Real Estate Weekly
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Debt & EquityProperty Managers

Time to get your head — and business — in the cloud

By Ian Marlow, CEO, FITECH

Anyone who has ever accessed web-based email, downloaded something from iTunes or used Dropbox to store and share files has used cloud technology.

The “cloud” refers to data and files stored in remote servers rather than on your actual computer or on your office server. This creates a convenient virtual work world.

Real estate companies of all sizes are deploying cloud technology more and more because it is easy to set up, relatively inexpensive, there’s no hardware to maintain, anyone can use it and it’s scalable.

Cloud computing precludes the need for companies to purchase software or multiple licenses for every workstation; employees can all access the same application on the Web instead, making the license user-based instead of device- or computer based.

Pricing is based on the number of users, number of accounts, and total amount of data.

Intra-office communications can be online 24/7, you need less physical file cabinets since documents are stored virtually and agents and managers can spend more time in the field while maintaining access to your firm’s applications.

Public cloud computing can be an economical choice but it carries some risks, especially when dealing with confidential information, as many real estate firms do.

There are three ways to deploy the cloud for business: public, hybrid and private. Let’s look at these to see how they relate to your application;
Public cloud

The public cloud is accessible to anyone, anywhere. It is used for document storage and sharing (Google Docs, Box, Skydrive), music (iTunes), video chat (Skype, OoVoo) and mobile apps on your smartphone or tablet. The cloud service provider makes applications and storage available to the public over the Internet.

In the corporate environment, the public cloud may be used to host email or a website, or for document collaboration such as leases or management contracts, which can greatly streamline operations. Mobile staff, telecommuters and in-office personnel can all access the same information.

It offers the high convenience of data access via the Internet but low control over where or how that data is stored; anyone’s information may share server space somewhere with any other company’s data, even a competitor’s.

Additionally, typical users have duplicate data on the public cloud — one in the cloud and one locally on their conventional network.

Also, very large files can cause upload/download speeds or can falter because the end user or cloud service has limited bandwidth.

In general, however, the data centers provide multiple fail-over protocols and physical measures to safeguard against disruptions, and protections are in place against cyber-crime (although they are not hacker-proof).

Hybrid cloud
This model is an excellent transition for companies that are wary about cloud computing.
The hybrid cloud is maintained by both the organization and the external provider or software vendor. It’s a way to combine some of the public cloud applications with the more common client/server network features.
For example, you may store highly sensitive, confidential or proprietary information on your local network while running more general applications such as email and backup services in the public cloud. Over time, as your comfort level grows, you can migrate your network to the private cloud.

Private cloud
The private cloud is a more secure and conventional way to network your organization virtually, and it offers a better solution for sensitive data such as financial.
“Private” signifies a separate and secure network that is managed by the organization (REIT, property management firm, etc.) so there are greater controls over the data, coupled with a high level of convenience and global remote access.
Private cloud computing is being used by small, medium-sized and large organizations; some may already be managing their own data center or servers, or this cloud service may be outsourced to a trusted managed IT services provider.
Key benefits of private clouds include: Easy to expand as your company grows; Easy to migrate from the current physical network environment to the virtual environment; Accessible globally from any device via the Internet; One set of data, i.e. only one copy of the files.
A private cloud offers greater data security, management and backup protocols. The data is encrypted during uploading and downloading, and the physical hardware is located either on premise or at a data center in a known location. Data backups, as well as elimination (upon request). are guaranteed. The privacy also means that your files are separated from other clients’ data within the computer infrastructure.
Certain customizations can be integrated in a private cloud that cannot be done on the public version.

Ask your IT services provider to review your computing needs and the various features of each type of cloud with you to determine your best option.

Depending on your company’s size, the needs of your work force, and the type and amount of data you must share and store, you’ll find the right solution in the cloud that will grow with your organization.

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