What does cloud based mean?

Server internet datacenter room

You hear it all the time and it sounds really cool. IBM has those futuristic commercials about cloud computing, Apple has the iCloud – our heads are literally in the clouds every day! So as a provider agency that does things on paper or spreadsheets and Microsoft Word, what does cloud based mean to you?

(Photos courtesy of IBM and Apple)

So the basic definition of “the cloud” or “cloud computing” according to Merriam Webster is …

cloud com·put·ing

The practice of using a network of remote servers hosted on the Internet to store, manage, and process data, rather than a local server…

This means that your agency does not have servers or computers in your office that are running all of your software programs. Instead, a 3rd party is hosting them on their servers and you are using the internet to access it. Another way to look it is, remember when you used to buy a software program and it would come with a disk or cd that you had to install on your computer? Today, instead of installing a cd you go to the internet, to a secure website that has a username and password and run the program through your web browser. The hosting of the actual software program has moved away from your computers to servers that are in data centers all over the world.

The benefits to cloud computing are many. Wherever there is an internet connection you have access to your information. Your software is not tied to a specific computer- meaning you can log in from anywhere to work in or view the software program. It’s all real time – so hundreds and thousands of people can be in the same software program at the same time making updates. This means that reporting is real time, that when an incident happens and it’s logged in the system you can be aware of it as soon as it happens. There are a lot of benefits to providers agencies having software being hosted in the cloud and knowing what’s going on in the community, in group homes, in day habs all in real time.

Another benefit to the cloud (and it’s becoming really popular with our customers here) is the accessibility through smart phones. You no longer have to carry around a laptop or be tied to a desk to do your job. And with mobile networks only getting stronger access to the internet from wherever you are through their 3G and 4G networks is making inaccessibility to the internet a thing of the past. It’s really cool to see provider agencies use smartphones to check in and out of shifts, track GPS and have the ability to record service delivery and goals worked on.

Money is always a factor when looking at software and in a cloud model, you typically pay a monthly subscription to your database. This covers the cost of the software vendor to host, maintain and upgrade your platform as well as the actual servers that your data is on. You save on the cost of not having to buy and maintain servers in house and have IT resource to monitor and fix your servers if there is a problem.

Security is always an issue with PHI and especially with agency data being hosted by an outside vendor. It’s important when you do look at a cloud based or hosted solution that you understand what they have in place in terms of security measures. You’ll want to know where their data centers are and the kind of disaster tolerance that is in place. You’ll also want to know what the average uptime is and what can be guaranteed in a contract. Anything below 99.5% should be questioned. In the year 2012, cloud computing is becoming more of the standard than anything else and security has really come a long way. The benefits to a provider are great.

So next time you see an IBM commercial about the cloud, hopefully you will have a better idea of what the heck they are talking about and how cool it could be for your agency.

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