The Digital Cloud: What is cloud-based software?
Over the last 10 years there has been a growing trend towards cloud-based software with major software providers from Apple to Microsoft scrambling to move their traditional offline products online. For many people the differences, and potential benefits, of the Cloud aren’t clear and they are reluctant to make a change.
So what is the “Cloud”?
The digital cloud is all around us and the idea of cloud-based software is not a new one. The “cloud” refers to any application on your computer or phone that is physically hosted somewhere else and which delivers information to your device via a browser or app. Search engines, retail websites, banking apps, social media…. these are all cloud-based applications that we choose to use and usually with nothing installed on our device. For cloud-based software the principle is the same; you are accessing the application via a browser or app with no physical copy of the software downloaded to your machine. In recent years, a range of software applications have provided the option to access via the cloud and, for newer providers, have developed their software as a cloud-only product.
Since desktop computers became popular in the 1990’s, it has been normal to buy a physical copy of the software, along with operating instructions, which is then owned by the individual or business. The price you pay at the till includes the cost of producing the disc and packaging, distributing it to the store, retail costs as well as a premium for the risk of the software being copied and distributed illegally.
This cost had to be paid up-front and, often, paid again on an annual basis to keep up to date with the latest version of the software. This made it expensive and time-consuming for businesses to stay up-to-date and often meant that different people in the organisation, and in the supply chain, were using out-of-date versions; increasing the risk of things going wrong. There is still a market for traditional software but as internet speeds have gotten faster and technology has improved, the alternative is to access software from the digital cloud.
How does it work?
The companies providing cloud-based software host the application in a data centre with mountains of processing power and a super-fast connection out to the internet. This allows thousands of users to access the software at the same time while making sure that their data is safe, secure and backed up. Rather than being restricted to the device which has the software downloaded onto it, digital cloud software can be accessed from any device by simply entering a unique username and password over the internet. This approach normally requires the software to be paid for with a monthly or annual subscription rather than an up-front payment so the costs are spread out over time.
Because the costs of hardware and security are pooled across all clients using the software, these costs are significantly reduced (on a per-user basis) while updates to the software and new features can be provided automatically, to everyone, without significant downtime. And because the software is centralised, rather than installed on lots of individual machines, adding new users or changing the scope of a subscription can be done easily with a few clicks.
This flexibility is a double-edged sword. As your data is not physically held on your own hardware, access to it is limited to the ways offered by the software provider and any issue that hits them will affect your access along with that of thousands of other companies. And as access requires an internet connection, if you lose connectivity, you are usually unable to use the software you’re paying for. But most importantly for some, because cloud-based software is paid for on subscription: once you stop paying, you lose access to the application and can’t just choose to use an out-of-date version on an ongoing basis.
For businesses and consumers, the cloud has made software more available and more affordable than ever before but this is in exchange for reduced control and flexibility.
No up-front costs and instant access; zero hassle
Access anywhere and on any device; not tied to a single machine
Flexible and scalable; ramp up when you need to
Cutting-edge systems and security; safer, backed-up data
Committed to an ongoing subscription; continuous cost for access
Access to and use of your data is restricted; limited to vendor tools
Reliant on the software provider; security and access are controlled
Need a continuous internet connection; limited offline use
How does it work for a cloud-based LMS?
In the case of learning management systems (LMS), a cloud-based software solution removes the high up-front hardware and configuration costs. The ease of signing up to cloud-based software also makes it significantly easier to “try before you buy”; using trials to test functionality and explore how best to roll-out your solution to all staff. As cloud-based software is regularly and automatically updated, a cloud-based LMS gives staff access to the latest functionality without any hassle or effort, so the ongoing commitments of time and resources for the use and maintenance of the LMS are also reduced. This dramatically reduces the total cost of ownership by reducing the capital and operational costs involved.
However, for organisations with other in-house systems that need to link into the LMS, the options to do so are more limited and the level of control you have over how the system is deployed is diminished. As data is stored and managed by the software provider, the ways in which it can be manipulated and reported on are limited to the tools (or APIs) they provide. For complex businesses, this can make reporting on learning and managing learning needs more difficult so a cloud-based LMS can offer both increased and decreased flexibility depending on your viewpoint.
For most companies, and especially for SMEs, the pro’s of a cloud-based LMS significantly outweigh the cons; giving you access to powerful software at a low cost that is accessible from any device and giving the flexibility to add, or reduce, users quickly and easily to meet the needs of your business.
At Cloudtrainer, we offer a range of LMS to make cloud-based learning and management easier and more effective than ever before. To find out more about our LMS, check out our blog or start your free trial today.