For most mid-sized manufacturing companies, cloud computing means moving from having their accounting, MRP, CRM and barcode tracking hosted on their own computers to using servers hosted in a secure data center run by an external hosting organization. It also means accessing these applications over the Internet through a web-browser rather than using a PC in a client-server mode.
Because the hosting organizations manage servers for many organizations and perform regular upgrades and backups for them all, the labor cost in maintaining those servers is significantly reduced. Also these organizations now offer server virtualization, which enables servers to be shared between organizations in such a way as to significantly reduce the effective cost of the hardware.
So instead of buying a server for several thousand dollars and then paying an IT person for at least 8 hours a week to main the server software, you can rent a virtual Windows server on which to run your software for as little as $10/month. You can even have the system do automated backups with backup storage costing only a few dollars a month. Also you can continue to use all those old PCs without upgrading them because all they now need to run is a free web-browser.
All this sounds wonderful but only works with web-enabled application software that will run on a web server computer. This means upgrading to web-based accounting, CRM, MRP and barcode tracking software. Fortunately many software vendors are coming out with web-enabled versions of their software. This includes BellHawk Systems which is releasing its WebHawk® web-enabled inventory and production tracking and materials traceability software this fall.
A license to use the web enabled software can either be purchased outright or rented on a month-to-month basis. Then the software can be installed and used on an inexpensive remotely hosted web server computer. When the hosting service and the software rental is offered by one organization, this is referred to as a SAAS (software as a service) model. Here you pay on a monthly basis for the use of the software on the web-server, typically paying for each named user.
The biggest issue with web enabled applications is getting them to exchange data, as they may be running on different servers in different locations on the Internet. Fortunately we are seeing the rapid emergence of web-services interfaces that enable web-based applications to exchange data in a standardized format, thereby avoiding duplicate data entry.
Written by Guest Author and Business Partner, Dr. Peter Green
Chief Technology Officer, BellHawk Systems Corporation