To Cloud Or Not To Cloud?

To cloud or not to cloud? That is the question but the answer is not a simple one.

Cloud computing is the term given to providing services via the internet, whether that is by means of backups or use of an application. In keeping with many other applications, production control software can be provided either via the cloud, so the user accesses the system from a web browser, or by having the software installed on the local network and PCs within a business (referred to within this article as a local installation). There are pros and cons of both approaches and it is for you, the reader, to determine which you feel is the best solution for your business.

Using the cloud seems to have almost become a fashionable way to provide software, with the customer having to pay a monthly fee to access it. Monthly fees are great for the software provider and over a period of time can become far more expensive for the customer than a local installation. If you stop making monthly payments you are likely to lose access to your system.

Opening a web browser and logging into the relevant website from any location provides a very high degree of convenience. With that comes the risk that if you can logon from anywhere, so can anyone else. If you make use of a cloud-based system, ensure that all usernames and passwords are kept secure and are robust. The style, layout and delivery of information from a cloud-based system is constrained by access via a web browser, whereas a local installation does not have such constraints.

Speed is also a consideration. Whilst cloud-based systems may boast huge resources, the human factor has to be taken into account. The time taken to enter data via a web browser and wait for pages to refresh can be far more time consuming than using a local installation.

Connectivity is another factor. Access to a cloud-based system requires access to a fast internet connection. Whilst most of us have faster access to the internet than ever before there are still areas in the country with slow access speeds or unreliable connections. Very often, industrial areas are lower priority than residential areas for infrastructure improvement.

Where is the cloud? That’s a tough question and nearly impossible to answer, other than to summarise as a collection of data centres connected via the internet and physically located anywhere in the world. Your data could be 10 miles up the road or 10,000 miles away.

We have all heard of security breaches or hacking attacks against well-known websites. If the cloud provider you use for storing production data suffers an attack then your commercial data could be at risk. Is this one that you can afford to take? After all, you will be storing data on behalf of your customers.

Some of your customers may have concerns or contractual limitations on any of the data pertinent to their components being stored on the cloud. Whilst this may be more common where the subcontractor works in the defence industry or works for highly confidential commercial customers, it can be a concern that any of your customers may have.

If your production control system is in the cloud, all users that require access would need to have access to browse the internet. This would include all areas of the business and might present security concerns in itself.

A production control system should help to streamline your business without putting obstacles in your way. The majority of users never like change and cloud-based software will likely upgrade when the software supplier chooses to roll out an update to the website providing the software. This may not be at a time that is convenient to you and may be disruptive as a result of a change in working practices and training. Having your production control software as a local installation gives you control to choose when you want to upgrade your system to minimise any disruption.

A production control system should fit like a glove – customised and tailored to suit your business. Cloud-based services, whilst they may be available with different feature sets, will not provide the same degree of customisation as a local installation. Cloud-based systems are therefore likely to provide either less functionality or appear more complicated to use, as they have to act as a jack of all trades with styling and layout limited by the scope of running within a web browser.

How would your business operate if you could not access your production control system? We have known customers lose access to the internet for several days with one outage being the result of a road digger cutting through cables.

Backups are also an interesting topic – yes, really! Some cloud-based systems do not provide the facility to back up and restore data. If something goes seriously wrong you may have to make a lot of data adjustments. How would you manage if the cloud-based system suffered a data loss that affected your business? With a local installation you would be able to restore your data, as it is under your control and not that of a third party.

Many businesses use the cloud to back up data and systems. Whilst this can be effective at providing an offsite backup, these backups can be vulnerable as they are still not totally in your control. We would always recommend that critical data is also backed up on external media and taken offsite on a cycle. Restoring data from cloud backups is often a slow process compared to using local media.

It is our belief, at PSL Datatrack, that a production control system should be customisable and tailored for the individual subcontractor whilst providing reliable secure access with no commercial/contractual issues. It is for the reasons discussed in this article that PSL Datatrack is supplied as a local installation and not in the cloud; it is your data and it is only right that you control where it is and who can access it.

More from PSL Datatrack Production Control Software