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One example of “software as a service” cloud-based applications is the Trimble GeoManager, which offers visibility into day-to-day fleet operations to identify, manage, and improve areas such as driver safety, customer service, back office administration, fuel use, and fleet efficiency. According to Trimble, organizations using GeoManager have increased productivity by up to 30%, dispatch efficiency up to 60%, and cut overtime expenses up to 70% — all without a significant initial investment in their in-house computing capabilities. Photo: Trimble Field Service Management

Getting into the cloud

If you're looking to expand your operation's services and reduce technology costs and complexity, you should research and select the best cloud options, or combination of options, for your needs. Detailed suggestions and checklists for selecting a service can be found on the websites of most providers. A couple of things to consider are:

Type of cloud. Typically, individual users access a public cloud that's available to the general population. An operation that has already invested in computing resources might create a private cloud within their own data center to use existing resources, retain system flexibility, and control security policies.

The drawback of a private cloud is that the burden of management and support stays with the organization. A more logical approach may be a hybrid cloud, which is a combination of both a public and private cloud. Prices can vary among cloud types, so be sure to look into costs based on the cloud model you need.

Data security. If you choose to out-source, trusting your cloud supplier is critical. Know your organization's security requirements and make sure the service provider can meet them. Also find out if the cloud provider is in compliance with one or more of the following industry standards for data security:

  • PCI DSS — Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (credit card account data security)
  • SAS 70 — certification based on provider's data security controls
  • CICA 5970 — Canadian standard; equivalent to SAS 70 and ISO 27001
  • ISO 27001 — specification for an information security management system, most commonly used in Europe.

Like any technology, cloud computing has its disadvantages, one of which is that you depend on a third party for data security. Cloud providers usually offer excellent security, but the data is still overseen by the vendor rather than the organization itself.

Determine who will have access to the data and on which devices it will be stored. Will it be archived? Look at the provider's server capability and uptime record. How does it manage and back up data, and what is its strategy for redundancy so you have round-the-clock access to your data if a cloud server goes down? Also ask about the provider's disaster recovery plan.

Since cloud services are accessed via Web browsers, be sure and check your browser compatibility for proper display, function, and interaction among the various devices you use. Don't forget wireless coverage and dead zones.

— Joyce Tam is director of product marketing for Trimble's Field Service Management group (www.trimble.com/fsm).

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Checklists to help you choose a cloud service provider
From Hewlett-Packard's hp.com blogger Judy Redman.
From Gartner's principal analyst Diptarup Chakraborti, as told to SearchCIO.IN's Snigdha Karjatkar.

Where does my data live?
Despite the ease of use that cloud computing provides, regulations are growing in the U.K. and Europe as to where you are allowed to keep your data. It's important to develop a global strategy to account for regulations and data security and integrity.

Certifications and compliance
Regulatory compliance standards for cloud service providers.

Private vs. public? The following links can help you determine general costs of clouds.

  • An informative blog (with additional links) about public vs private cloud cost comparisons from Xuropa, a sales lead-generation provider for software vendors.

Wikibon co-founder and CTO David Floyer explains why a private cloud may be more cost-effective than a public cloud for larger organizations. Wikibon is an online community for IT managers.