Jamie DavisJamie Davis, Education and Product Manager

The year 2010 is almost gone with only small changes in technology. Sure Apple gave us the iPad, Microsoft got Windows 7 in full gear (thank goodness), Android’s mobile operating system made huge inroads in the mobile phone market, and my VMWare stock skyrocketed, but for the most part these were small steps. I say this because very few of the people who read this own an iPad, use Windows 7 in their organization, or care about my stock success in the IT sector. For many of you, figuring out what to do about all your users who bought Smartphones and want to get their email was the biggest change. **FYI: Consider having a policy for your Smartphones and set your users to be disabled from using ActiveSync by default.** So let’s talk a little bit about the future.

Two terms/concepts you should familiarize yourself with if you haven’t already: Software as a Service (SaaS) and the concept of the cloud or cloud computing. These will be important to you even if you don’t move to them next year, because you will want to start evaluating these in your long term plans. I think one thing we have all learned over the last fifteen years is that buying, managing, powering, and running a technology infrastructure is expensive. One reason for this is there are constant innovations that offer you and your customers new ways of doing business, but ramping up to meet these new and exciting offerings can be costly.

Over the next year or two, you will have more opportunities to move certain business functions “to the cloud.” These opportunities will most likely come from your core processor, network vendor, lending application, and/or pretty much anyone who offers you a service via software or hardware. Moving to these types of services can make you more agile and limit hidden cost as most will be a flat per user/seat fee with minimal hardware requirements and administration overhead.

There are two ways to view this change. You can see it as a wave of the future or a short-lived fad. Fads typically develop quickly out of nowhere and often disappear as quickly as they appeared. Cloud computing and SaaS did not start out of thin air but are really a result of the maturity of computing as it exists today. These advancements have come about because of a combination of powerful hardware, high speed Internet/communication lines, and advancements to web browser technology. You just have to look to the fact that Google will release an operating system in 2011 that will be completely Internet browser based to see how far that technology has developed. Another example of this is to compare your current Outlook options to the current options you have when accessing your email through OWA on Exchange 2010. There are not a lot of differences these days in what you can get from a software application installed on your machine versus accessed through a web browser. The gap that existed as recently as two or three years ago has closed quickly. Since these advancements are a maturing of technology, I would caution against assuming they are a fad that will be gone tomorrow.

Here are some tips when evaluating how you should approach SaaS and cloud technologies:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the concepts
    1. Google them and read about the pros and cons
    2. Ask IT professionals about these technologies
  2. Consider these in your long term plans
    1. I.E.: You might not need to replace the server running your loan application or email application because you can now (or can in the near future) access these from the web
    2. What are your growth plans?
      1. If growing quickly, do you want to invest in hardware and have to do it again next year to keep up with growth?
  3. Can you save money?
    1. In some cases, you can compare apples to apples and save money
    2. In some cases an apples to apples comparison may be more difficult but what is the total cost of ownership of each solution?
      1. Does one provide other benefits like redundancy?
  4. What will you do if the application is only offered as a cloud solution in the future?
    1. Moving to the cloud might not only make sense for you but also for your vendor
      1. It may give them greater control on updates, hardware running the application, etc. which leads to greater quality of the service(s) they offer
  5. Increase your Internet bandwidth
    1. No matter what you do in the future, the one thing that is not going to change is your need for more bandwidth. In all your planning, aggressively look for better prices for greater bandwidth.
      1. If you have less than 1 MB up or down, look to move to 1 MB
      2. If you have 1 MB up and down, look to move to 3 MB up and down
        1. This should be one goal that almost every institution should have this year: Increase Bandwidth

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