We’re Using Cloud Computing Already Cloud Computing

Like the fellow who wrote prose but didn’t know it, you and I are using cloud computing more than we realize. I use it and benefit from it every day, and probably you do too. Consider my little business. Like more than a million other businesses, I use the paid version of Google Apps (cloudbased, with an annual fee of $50 per user), so e-mail addressed to my hshco.com domain is hosted by Google, and spam filtering, archiving, and e-discovery are provided by Postini, owned by Google since 2007. Google Apps also maintains my contact list and calendar, which are all accessible from my desktop, synchronized over the cloud to my laptop and Black- Berry, and accessible from anyone else’s computer equipped with a Web browser an Internet connection, and the right credentials. I can access and allow others to collaborate on my documents anywhere through Google Docs, recently enlarged to accept files of up to 1 GB, and terabytes of storage can be rented for a modest annual cost.

Electronic Faxing
I use RingCentral’s cloud-based Rcfax.com to virtually (electronically) send and receive faxes. Incoming faxes are sent to a telephone number supplied by RingCentral and are routed to my e-mail address as PDF attachments; outgoing messages are sent via e-mail to their service and delivered to fax machines around the world. Google Apps and RCFax, SaaS providers both, interact flawlessly without either one having to do anything special—or even know about each other.

Voice in the Cloud
If you call my published phone number, (201) 490-9623, the call is handled by the cloud-based Google Voice. I can accept the call from any telephone number linked to my Google Voice account (it will try them all, in the priority I specify). It I can’t pick up, you can leave me a message, which I can access through my e-mail, as an SMS message on my BlackBerry, or from any Internet browser. I can also get a (still imperfect, but usually understandable) transcript of the message delivered in the same ways.

Commerce in the Cloud
Some of my books are available for sale as downloadable e-books through my Web site (hosted under the covers by Google). The several sites interact seamlessly. For example, you can choose to pay via Google Checkout, via PayPal, or via Amazon’s checkout system. My Web site will hand off seamlessly to Payloadz, which calls the payment service that you selected. After you’ve paid, you will again be handed off seamlessly to the part of PayLoadz that fulfills the order. You never left my site, and I didn’t have to code all that functionality myself—a key characteristic we’ll return to again and again.

Distributed Hosting in the Cloud
A portion of my Web site requires FTP (file transfer) and database services that Google’s hosting doesn’t offer (at least as of this writing). That development subdomain is seamlessly hosted by Godaddy.com. I could just as easily have used Amazon, Rackspace, or any one of hundreds of alternatives.

Accounting and Online Banking in the Cloud
Accounting for my little business is done using the cloud-based version of Quickbooks which interfaces with the online banking system I use at CapitalOne bank Rather than Quickbooks, I could just as well have used NetSuite Small Business or several other fine cloud-based alternatives, some of which are In turn, the bank’s Web-based bill-paying application is handled by a separate cloud-based vendor that interfaces with the cloud-based Automated Clearing House (ACH) system for issuing the electronic checks to pay my bills. Similarly, Intuit has a subsidiary, Intuit Financial Services (formerly Digital Insight), that provides outsourced online statements, check imaging, bill payment and similar services for numerous banks, a full SaaS application.

Most of my income is also received electronically as direct deposit ACH payments .When I need to ship an order, PayPal’s MultiOrder Shipping interfaces with a Pitney Bowes application that prints a prepaid label, obtains a tracking number from USPS, and notifies PayPal so it can charge my account. (That’s three major vendors, all interoperating
seamlessly with cloud applications).

PayPal’s MultiOrder Shipping interface.

PayPal’s MultiOrder Shipping interface.

If I complete an online purchase and go to the merchant’s site to track delivery, I’m usually handed off to UPS, Federal Express, or the USPS, each of which operates tracking systems in the cloud.

There are many other interesting cloud services that I use but don’t have space to mention, and even more that I don’t [yet] use. The important message here is that cloud computing can be used not only for enterprise to individual interaction, but also for enterprise-to enterprise interaction.

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