. Imagine: had it not been for Gates’ access to a timeshare—something of a rarity to anyone, let alone a 13-year-old back then—we may not have PCs as we recognize it today.
Fast forward to the mid-’90s.
Sun Microsystem's Java programming language brought to mainstream the ability for a programmer to write one program—or bytecode (as it was referred to in Java)—that would run on different types of computers. That meant that a program written for a PC could be run on a Mac as well with no modifications. This type of code portability was revolutionary.
Across town, Oracle envisioned a “diskless” computer that would access its applications remotely—or, “a simple machine that would eschew software installed on a hard drive in favor of accessing applications online.”
Oracle’s vision of the network computer—or NC—didn’t quite pan out. But these events—platform agnosticism through Java (the ability to run code on a litany of different hardware) along with theories from the network computer—shed light on where computers were heading: the cloud.
Oracle would later purchase Sun Microsystems in 2009.
The primer above should—at the very least—serve an idea or framework for what being cloud-based is. The minimum requirement to label oneself as cloud-based is simply hosting resources remotely.
Moving past this minimum, one of the most significant added benefits of being “cloud-based” is the ability to expand—and contract—infrastructure on a need-be basis. This is what’s meant by ‘scalability.’
For instance, suppose you’re a manufacturer, and a client urgently needs 10x more widgets than usual. You’d scale up operation by ordering additional raw material, run the assembly line longer, and fulfill the order. You wouldn’t purchase additional manufacturing equipment for what would be a short-term increase. You might contract additional temp workers—but you wouldn’t hire more full-time workers.
In the realm of cloud-based computing, scalability allows you to “borrow” the additional manufacturing equipment and labor to meet the demand of that one-off order and “return it” when you’re done. This is why cloud-based services are commonly sold under a SaaS (software as a service) or subscription-based model.
A cloud-based subscription service may have additional benefits: typically these are frequent updates along with zero maintenance (managed services).
Although a seemingly trivial thing to few, not having to manage updates, patches, and security fixes for another piece of software is a big deal to anyone in IT. Consider the recent processor-level exploit discovered on intel machines: Spectre and Meltdown. Both Amazon and Google (two of the largest cloud-providers) patched their systems automatically—admins managing Windows servers, however, would have to spend their own time updating servers.
But being cloud-based is also how Nvoicepay (and other cloud-based service providers) can extend a managed services approach to include additional services (this time it’s AP that will spend less time).
Besides sending supplier payments from an always-on, web-based portal, Nvoicepay’s cloud-based service frees AP departments from managing master vendor files and handling incoming payment inquiry calls—to name only a few. And it’s the inclusion of these additional services that’s caused the term—being cloud-based—to mean many things, to many people.
So the next time you think of the cloud, don’t think rain—instead think of how cloud-based service and how it rains ROI, scalability, and services on businesses.