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Posted: 07 Nov 2011 | 6:00 am
As rainy season starts to wind down, hotel technology is now turning to the hot topic of cloud computing.
Apple's iCloud launch has drawn worldwide attention and now the staid traditional hospitality industry are turning their yes to the sky.
We are publishing an article by our tech guru Terence Ronson of Perlink in Hong Kong on the subject -
"Staring out of the window from my air-conditioned room during this hot and sticky monsoon season, I glance across Hong Kong's magnificent harbor and witness an amazing spectacle. All I can see are clouds - clouds in shades of white, black and grey, moving in and dominating the landscape. This remarkable act of nature immediately brings to mind a shift taking place in the Hospitality industry. And I cannot help but wonder about the true implications of moving the Hospitality industry into The Cloud.
Will the Sun in all its magnificence and awesome power break through and shine - turning the clouds into beautiful white and friendly fluffy masses? Will the grey ones morph into something much more sinister - a doom and gloom of black, ready to unleash their hidden horrors of torrential rain, ear-shattering thunder claps and electrifying lightening bolts?
Without doubt, the latest trend to grip the global technology industry is The Cloud - you read about it, you hear about it - but in all honesty, do you, a Hotel Industry Executive, really understand it and the associated implications? Do YOU even care?
Let me demystify this subject - because it is in this Hospitality Industry Executive's point of view that YOU must absolutely care.
So what is The Cloud?
Simply put, if on a personal level you are using a web-based email service like Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo, then you are already using The Cloud. If you perform web searches through Bing, Google, Wikipedia or Yahoo - you are using The Cloud. If you use applications like Google Apps or Office 365, you are using The Cloud. And if you shop via Amazon or iTunes, you are using The Cloud.
This means you access a service usually through a Web Browser (such as Internet Explorer, Safari or Firefox) - sometimes referred to as a 'Thin-Client' - a low-end computer with very little localized software needed to perform that task. Some of us can cast our minds back and see some kind of similarity to the bygone era days of Mini-computers where we used something called Dumb Terminals - those boxes with green or amber characters on black screens.
Today, chances are high that we might use an app on a Smartphone or Tablet that performs a similar function - also connecting via the Internet.
So let's try and understand more about The Cloud, and how it relates to YOU, the Hotelier
Traditionally, a Hotel has housed all of its technology on-property - in the building, or on campus. You may know this as the local Data Center - a.k.a. the Computer Room or Server Room.
This space, however large or small, has grown in importance, sophistication and size as well as cost and demand for it's day to day management. Energy consumption has also exponentially increased.
Hotels, depending on size and complexity, can have anywhere from 10 to 50+ systems to manage and maintain, an increasing cost burden to the business. Many predict, and I concur, that this burden will only worsen as we embrace more and more tech in our day-to-day existence.
Moving to The Cloud is supposed to help alleviate these problems - But how?
First, systems (that includes Applications and Data) will be moved off-property and housed in an external DC (Data Center). This is known as "above-property" - hence the association with The Cloud. This will quickly free up increasingly expensive manpower resources, much-needed physical space as well as reduce energy consumption and costs. I will explain more about the types of Cloud later in this BLOG.
Second, since these systems will be DC based, your connection to them will be via the fragility of the Internet - either through a public line or some form of private leased line like MPLS - the latter being more secure and robust, yet operationally more costly.
The DC will 'host' these systems in an environmentally controlled space, either one that is just for you, or more likely, in a shared environment - meaning that just not your business will operate from there. The applications and data may reside on your own (Computer) Servers, or on shared Servers using what is termed as 'virtualization' - meaning a single Server can be dissected to operate as though it were many Servers without any degradation to the QOS (Quality of Service) it provides.
These DCs are spaces - they could be entire buildings as in the case of whatApple has just constructed in preparation for their upcoming iCloud launch, or they could be whole floors in a building or just rooms.
Whatever shape or size they come in, they are supposed to be:
Environmentally controlled - Temperature and Humidity
Equipped with redundant and clean electrical supplies
Equipped with redundant hardware for auto failover
Designed with spare capacity for your future expansion to include cabling and raised flooring etc.
Super energy efficient and therefore cost efficient
Secure from physical and virtual attack
Equipped with Fire protection services
Manned with 7x24x365 on-site personnel to handle 'situations'
Connected to the outside world via robust and failsafe connections
As an end user you may be privileged to know where the DC is located, or quite commonly, just advised of a general location such as the country or maybe a city. In the case of Public Clouds like I mentioned earlier such as Gmail, Amazon etc., you will only know they are in cyberspace and have no idea of a real physical location - this is because they may form part of a Cloud Federation orIntercloud - an interconnected group of Clouds (Data Centers) - cloaking their real physical location for additional security and resilience.
Is there just one type of Cloud?
No, in fact there are commonly three types of Cloud. For simplicity, let's relate these to the clouds and colors we all see in the sky.
1. White = Private Cloud
2. Grey = Hosted Cloud
3. Black = Public Cloud
What do these mean?
This is a dedicated Cloud that you, or your Company exclusively owns. It is in a fixed location - known to some, and managed/operated by your own people with your own dedicated hardware and software inside - controlling your own data.
Those systems will likely interact with data and systems outside of this Cloud and not just other BU's (Business Units) within your organization. Don't lose sight of the fact that this Cloud is the nerve center and potential sole repository for all your Company's business interactions - a single point of failure. Additional security could take place through co-location facilities - meaning a second or additional DC setup in another location to mirror (back-up) the main DC in the event of failure.
This is a physical location where your systems and data share space with others - hence my reasons for naming it 'grey' - neither black or white.
Likelihood is that you will have a dedicated Computer rack (space) where your equipment operates from, and this is physically secure, accessible only by authorized personnel - such as the hosting company or solution vendor (the company providing the service).
However, you may be renting shared capacity on the same system as other businesses (a virtualized environment), and the vendor will try and offer you peace of mind through some form of guarantee for the security of your data.
This is a shared environment - a public service that you and numerous others access/use - like the names I previously mentioned. You don't know where it is - nor do you need to - all you know is that it exists and functions.
Why do we need the Cloud, and what does it have to offer?
Businesses constantly strive to increase efficiencies, streamline costs, have continuity in systems, while at the same time factor in growth requirements - and IT strategists believe that moving data processing off-property to The Cloud will help with all of these. To some extent, that's true.
One benefit of centralizing the enterprise with Cloud services is to simplify the process of increasing end users through something called elastic demand, and this, in theory, can give you extra processing capacity in a matter of minutes when you know or forecast that your business demands require it. A bit like extra Housekeeping staff if occupancy suddenly peaks and you outsource these services.
Also, when computing requirements escalate, the Cloud service providers can balance your processing needs by tapping into additional computing resources. Both of these help control costs.
Proponents of Cloud claim you have the ability to deploy company standards quickly and easily across the enterprise, thereby benefitting branding and marketing.
This means that as properties are acquired (flagged) they could simply plug n play into the Network with little fuss or hardship to the operation.
What about enhancing The Guest Experience?
I've read copious amounts of articles, attended many conference presentations and watched various Podcasts about potential benefits of The Cloud, yet none claim it will enhance the Guest Experience or help drive brand loyalty - even though many of these papers and presentations have been specifically Hospitality focused. Why?
All discussions heavily focus on the technology and cost benefits. As a Hotelier or Marketer; does it bother you that the Technologists and Finance people are driving this initiative and not the Front Line Business?
Sure, like many things - cost is a key driver - but is this a false economy especially as some of the associated costs will now be shifted away from [Owners] Capex to [Operator's] Opex?"
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