Take all your servers and that rack of hard drives and give them to your local recycler. Cloud computing using SaaS means you don’t need them anymore. At least not if you choose to use SaaS virtualization technology in the public cloud. In the process you can get out of the information technology business and back into your construction, architecture or engineering business.

“The idea behind SaaS virtualization is you use the application in its native format but you do it remotely,” says R. Byron Attridge, Jr., executive vice president at ClubDrive Systems, Inc. You connect directly to a cloud server instead of using a Web browser to access the application. It’s just another form of SaaS and one that many are embracing because they want to get out of the IT business and back to their core construction, architecture or engineering businesses.

Beyond the cost savings of not having to maintain, power, cool and replace hardware, there are some performance improvements.

“When you are running applications on high performance servers you get a lot better performance than running them through a Web browser,” explains Attridge. “ If you have an old machine that is painfully slow and you’re running the application on a Web browser it’s going to run poorly. But, if you access the same application with the same old machine using virtualization technologies you’re not going to see any kind of performance degradation because it’s not running on the machine. The application is having to accept key strokes and mouse clicks but that kind of data can be highly compressed, and it isn’t resource intensive.”

Attridge also says that in most cases the data is secure since it never resides on the device you use, and you can use any device that is capable of connecting to the Internet. That includes smart phones, normal laptops and desktops and even thin clients.

Thin clients, sometimes called zero clients, are functional boxes that have no hard drive. When you turn them on, they connect to your cloud provider and render the application on the screen. Also equipped with USB and Ethernet ports they can be attached to many peripherals including a router for making the Internet connection. While thin client technology is robust and highly functional it is not without potential drawbacks.

There have been at least a couple of cases where thin client network security has been called into question. In one case in August of 2009, NCC Group based in Manchester, UK claimed it had uncovered serious concerns about thin client security. NCC is an IT consultancy. As reported by Tech Target in its Information Security News, NCC found five ways the units could be compromised. It tested units from Wyse, HP and VXL.

In its April 2010 white paper “Evaluating Thin Client Security in a Changing Threat Landscape,” Intel raised concerns related to thin clients and the centralization of data, although the same concerns also applied to PCs. Intel concluded that, “while the controls often associated with thin clients can contribute to a more secure environment, they would not have provided protection against recent zero-day attacks.”

While no technology is bulletproof AEC businesses adopting SaaS using virtualization technology can find some attractive subscription models that might make kicking the software-in-a-box habit look pretty good.

ClubDrive for example, maintains a service provider licensing agreement with Microsoft so it can resell the use of Microsoft products to its clients. Users simply log on and use whatever applications in the MSOffice suite they need at the time. The user pays a monthly fee to ClubDrive for using the software.

If you want to use your favorite estimating program but ClubDrive does not have a licensing agreement with that vendor then you continue to license the software while using it on ClubDrive’s servers. That eliminates software conflicts and maintenance, troubleshooting and the hardware maintenance you would normally have if you hosted it on your own equipment. Attridge says the cost varies greatly but for people who want core Microsoft products along with several other software packages a typical cost is $125 per user per month.

Perhaps the biggest reason to consider SaaS using a virtualization model is the migration it offers back to your core business.

“Nobody started a construction firm wanting to get into IT,” says Attridge. “You end up having to manage it because it provides you with tools that you need to have. However, at the same time you’re having to manage it more than you ever wanted to. With that in mind, we developed a service like this so businesses can get out of the IT business and back to their businesses.”

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