The delivery of information in the cloud
Activity at recent user conferences and trade shows confirms that many household names, and even some lesser-known providers, know they must offer SaaS solutions in order to compete for attention and stay on the bleeding edge of technology. Yet providers must be cautious as to how they deploy these solutions, and how they train their customers and partners, while offering a sense of security and privacy surrounding something that cannot be touched or seen.
On the firm side, CPAs and accountants want to expand their bottom-line revenues by continuously providing value-added services to their clients. One way to do this is to understand cloud computing, not only in technical terms, but also in the way it helps a firm sell additional services.
According to recent Gartner research, global cloud computing services revenue is expected to hit $148.8 billion by 2014, representing an enormous market opportunity for solution providers.
Liz Herbert of Forrester Research said that companies are increasingly utilizing SaaS strategically for enterprise-wide deployments, including e-mail, customer support and financial applications.
"Firms making SaaS decisions of this magnitude should scrutinize vendors carefully across key dimensions relevant to SaaS and cloud - security, privacy, backup, vendor viability, product road map - but also weigh the tradeoffs versus finding a nimble, flexible, full-featured, fast-deployment option that meets their needs," Herbert advised.
Accounting software vendors who are not considering cloud computing and the way their products deliver SaaS benefits will find themselves lagging behind the competition.
SAAS, PAAS AND IAAS
Certainly, Web-enabled applications are different than applications designed for the cloud, including SaaS, Platform-as-a-Service and Infrastructure-as-a-Service.
Sounds like alphabet soup, but each of the three cloud computing services offers distinct functionality.
Software-as-a-Service is the most popular of all three because it is infinitely simpler than installing and maintaining software programs on company computers. Vendors develop SaaS applications to use whenever and wherever a customer can secure an Internet connection, thereby creating a seamless interface to and from the software.
The best way to understand Platform-as-a-Service is to think of it as the basis for any Web site or host operating in the cloud. Vendors with PaaS offerings do not need hardware, software and hosting capabilities. Instead, anything needed to support how a company builds and delivers Web applications and services is available in the cloud.
In user experiences, think about a Web site that goes down because it has too much traffic. With PaaS, a company could duplicate its site on Google or Amazon. In essence, the company infinitely expanded its bandwidth and mirrored its servers. Although a Web traffic jam may only happen a few times a year, the company is nevertheless adequately prepared. This not only saves money; it secures the company's reputation and image.
With Infrastructure-as-a-Service, also sometimes referred to as Hardware-as-a-Service or HaaS, managed service providers such as SecureWorks, Symantec, McAfee, Sophos and Rackspace own all of the equipment needed to enable a company to operate its systems in the cloud. This includes storage, hardware, servers and networking components. All of these are outsourced to a service provider, with clients paying on a per-use basis for cloud backup and cloud security.
Availability and reliability of data always hit too close to home if a disaster occurs, yet most companies do not take the time to install updates as they become available and do not maintain data in a secure environment. So, instead of a company worrying about installing its own security updates, a cloud service ensures that everything is up to date. This offers peace of mind, while also saving a company time and precious resources.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR CPAS, VARS
There are huge opportunities for accountants and resellers in all three areas of cloud computing. Accountants should be aware of cloud computing if they are trying to sell, for example, disaster recovery services, or if they are performing system audits. Consequently, VARs can increase their offerings through cloud computing, especially SaaS.
In addition, providers will want to understand how the future of cloud computing may be influenced by the "consumerization" of IT services. Instead of the needs of business driving the development of cloud computing, providers will expand offerings based on the needs of consumers or users.
Think about the iPad, for example. If a user can't access the same applications on the iPad as they do on the iPhone, then providers must recognize this gap and provide cloud-based solutions that meet a consumer's need.
Surviving in the new economy is based on delivering quality services at competitive costs. Cloud computing is ideal for accountants, providers and VARs because it not only takes technology to the next level; it re- inforces and supports the reputation of being a trusted advisor.
David Lahey is executive vice president of sales tax management software service provider SpeedTax. Taylor Macdonald is vice president of channels at cloud accounting and finance solutions provider Intacct.
Software-as-a-Service: Software applications delivered over the Web, without the need for local installation
Platform-as-a-Service: Software development tools and environments for building Web applications delivered through the cloud
Infrastructure-as-a-Service: Outsourced IT equipment and infrastructure, such as storage, hardware, servers and network components, delivered through the cloud
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