According to the Gartner Hype Cycle for 2010, “Cloud Computing” and “Cloud/Web Platforms” have reached the infamous “Peak of Inflated Expectations” and are already sliding down like a fog into the unavoidable “Trough of Disillusionment”. But the story doesn’t end there as the cloud is expected to rise back upward and eventually reach the ultimate “Plateau of Productivity” within the next 2 to 5 years. What does this mean for EMS? Well, first, it means that there is probably still plenty of confusion about what the “cloud” actually refers to and its waning excitement at the moment means the enthusiasm of its promoters is more easily dismissed as the ramblings of zealots “with their heads simply stuck in the cloud.” However, it is the critical review and appropriate response to technology offerings in just this state that separates the industry leaders from the rest of the pack.
Notice that I did not say the “full adoption” of a new technology, but rather the “appropriate response” to its availability. As you will see in this post, my forecast of cloud computing is that tomorrow will only be “partly cloudy”.
According to Wikipedia, “cloud computing describes a new supplement, consumption, and delivery model for IT services based on Internet protocols” (IP). This means that the cloud really becomes just another computing resource similar to existing enterprise servers except that these cloud-based resources are physically located (and maintained) somewhere else in the world and access is typically provided on a subscription basis that allows them to “scale” (increase or decrease available resources) more dynamically based on demand than traditional hardware installations within an agency. Additionally, the IP nature of cloud-based resources means that these services can be accessed through a variety of distributed devices from a desktop web browser to a smart phone. That broad availability raises legitimate questions about security, but cloud-based providers often address these concerns based on the specific security demands of an organization making the broad access more of an advantage to distributed workforces (such as EMS) than a threat.
If you send messages with a Gmail account, listen to Pandora, share your thoughts on Twitter or Facebook, check-in on FourSquare, look up addresses on MapQuest, share files using DropBox, or pay bills online – you already use cloud computing services. Even the blog post you are reading now was written and delivered using WordPress as a hosted cloud service. Another WordPress site recently described using the cloud service Google Calendars to create an EMS shift calendar in place of a paper schedule. A more sophisticated online scheduling system specifically designed for EMS employees is available from Aladtec and used by Deputy Fire Chief Kris Kazian of Countryside Fire Protection District in Illinois who said, “It is one of our better decisions relating to migrating office processes into the ‘e and green’ world!” Applications like these, or even billing systems which are not as adversely affected by potential temporary outages related to disaster events, are perfect examples for outsourcing to the web.
But not all applications should be considered for hosting off-site just yet. Besides security, is the question of availability when internet connectivity is down. For mission critical applications, this type of interruption can be a worst case scenario. While applications like ArcGIS by Esri are moved to the web, an EMS agency functioning in a pure cloud model could be effectively running blind without any access to their GIS. However, hybrid models (only partly cloudy) utilizing select web resources from the cloud can be very efficient and still remain effective. Orthographic imagery, whether satellite or aerial photography, and oblique photography, such as Pictometry can be very resource intensive and difficult to update. But as a cloud-based web service, they can be very fast, current, and efficient.
To say that the cloud is too confusing, or that the technology is not ready yet is clearly a misunderstanding of the resources available from the cloud. On the other hand, it is not necessary to go overboard by planning to completely outsource everything to the cloud either. Now is the perfect time, however, to evaluate and plan for how your agency will leverage this technology in the future. The cloud is not coming – it is already here!