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Marketeers have created a lot of confusion about the word cloud. More and more companies are offering “cloud-based” products. But beware: many of these so-called cloud-based products are not cloud products at all. Yet unsuspecting customers might fall for the sales pitch and think that they are getting something that they’re not.

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So what is a cloud product?

In the simplest terms, a cloud product is something that you can run on any computer with a standard browser – without installing or downloading any piece of software. Websites that you probably already use, such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, eBay or YouTube, are examples of cloud products. You simply navigate to their website and start using the service.

How can you tell if you are looking at a cloud product?

  1. When a salesperson shows you their product, ask the salesperson to demonstrate it on YOUR computer or tablet. If it’s not possible, there’s probably something to be installed that the salesperson doesn’t want to tell you about.
  2. Ask what kind of internet connection is required to run the application. If you need anything faster or more expensive than whatever you’re already using to run Amazon, eBay and Facebook, chances are it’s not a cloud product. We’ve heard of software vendors recommending that their customers upgrade to a MPLS internet connection for as much as $2,000 per month.
  3. Does the contract ask you to pay for anything that looks like hardware, server, hardware maintenance or rack space? This is a clear sign that the vendor is not offering you a cloud product.
  4. Ask if you will always use the latest version of the product. If the vendor says something about an update schedule or optional updates, that’s another sign that the vendor is not offering a true cloud product.

Why is this important?

If you have to install or configure something on your own computer to use the product, you can be sure you will run into trouble sooner or later. What happens when you switch computers? Upgrade your operating system? Work remotely from home? Get used to “access denied” or other such messages. On the other hand, a technician from your software vendor would be happy to visit you and solve the problem at $1000 per day plus travel costs.

Part of the elegance of a cloud product is that it is scalable for the vendor. The vendor can grow their customer base quickly and easily from a technical standpoint. All customers use the same version of the software, just as all consumers use the same version of Amazon. Support is also much easier for the vendor, as the vendor is supporting only one product for many customers rather a separate product for each customer. Updates of software and hardware take place simultaneously for all customers.

A cloud vendor can pass on these savings and efficiency improvements to you, the customer.

A non-cloud system, such as a hosted product, means that you will not always have the newest version. Support will be more complex. Hardware upgrades are usually not included. The product might work well in a demonstration today, but how will it work one year from now? How will it look five years from now? If you are not using a true cloud product and you want to keep your product up-to-date with the latest version or the latest hardware, you will end up paying – either directly or indirectly – for the privilege.

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