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Cloud Applications For Business Use

Udayakumar Nalinasekaren
Dec 23, 2010

Cloud Computing

So far we talked about cloud services consumed by individuals. How about people who run businesses? They obviously need a lot of computing to be competitive in today's fast paced world. How does cloud help them?

Let us take a book store for example. Today's brick and mortar bookstores are humongous in size. They are usually organized into a chain of stores. When we step in to a bookstore looking for a book, and don't have the time to browse around, we normally go to an information kiosk and ask for help. The customer service agent types the book information into a computer and tells us if the book is in stock. The computer will also tell him or her where this book can be located in the book store. This is one application of computing (a software program) for a book store.

If the book is not available in the book store, the agent can ask the computer to find out how quickly the book can be procured by the store from its supply chain. The computer then contacts the book store warehouse and/or suppliers to figure out that information. This is the second application of computing relevant to the book store.

Suppose the customer is interested in ordering the book. The agent then obtains customer contact information and registers an order into the computer along with the book information and number of copies required. This is the third application of computing relevant to the context.

If the book is available and customer would like to check out with that book, the check out counter staff help there by accepting payment and entering the sales information into a computer. This application tracks the sale and the revenue received by the book store. This application also adjusts the store inventory according to the sale.

These applications help the book stores improve their productivity, cost management and customer experience. In today's world a book store that does not use such applications will die eventually.

The first application is usually called the Inventory Management application. The second application is part of a Supply Chain Management application. The third application is called Order Management and the fourth can be called Sale Tracker. Most book shops today also have Loyalty Management applications where they track individual customers and their buying behaviour to offer them discounts and other goodies. This is to incentivize the customer to make a repeat visit to the store.

A book store can deploy the strategy of buying computers for each store and replicate the application programs in each store that is part of its chain. Imagine a book store like Borders in the USA or Landmark in India. For a book store chain operating hundreds of stores this is an expensive strategy and old world thinking. Why? All stores do not experience the same volume of business (customers walking in) at all times. Depending on the number of customers in each store, the computers there could be super busy or idling. There is no guarantee that the replicated investments across the stores can be uniformly fully utilized. Operationally also this strategy is painful. Suppose one store finds a glitch (or defect) in one of the computer programs and the glitch gets fixed. The fix has to be applied individually at all book stores. In each store, the management needs to employ a qualified computer and application technician who can keep the lights of this computing system on.

Let us become smart. Let us install these programs or applications in a central place and connect the book stores to this central computing facility through the network. Now these programs behave just like the examples of Facebook and Gmail in the cloud. A bookstore agent logs in from a remote store and operates a program from his/her remote terminal. The book store chain can be spread across several states and countries. A central data center will still work as long as the computing facility is fully owned and securely operated by the book store management. Although computing is centralized, all data is still privately owned. The investment in computing facilities and the operating cost are greatly reduced. There is just one set of computers. The computing power can be switched on and off based on demand. We just need one set of technicians to keep the lights on. Any glitch that is found needs to be fixed only in one place.

This approach can be called Private Cloud Computing since the cloud facilities are held and managed privately. These book store applications cannot be accessed by any Internet user. In contrast, Gmail and Facebook are in the Public Cloud.

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