More on Cloud Computing: What Does It Really Do?

July 11, 2011
Partly Cloudy: What's the Real Difference Between this Cloud Data Aggregation Solution vs. a Local Server, Local Runtimes, with Secure Remote Access?
By Jeremy Pollard, CET

We know what the cloud is, but what does it really do in our space?

It just so happens that I spoke with Scott Clayton, president and CTO of IzonData (eyes on data), a new company, although Clayton has 25 years of experience in the IT world and in commercial technology. So what is he doing here in our backyard?

"There's a need for a small to medium business (SMB)-oriented, integrated [process] application solutions based on process data acquisition," Clayton says.

IzonData is hardware and software that resides in the cloud. The company built a server array that is housed at its facility. The servers communicate with a local IzonRAD (remote aggregation device) that runs on the local network using a rule-based structure, and grabs pieces of data from various devices and databases, caches them locally, and then delivers the data aggregates to the mothership, again based on a rule set.

You get access to this data via a web browser from any Internet-enabled device, which includes iPads, mobile phones and network nodes. Data is presented in a social media-type format.

You can associate data from these disparate sources, and create graphs, reports and tables that contain information for any level in the company.

Wiki pages can be created and, of course, the level of immediate access to data anywhere can allow decisions to be made quickly. Some of the presentation of information can be as a blog. It's all about the collaboration, Clayton says. Well, that's the intent anyway.

What's the real difference between this cloud data aggregation solution vs. a local server, local runtimes, with secure remote access? I had a run-through of IzonData; it's a subscription-based solution, and depending on the size of your company, could be considered inexpensive. They have written their own drivers for certain devices, and their "protocols" are also proprietary, which increases the inherent security of the solution, Clayton says.

He describes the solution as a "hybrid cloud SaaS and process intelligence." I can see what the value proposition might be.

If you have more than one location, the benefits are obvious—everything in one place and accessible to everyone. Implementation should be easy, and access is immediate.

[pullquote]With a local server, security and maintainability come into play. Maybe you don't have an IT department, or maybe your third-party company is raising rates. It's circumstance-dependent. The solution is also aware of regulations that mandate secure and valid data, such as for pharma.

Although the solution is disruptive in many ways, I think most potential users might still be from Missouri when it comes to spending the money.

But the cloud is an interesting sandbox. Security is a big issue. Is your data safe? You've heard of DropBox, perhaps? It said many times that it can't see what you are doing. Uh huh. If the data you put into the trust of an off-site third party is sensitive, then what?

But the value the cloud can bring is undeniable as a tipping point for true, enterprise-level, high-powered solutions for SMB. The infrastructure required is minimal, maintenance is minimal, and implementation is quick.

There are companies that won't allow browsers to be used because of security. But is using normal software a reliable way to go?

The argument will go on, I'm sure. But at some point our industry has to break the chains that bind us. Tag usage, communication drivers, number of users all hurt the bottom line.

Maybe the cloud can be a depository for programs that a machine builder produced, and real-time data is uploaded to the cloud to help the support team, and better support the customer.

But although the cloud might be inviting, the implementation is crucial. As Clayton said when I asked him what happens when the customer's Internet connection goes down, "They really need a redundant connection."
Who knew?  

Jeremy Pollard has been writing about technology and software issues for many years. Publisher of The Software User Online, he has been involved in control system programming and training for more than 25 years.