Cloud services for data storage and data processing can make sense in many ways: cost, flexibility and scalability are just a few. With the improvements in IT networks and web connections in speed and ubiquity, you can store and process information almost anywhere you like (government regulations notwithstanding). Your computing environment can be in Australia while you receive the results in America. With IaaS, PaaS and SaaS tiers of cloud services available, the range of applications you can access via the cloud has become enormous.
On the back of the original trio of ‘as-a-Service’ offerings, new services such as DRaaS (Disaster Recovery as a Service) arrived. You no longer have to scramble to get physical servers working again on your premises. Your DRaaS solution ensures that operations switch to cloud mode in the event of your own on-site catastrophe. Video-as-a-Service and Voice-Over-IP-as-a-Service have also been offered, as well as Networking-as-a-Service.
Let’s (Not) Get Physical
So far however, these cloud services concern an end-product that doesn’t really have a physical form. That product is data. While you can store it on different media and visualize it in different ways in text-processing, spreadsheet and graphics applications, it isn’t physical. The proof is in the fact that data can be replicated at will without changing its inherent value. If I back up my valuable data, I may have to pay for more storage space, but I don’t have to pay for the complete recreation of all the data. With cars, construction equipment on the other hand, if you want a copy, it will likely cost you as much as the original. Does it make sense therefore to try to offer cloud services based on such real-life, tangible objects?
The Internet of Things as the Missing Link
One answer is in the Internet of Things. The IoT is destined to facilitate the transmission of information to and from devices and equipment other than just PCs, servers, or mobile computing devices. The initial ideas for IoT involved using the information for extra safety, security, improved maintenance and performance information. Remote monitoring of building alarm systems, jet engines, and medical apparatus are just some examples. But as an increasing number of manufacturers are realizing, that information can also be used to bill for real usage (the physical equivalent of the cloud’s pay-as-you-go), or be sent out to devices to unlock functionality remotely.
Back to the Backhoe and Its Bigger Brother, the Earthmover
Cloud-based services then become possible to offer end-users better adapted maintenance services, based on real usage. They can be used to automatically align earthmovers using GPS. Digital survey data is then sent to the earthmover for automatic physical shaping of land at a construction site. Smarter still, such services can be used to offer customers results of interest to them, and not just the use or purchase of physical goods. Farm equipment vendors, seed sellers and fertilizer producers are already getting together to offer farmers packages with guaranteed levels of yield, according to all the data they have gathered and processed on how the package components work.
The Correct Use of Cloud Power
While the cloud cannot do it all (you can’t shift building sites to the cloud and wait for the result to come back), it can help many businesses. Working with the big data harvested from remote equipment and installations, and using its own computing and storage capacity, the cloud is likely to be an enabler for many services and business models, and foster the creation of new ones we haven’t yet thought of.