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CRM Technology for Travel:
Cloud Technology - What It Is and What It Isn't


By Gregg Hopkins, President and CEO, Libra OnDemand
July 2010

The “cloud” was certainly a popular topic at this year’s Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition & Conference (HITEC) in Orlando, Florida. It seems that many vendors are touting that their solutions are now “in the cloud” and therefore are offering all the benefits that come with this technology. But, are they really? There’s a lot of what I call "cloud washing" in our industry (and others), whereby companies re-label their products as cloud computing, produced by marketing innovation instead of real innovation. The result is a lot of overblown hype surrounding “cloud computing.”

What, exactly, is this cloud?  Put simply, the cloud is a collection of computers and servers that are publicly accessible via the Internet.  This hardware is typically owned and operated by a third party in one or more data center locations.  The machines can run any combination of operating systems; it's the processing power of the machines that matter, not what their desktops look like.

Cloud computing is a paradigm shift following the shift from mainframe to client–server in the early 1980s. Cloud computing describes a new supplement, consumption, and delivery model for IT services based on the Internet, and it typically involves over-the-Internet-provision of dynamically scalable and often virtualized resources. It is a byproduct and consequence of the ease-of-access to remote computing sites provided by the Internet.

The term cloud is used as a metaphor for the Internet, based on the cloud drawing used in the past to represent the telephone network,and later to depict the Internet in computer network diagram as an abstraction of the underlying infrastructure it represents. Typical cloud computing providers deliver common business applications online that are accessed from another Web service or software like a Web browser, while the software and data are stored on servers.  The major cloud-only service providers include Salesforce, Amazon and Google.

Cloud Computing: What It Is -- And What It Isn't

To some, cloud computing might sound a little like network computing -- but it isn't.  With network computing, applications and data are hosted on a single company's server(s) and accessed over the company's network.  Cloud computing is a lot bigger than that. It encompasses multiple companies, multiple servers, and multiple networks.  Plus, unlike network computing, cloud services and storage are accessible from anywhere in the world over an Internet connection; with network computing, access is over the company's network only.

The key difference between network computing and cloud computing is the cloud itself.  The applications and data served by the cloud are available to a broad group of authorized users using different operating system platforms via the Internet.  It isn't apparent (and, in most cases doesn't matter) whether cloud services are based on HTTP, HTML, XML, JavaScript, or other specific technologies; to the user, the technology and infrastructure behind the cloud is invisible.

In short, cloud computing enables a shift from the computer to the user, from applications to tasks, and from isolated data to information that can be accessed from anywhere and shared with anyone.  The user no longer has to take on the task of data management; he doesn't even have to remember where the data is.  All that matters is that the information is securely in the cloud, and thus immediately available to that user and to other authorized users.

Inside the Cloud: How Cloud Computing Works
 

In cloud computing, a network of computers functions as a single computer.  This network exists in the cloud of IP addresses that we know as the Internet, offers massive computing power and storage capability, and enables wide-scale group collaboration.
Individual users connect to the cloud from their own personal computers or portable devices (such as Apple's iPhone or iPad).  To these individual users, the cloud is seen as a single application, device, or document.  The hardware in the cloud (and the operating system that manages the hardware connections) is invisible.

This cloud architecture is deceptively simple, although it does require some intelligent management to connect all those computers together and assign task processing to multitudes of users.  Each cloud uses various monitoring and metering functions to track usage so that resources are apportioned and attributed to the proper user(s).

This automation of management tasks is key to the notion of cloud computing.  The system isn't a cloud if it requires human management to allocate processes to resources.  For a system to attain true cloud status, automated processes must replace manual management.

Understanding Cloud Services

Any Web-based application or service offered via cloud computing is called a cloud service. Cloud services can include anything from calendar and contact applications to word processing and presentations to business applications, including but not limited to PMS, CRM, CRS and POS.  An individual user runs the application over the Internet, typically within a Web browser. The browser accesses the cloud service and an instance of the application is opened within the browser window. Once launched, the Web-based application operates and behaves like a standard desktop application. The only difference is that the application and the working data remain on the host's cloud servers. On the downside, cloud services can only be accessed when a user has a live Internet connection; they're not suited for instances where no Internet connection is available.

Why Cloud Computing Matters

Why is cloud computing important?

For developers, cloud computing provides increased amounts of storage and processing power to run the applications they develop.  Cloud computing also enables new ways to access information, process and analyze data, and connect people and resources from any location anywhere in the world.  In essence, it takes the lid off the box; with cloud computing, developers are no longer boxed in by physical constraints.

For your hotel’s IT department, cloud computing offers more flexibility in computing power, often at lower costs. With cloud computing, IT departments don't have to engineer for peak-load capacity, because the peak load can be spread out among the external assets in the cloud.  And, because additional cloud resources are always at the ready, companies no longer have to purchase assets (servers, workstations, and the like) for infrequent intensive computing tasks or new hotel openings.  If you need more processing power, it's always there in the cloud -- and accessible on a cost-efficient basis.

For a hospitality organization’s end users, cloud computing offers all these benefits and more. An individual using a Web-based application isn't physically bound to a single computer, location, or network. Their applications and data can be accessed wherever and whenever. They don’t have to copy every document and file when moving from office to home to remote location.  Gone also is the fear of losing data if a computer crashes. Documents hosted in the cloud always exist, no matter what happens to the user's machine.

And then there's the benefit of group collaboration, for both individuals and organizations.  General Managers and other key personnel can collaborate on the same documents, applications, and projects, in real time.  It's a whole new world of collaborative computing, all enabled by the notion of cloud computing.

For everyone concerned, cloud computing does all this at lower costs, because the cloud enables more efficient sharing of resources than does traditional network computing.  When you tap into the power of the cloud, you get supercomputing power at personal computer prices -- something that offers particular appeal to hotel companies in today’s economy.

Bottom line?  When considering a solution for your organization, I offer the following criteria to be used when determining if a vendor’s application is truly in the cloud:
  • If they are trying to sell you hardware… it’s not a cloud.
  • If there is no API… it’s not a cloud.
  • If you need to re-architect your systems for it… it’s not a cloud.
  • If you know where the machines are… it’s not a cloud.
  • If you need to specify the number of machines you want upfront… it’s not a cloud.
  • If it only runs one operating system… it’s not a cloud.
  • If you can’t connect to it from your own computer or personal device… it’s not a cloud.
  • If you need to install software to use it… it’s not a cloud.
  • If you own all the hardware… it’s not a cloud.

About Gregg Hopkins
Gregg Hopkins is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Libra OnDemand LLC.  Gregg has over 25 years of experience in hotel management and hospitality technology. He has worked with various enterprise property management and central reservation system providers, online travel agencies, and destination vacation portals.  He has also provided consulting services to hospitality organizations on reservations electronic distribution, technology, e-commerce initiatives, CRM initiatives, marketing, sales strategy, and business development.  Gregg is a subject matter expert on hospitality management systems, electronic distribution, and CRM.  He also participates as a committee or board member of several industry associations.  Gregg can be reached at ghopkins@libraondemand.com.

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Contact:

Gregg Hopkins, CEO
Libra OnDemand
Tel: +1.407.412.9296
ghopkins@libraondemand.com 
 

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