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Cloud Computing 101 for Forestry Professionals

Cloud computing may be a new buzzword, but network-based computing and the concept of shared access to computing resources has evolved over the last fifty years. In this article we will explore the basics of cloud computing, some of the benefits, use cases, and opportunities it presents for the future of our industry.

First and foremost, what do we mean when we say “the cloud”? Well, as the saying goes, “the cloud is just someone else’s computer”. Though technically true, let’s look at a more formal definition. According to NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology), cloud computing is defined as

“… a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. This cloud model is composed of five essential characteristicsthree service models, and four deployment models.” [emphasis added]

National Institute of Standards and Technology – US Department of Commerce, 2011

That’s a lot of information in one sentence. Let’s focus on the key components of this definition. I’ve highlighted them in the definition above. From this definition we see that the cloud …

  • is a shared pool of resources accessed over a network connection (i.e.; the Internet)
  • can be rapidly provisioned (i.e.; set up quickly)
  • has multiple deployment and service options available

The technologies that make cloud computing possible have evolved since the days of the large mainframe computers. At its core, Cloud computing exists due to technologies such as Virtual Machines and Hypervisors. But what’s changed? Why the sudden rush to develop Cloud infrastructure and Cloud applications? I think this has a lot to do with the widespread availability of high speed internet access, and the decreasing cost of compute resources, specifically storage and CPU speeds.

Benefits of Cloud Computing

The advantages of Cloud computing are its relative low cost, the flexible structure, and how quickly one can be up and running with additional resources. There are many other benefits that we will not discuss here, but it’s good to note that Cloud computing is very dependable with 99.999% uptime as the standard.

Resource pooling allows Cloud providers to serve multiple clients in tandem, thereby creating economies of scale for the provider, and helping to keep the cost per client as low as possible. In addition, many of the fee structures allow customers to pay for what is used, so there is an efficiency factor to consider as well.

As I mentioned, Cloud resources may be billed on a measured service level, typically measured by the amount of data transferred or stored (e.g.; Gigabytes) or resource usage over time (e.g; per day, month, or year). Contrast this to an on-premises solution, which requires higher upfront cost, maintenance and upkeep, and it’s easy to see the advantage that Cloud offers. In addition, comparing Cloud to on-premises solutions, fees paid for Cloud services might be deductible as Operating expenses instead of Capitalized.

Cloud solutions can provide rapid elasticity options that enable the resources to scale-up or down with minimal user involvement. This is an advantage Cloud offers as the providers have far greater resources or bandwidth available than any single entity.

Cloud resources can be provisioned quickly to allow access from anywhere with a network (Internet) connection, on mobile and desktop devices. This might be a red-flag for security and/or corporate responsibility requirements, so these items need to be considered and addressed in advance. Cloud resources are provisioned through a Web Interface managed by the provider, without requiring human-to-human interaction between the provider and the customer, which is an obvious advantage over other solutions.

Cloud Use Cases

The use cases for cloud computing are endless. Cloud is capable of supporting emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Blockchain, Big Data Analytics, and AI/Machine Learning, as well as support for running legacy business systems and Databases. Most Cloud providers have products for working with these emerging technologies. Some Cloud providers offer additional services such as file storage, block storage and object storage, as well as Content Delivery Network (CDN) solutions.

To be agile and competitive in today’s marketplace, businesses need to rely on the most current information available. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is a Cloud service architecture that allows software providers to build solutions on top of the Cloud. SaaS solutions are often subscription based, and include business collaboration tools like Customer Relationship Management CRM, Email, Human Resource Management HRM, Accounting and Financial applications.

Many businesses are already operating in the Cloud or are working with providers that have Cloud-based solutions. It appears this trend will continue for the foreseeable future. In addition to the common business use-cases there are growing opportunities for Cloud technology specific to Forestry.

Cloud Opportunities for Forestry

It’s no secret that much of the work related to Forestry is done in remote areas. As rural and remote areas become more connected through wireless technologies, the use of mobile computing resources will likely increase. Location-based technologies and remote sensing methods are also working with higher accuracy and more reliable data. The opportunities for collecting large amounts of accurate data from the forest are just over the horizon.

The following list includes a few areas where I believe Cloud technologies are beginning to have a meaningful impact on our industry.

  • Remote Sensing
  • Land records and GIS applications
  • Scalable, multi-user solutions
  • Compute intensive applications such as Artificial Intelligence, Optimization and Modeling
  • Capturing and analyzing large amounts of data about the environment, wood flow transactions, and forest activities.

Below are some links to companies that I’m aware of with Cloud-based solutions specifically developed for Forestry uses. Note this list is not intended to be a complete list, as there are likely many other providers offering Cloud solutions that I am unaware of.

Summary

Cloud solutions are new twist on old technologies that are possible thanks to the Internet and Broadband connectivity. As a result, innovative companies are benefiting from the Cloud and taking advantage of new opportunities available for Forestry. The Cloud offers low-cost, flexible platforms that require less setup and initial investment than on-premises solutions. Companies and software vendors can develop Cloud solutions that scale quickly and that provide security and reliability for the end user.

Categories: Technology Adoption

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JwL

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