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‘Cloud Computing’ – Old Technology or Cutting Edge?

By Harald Raetzsch

This article gives a hint of the presentation that Harald Raetzsch will make at the Parking Industry Exhibition (PIE) in March 2012 in Chicago. Editor.
Most of us use the World Wide Web. But many view the Internet as just a source of information such as documents or audiovisual content. It’s more appropriate to view it as one gigantic machine, actually the most reliable machine that mankind has ever created.
All laptops, computers, handheld devices, smartphones and tablets are little windows into this machine. The Internet offered 55 trillion links in 2007, accommodating 100 billion clicks per day by users. It thus represented, five years ago, approximately the same amount of storage and links and a similar processing power as one human brain. And it grows year by year in an exponential manner.
And a new phenomenon has surfaced in the past few years. Everything now is about “cloud computing.” Actually, and from a technical point of view, cloud computing has been around for quite some time. It was called an Application Service Provider (ASP) around the turn of the century. Other acronyms have been used since then, such as SaaS, or Software as a Service.
In talking about cloud computing” in this article, we refer to the definition of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST, Version 15, 10-7-09):
Cloud computing is a pay-per-use model for enabling available, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.
Each deployment model instance has one of two hosting types: internal or external. Internal clouds reside within an organization’s network security perimeter and external clouds reside outside the same perimeter.
While ASP came and went, the cloud has made its inroads into so many aspects of our lives that it will stay. Not only because the infrastructure needed for cloud computing is now widely available, but more important, cloud services are generally accepted and used by many of us.
Every iTunes user is a cloud user. Everyone uploading photos to Flickr, Panoramia or similar services is a cloud user. Those who use Google Earth or Google Maps are cloud users.
The cloud is a reality in the consumer world.
Cloud Solutions for Ticketing and Access Control
The users of ticketing and access control systems have definitely changed in the last decade. Network infrastructure is mature and omnipresent; human behavior and expectations have changed dramatically.
But most of the systems offered for ticketing and access control have tried to cope with these changes in a purely evolutionary approach, instead of facing the disruptive nature of change.
Many vendors even tried for some time to simply adapt what they have and call it a cloud offering or an online system. This is comparable to someone in the taxi business who owns a limousine with seven seats deciding to start a new commercial endeavor where he wants to carry up to 40 people between different locations. Instead of buying a bus, he decides to cut his limo apart and use welding to “stretch it.” He adds 33 seats and starts offering bus tours.
While everyone understands there is a difference between a welded and stretched limo and a bus seating 40 passengers, many still believe this approach works with software and try using “virtualization,” “terminal servers” or other technologies to prolong the life of a non-cloud architecture under a new cloud logo or product name.
The characteristics of a true cloud solution are easy to explain with a simple analogy. The Columbian singer-songwriter Shakira released “Whenever, Wherever” in November 2001 as part of her first English-language album “Laundry Service.” The song hit No. 1 in 29 countries, becoming the biggest hit of 2002 worldwide.
“Whenever” and “wherever” are two key characteristics of any cloud solution. Bu there are two more: “Whatever” and “Whoever.” I like to say that true cloud solutions adhere to the “Enhanced Shakira Principle.”
Whenever – a cloud solution will service me anytime, 2 a.m. at home or 3 p.m. in the office. Wherever – it’s not important where I am. Service will happen in Los Angeles, as well as in Europe or China.
And cloud solutions may be utilized independent of the type of device. It may be an iPad, Android smart phone, Windows PC, self-service kiosk or even in my car on the GPS screen – whatever device I want to use to be serviced in the cloud.
And I may be a Brazilian computer expert or an Austrian farmer, a U.S. computer-literate white-collar worker in an office or a trucker in Ghana – whoever I am, I can use the cloud service. Whenever, wherever, whatever, whoever – this is cloud!
Parking Management in the Cloud
A new cloud solution is operated in a centralized fashion, either as a private cloud deployment or with several customers sharing IT resources provided by the solution vendor or using a provider of hosting services.
Typical ticketing and access control devices used in car parks are barriers, exit and entry columns, pay-on-foot stations, kiosks, vending machines, cash registers and web portals to buy vouchers or tickets or to perform reservations in car parks.
These devices can be connected to a centrally hosted parking management system (PMS). Cloud-based ticketing and access control systems can be built over time piece by piece by adding re-useable software modules until all required functions are covered through a stack of cloud software applications. Modularization helps to keep individual building blocks manageable in size and complexity.
Moving to the cloud affects the entire organization and cannot be reduced to dealing with a paradigm change in technology. Apart from the significant investments to create a complete new product set, the changes required in dealing with a new business model have proven to be significant.
The way in which cloud solutions are sold is entirely different from traditional hardware-centric or over-the-counter sales processes. Most vendors have become used to offering hardware devices for ticket sales or for the point of access in combination with on-premises software solutions. Customers usually pay-per-device and for software licenses. Typically, additional maintenance contracts come for a percentage of the initial software license price.
When ticketing and access solutions are offered in the cloud, new business models apply. Cloud offerings imply pay-per-use models, instead of licenses and maintenance contracts. The software comes as a service for annual subscription fees; transactions fees based on volume or other usage parameters; or a combination of both similar to the contracts or plans offered by telecom companies.
In a few years, cloud-based systems will be a part of everybody’s lives, not because they are technically different or more sophisticated, but because they scale better, both in terms of geographical reach and economically.
Similar changes have happened in other industries. Examples are manifold, such as the introduction of e-banking and self-service in the financial industry; the radical change in the media landscape where downloads and live streams start to replace sales of CDs or DVDs; or examples such as Amazon, where e-commerce has substituted traditional sales of books or electronic articles.
After all, one of the most security-sensitive industries – the airline industry – has changed from on-premises, paper-based ticketing and access control to a fully electronic, cloud-driven e-ticket system on a worldwide scale. The rest of the ticketing and access control industry will follow.
DI Dr. Harald Raetzsch, First VP of Technology at Skidata AG, can be reached at raha@skidata.com.

Article Abstract from December, 2011




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