Making Information Meaningful

SurveyManager and Amazon cloud services

In addition to its traditional deployment modes, SurveyManager has recently been re-engineered to run on the Amazon cloud services. We use the data centres located in Singapore or the USA. For large projects we can set up a private cloud based in your country of choice, including Australia.

Using Amazon cloud services, SurveyManager is tremendously scaleable. This means that global surveys and data collection exercises covering hundreds of thousands to millions of people are feasible.

What is cloud computing?

A lot of people are buzzing about "the cloud" and "cloud computing" these days. If you feel as though you're out of the loop, don't despair. Although the cloud can be a highly technical and complicated subject, it's easy to understand the basics – enough to keep you informed and get your company up and running.

The term "cloud computing" has been used to mean utility computing, grid computing, autonomic computing, peer-to-peer computing, remote processing, software as a service (SaaS), and Internet-based applications. No wonder people are confused!

So what is the cloud? At its most basic, the cloud is simply a metaphor for the Internet. Cloud computing is a way for an individual user, or a company, to access the supercomputing power that was once only available to the military-industrial complex and other very large users.

The purpose of cloud computing is to apply traditional supercomputing power to everyday business applications; tens of trillions of computations per second can be achieved through cloud computing, as opposed to only a few billion computations per second that are possible with even an extremely powerful desktop computer.

This offers four big advantages:

  1. Services are supplied on an as-needed basis, thereby saving money on hardware.
  2. Peak demands can be met because of massive scaleability.
  3. Applications are accessible globally – anybody with an Internet connection and the right permission can access a service or use an application.
  4. It is multi-modal – via a web browser on a traditional desktop or laptop PC, a Netbook, or a mobile device such as a PDA, BlackBerry or smart phones.

Other models in use are:

  1. Installation in-house whereby organizations install software behind their firewall for use internally and to a limited extent externally by remote connection.
  2. IaaS (infrastructure-as-a-service) whereby businesses require access to hardware with increased capabilities and power. In this case, businesses are likely to consider using IaaS if they require access to storage or memory resources.
  3. SaaS (software-as-a-service) is available for businesses that wish to access applications without having to install software or store data on PCs. By purchasing SaaS, businesses have more freedom to use sophisticated tools to enhance business practices.
  4. PaaS (platform-as-a-service) provides users with application development capabilities. Businesses that have special responsibilities or have unique approaches to sales often implement application development to satisfy their own needs.

Cloud computing is offering new opportunities to organizations and businesses of all sizes. There is no longer a need to be in a specific location to begin a business. Cloud computing enables businesses to integrate work practices because all mobile devices are linked to the same cloud model. Some online services that are linked with these new technologies offer emailing, text messaging, and links to social networking sites as well.

The use of cloud computing services is growing. In fact, most of us have used some form of cloud computing technology, probably without knowing it. Gmail and Hotmail are web emailing services. The Apple iCloud is another example. None of these services require data storage or installation on a PC. Instead, users access this service by completing a simple registration form. More importantly, members never have to worry about lost data because all services are hosted by other providers. Cloud computing uses are growing continuously.

The current situation

You have probably already experienced some consumer cloud applications – think iCloud, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Gmail, Yahoo!, and Flickr. BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer file-sharing protocol, and Skype, a peer-to-peer application which enables telephone calls over the Internet, are also examples of cloud computing.

Enterprise cloud computing (or cloud computing for businesses) is an on-demand computing infrastructure, which networks large groups of servers in order to provide low-cost, high-capacity processes to each user without requiring that the user maintain hardware, software or the complex and expensive infrastructure that is necessary to support them.
One of the primary benefits of cloud computing is its portability. Any device enabled with a web browser and Internet access will do. Users don't have to use a powerful PC. Tablets and smart phones will do the job.

Cloud computing can also be used as a medium to exploit computing resources such as computing power, dynamic memory, and hard disk drives. It can also be used to run applications hosted on a server provided by a cloud computing service provider. Useful business software related to operations, accounting, or financial management, can be across your organization.

Cloud computing also requires less initial investment compared to purchasing server hardware. Service providers can offer their computing resources to a large number of customers at a minimal fee.

Cloud computing can also enhance productivity. For multinational companies, it is possible for various departments located all over the world to work together using cloud computing as a medium. Information can be shared between departments without the need to buy hardware and employ IT experts to maintain the server.

Pros and cons of cloud computing

The good things:
  • Scaleability - like other cloud applications, SurveyManager can readily be scaled up to handle millions of respondents.
  • Reduced cost - the use of cloud servers is paid incrementally, saving money.
  • Increased storage (possibly) - there are many cloud servers and they have significant storage capacity (at a price).
  • Highly automated - Many admin functions are pre-set.
  • More mobility - truly global access is a standard feature.
  • Updates - these are managed centrally and quickly for all clients and users.

The problem:

Since the cloud works on 6-8 designated data centres around the world, the issues of security and privacy risks are still to be addressed. For example, Australian Government departments & agencies are reluctant to collect data from Australians which is then held in an offshore data centre.

Technical considerations

Cloud computing is just one of the tools in the tool box of the IT department. It suits some applications, more than others.

The advantages of cloud computing varies according to the company but in general a business only needs to pay for the services they use, therefore reducing the cost of useless software.

In theory the time to set up and maintain software and hardware is decreased significantly on the cloud. The start up occurs remotely, and less IT staff may be required. System updates and back-ups are handled automatically.