By BRIDGET CAREY
The Miami Herald
MIAMI — For the past several years, cloud computing has been all the buzz in tech circles. Now mainstream South Florida companies are catching on, using the cloud to trim technology costs, share files from remote locations and even run their phone systems.
“It just makes life easier,” says Bob Berkowitz, president of Multivision Video and Film in South Miami, who uses cloud computing to back-up data, collaborate on projects and manage his accounting.
But what, exactly, is “it”?
In simple terms, the “cloud” is the Internet. Traditionally, companies have stored and processed data on a company-owned server in a company-owned location. Cloud computing allows firms to store and process data via the Internet on servers owned and maintained by someone else.
At its most basic is Google Docs, a free service for anyone with a Gmail account that allows users to create, store and share files. On the complex end of the spectrum are government files secured on private servers dedicated to their exclusive use.
In between are the services used by most businesses – company payroll systems run by third parties like Peoplesoft, back-ups of company files, or online shopping systems like PayPal. Even Apple’s new iPad owes its sleekness to the idea that massive memory isn’t required when a machine can connect to the cloud.
The advantages are clear: Instead of spending money to upgrade hardware and increase capacity as needs change, a company can simply pay for increased computing power – like a utility.
And because data is stored in “the cloud” of the Internet, it serves as a disaster recovery solution – a serious concern in hurricane-prone South Florida.
That’s one reason why data centers that sell cloud services, such as Terremark Worldwide, Peak 10 and Host.net, say South Florida clients are leaping into cloud technology.
“Not only is it our fastest growing segment line, but it’s growing at an increasing rate,” said Monty Blight, vice president of managed services at Peak 10, a data center with an office in Fort Lauderdale.
Still, cloud computing is a small percentage of Peak 10′s business. Some companies aren’t familiar with its advantages; others are concerned about the loss of control that comes when they depend on software that isn’t customized for their use. Others aren’t comfortable about having their back-up data co-mingled with the data from other companies.
Those fears are no different than those about using your credit card on the Internet, said analyst Ben Pring of the technology research firm Gartner.
“People said, ‘Oh, I’ll never put my credit card on the Internet. It’s not secure.’” Pring said. Today, “we put our credit cards on the Web without batting an eyelid.”
Over time, the cost and convenience of having a business managed on the Web will win over security skeptics, Pring predicted. In fact, in 2009, questions about cloud computing ranked No. 1 as the most popular topic among Gartner clients.
Berkowitz’s experience at Multivision shows why.
Since moving to Basecamp, a Web-based program for collaborating and managing projects, his team no longer wonders where to find a particular digital video file; project files and details are stored online. Some accounting is managed via online software. Data is backed up on multiple platforms, including one at Terremark Worldwide’s data center in Miami.
“It saves you time,” Berkowitz said, “because a lot of the time you’re screwing around with the computer in the backroom instead of doing your work.”