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Cloud Computing Commentary: Blue Skies

By Drew Gude, Microsoft

Drew GudeThe cloud, which has so dominated recent news reports and conversations in the commercial and consumer sectors, is rapidly spreading to the design engineering arena. Already, engineers are able to schedule and manage their jobs via cloud-based software. Trials are in progress for cloud-based finite element analysis and optimization tools, and cloud computing potentially can transform the way designers develop, deploy, scale and support infrastructures for technical computing.

Customers of design-engineering firms–for the most part, manufacturers–are adopting the cloud in significant numbers, and are likely to accelerate the transformation among engineers by demanding the same kinds of cost and time savings from their vendors that manufacturers themselves are achieving from their own cloud-computing operations.

Because the cloud offers software, platforms and infrastructure via the Internet through metered access, or subscriptions, manufacturers have been slashing their computing costs. Instead of purchasing, maintaining and upgrading servers, networks and on-premises software, manufacturers can simply incorporate cloud-based applications in their business processes. Furthermore, they are gaining substantial productivity:

  • cloud-based programs and systems are available to global companies 24/7;
  • they have a higher rate of uptime than most technology installed in the manufacturers’ own facilities; and
  • they consistently offer the most up-to-date versions of software as soon as they become available, because the applications need only be updated on the cloud servers instead of on individual computers across the manufacturing enterprise.

Organizations have a choice, in fact, of using only cloud-based technology, only their on-premises applications and systems, or a hybrid of both. For hybrid applications, the cloud can add functionality or speed to on-premises software when they are used together.

The Results Are In
A recent Microsoft survey indicated not only that manufacturers understand the benefits of cloud computing, but that they are well along their timelines to implement it. Six out of 10 of the manufacturing IT decision-makers (ITDMs) responding indicated they plan to implement, or have already implemented, cloud-based collaboration tools. Nearly the same proportion is planning or is already using cloud-based productivity applications.

Interestingly, most of those surveyed indicated they are turning to the cloud for tools to manage their security and networks, as well as for file storage and backup. Nearly half of the manufacturing ITDMs are planning to implement or have already built cloud-based e-commerce platforms. While some organizations have hesitated to place their data in the cloud or rely on cloud-based applications because of concerns over security, manufacturing enterprises understand that those fears are largely unfounded. Data failures at individual companies are much more likely than an outage at a cloud provider.

One particular benefit of cloud-based computing is that it enables users to try a broader range of software without needing to commit to an expensive long-term license for applications that they will use only occasionally.

Case in Point
Overall, 44% of the responding ITDMs in manufacturing noted that adoption of cloud computing allows them to improve the bottom line of their company and save money. One organization that has reported these types of gains is Sensata Technologies, a global supplier of sensing, electrical protection, control and power management solutions. The Massachusetts-based company employs more than 9,000 people worldwide.

In examining ways to improve the efficiency of its technology and processes, Sensata’s IT department decided to move its email messaging into the cloud, thereby slashing the costs of its on-premises messaging infrastructure while actually improving reliability and scalability. Over a period of four months, Sensata migrated 5,000 mailboxes and several hundred mobile accounts to the cloud. Employees gained the coincidental benefit of instantly upgrading to the most current version of the email application, while the company’s savings were spectacular. Moving to online email cut Sensata’s email costs in half, trimming $500,000 from its IT budget and freeing IT staff to focus on higher-value tasks.

It’s time for design engineers to move beyond reading about the cloud and conversing about cloud computing with colleagues; now is the moment to grasp a competitive edge by reaching for the cloud–for data storage, project scheduling, collaboration and innovations that will help make the earliest adopters the biggest winners.

Drew Gude is director of U.S. High Tech and Electronics for Microsoft.

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