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Clearing up the Cloud



Continuing his guest series with us, Dan Hudson of E-Spec shares his latest instalment. As the title suggests, Dan uses this post to ‘clear up the cloud’ and shares the myriad applications that have now gone cloud-based.

“The cloud is just a computer somewhere else.” I am not sure where I heard this quote but I think of it every time “the cloud” is discussed. The cloud can refer to multiple computing scenarios. It can be an application that runs in a remote data center on a dedicated server; it can just be storage provided by a remote computer; it can refer to Software as a Service (SaaS) subscriptions; a company can provide it internally or it can be provided as a service from a vendor.

Most importantly it can be a combination of all.


There was once a time when a single computer provided computing power to multiple users via “dumb terminals”. These terminals had neither processing nor storage; all resources were maintained in the central location. At first all users had to be directly connected to the computer but as technology advanced, remote connections were made possible. With the advent of PCs, processing power and storage were available on each user’s desk. At first these PCs also acted as terminals to the central computer. Users could download data from the central computer to the desktop for local storage. This data could be manipulated with local PC programs creating our first “hybrid” implementation: processing power available both locally and centrally and storage available locally and centrally.

As PCs grew in power, most implementations became more and more distributed. More local processing power and local storage were available to each user. Local Area Networks (LAN) and Wide Area Networks (WAN) rose to create complex combinations of data storage. This in turn created extensive IT overhead to configure and maintain the required infrastructure.

As mobile devices arrived so did the need for more centralized processing and storage. So we have to come full circle back to the dumb terminal and mainframe, only now it is your phone and the cloud.

A Set of Standards

The cloud is really a set of standards that allow the Internet to be packaged as “solutions”.  Standards allow different browsers to connect to the same “cloud”; standards provide the networking and internet protocols to communicate to the “cloud”; standards for web services and APIs control the data exchange for the “cloud”. This cloud can be implemented by internal IT department; “private cloud” or provided by a vendor; “public cloud”. A public cloud solution can be dedicated (separate hardware for each company) or shared (multiple companies using same hardware, separated by software based security). The cloud can be virtualized; multiple virtual machines and servers running on the same hardware. Some virtual machines can be provided and maintained by the company; others can be the responsibility of the cloud vendor. All of this means there are still an unlimited number of combinations and solutions – enter the terminology “hybrid cloud”.

Office Applications go Cloud based

Google Docs was one of the first cloud-based solutions; an actual cloud implementation. Programs are run in the browser and files stored in the “cloud”. Google embraced XML-based file formats allowing the first hybrid implementation; files could be downloaded and opened in Microsoft Office, saved back to the cloud and opened in Google Docs again – another example of industry standards creating a “cloud”.

Microsoft Office 365 launched as a hybrid solution. Applications are supported both via the browser and the desktop; cloud and local storage are both supported. Microsoft also provides shared calendars, e-mail and team support to enhance collaboration using the cloud. 

Adobe Creative Cloud (CC), while supporting mobile access, remains focused on desktop applications. Full browser versions of Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign are not yet supported but many individual features are, allowing some mobile interaction. Adobe introduces shared libraries of “assets” in addition to cloud-based file sharing. Adobe also has Adobe Document Cloud, which is primarily Acrobat-based, supporting electronic signatures for workflow approvals. Because Acrobat can be run as a browser-based application, Document cloud supports a full cloud-based implementation as well as the hybrid model.  Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) implements digital asset management (DAM) as well as other features targeting primarily marketing users. Adobe has clearly embraced the cloud as the future.

Vertical application providers are also rolling out cloud solutions; some as an extension of their existing applications but others as new “cloud only” applications. Product systems (PDM, PLM and PIM), DAM, ERP, workflow, sourcing, and many other applications are now available in the cloud. While these implementations span the range of possibilities of local/cloud processing and storage, the commonality is in the support of industry standards for file formats and API’s (Application Programming Interfaces). Support of these standards allows these applications to interact with each other as well as the previously discussed “clouds”. While data exchange can exist “cloud” to “cloud”, currently intermediary files provide the conduit for integration.

Dropbox is the most recognized file sync utility which allows easy access to local and cloud based storage. There are many others including Google Drive, Box, etc.. Nexsan’s Transporter is one of several, which implement “private cloud” functionality; you own the hard drives at every location, Transporter provides the file sync operation to keep all files up to date. This technology when combined with the “clouds” discussed above, allows files to still maintain the crucial link in our data and work flows.


Files in the Cloud

Graphic files and photos will still be downloaded and uploaded in all of the cloud implementations discussed. Files will still be used to transfer data between legacy systems and cloud-based systems. Most companies won’t transition all systems to the cloud at the same time so this data transfer will be necessary. Most system integrations will still make use of files. Just like the “paper-less office” didn’t get rid of printers, cloud systems won’t eliminate the need for file management. What will be required to support file management in a cloud and hybrid cloud environment is again industry standards. Metadata is the main tool available to assist in file management and the leading industry standard is Adobe’s XMP metadata standard. While Microsoft Office file formats do not yet support XMP (they are XML based so it is possible), most uses of these files rely on the conversion to PDFs, which do support XMP.

In order to manage files that might be on a local computer, a local network, a WAN or on a “computer somewhere else”, metadata is essential to know the details regarding the files. Using industry standards is the best approach to file management. XMP is the leading standard. No matter which flavor of cloud implementation you use; files, file management and metadata will be at the core of your solutions. We still will need to manage those “files” that go with data that lives in the various systems on the cloud. XMP enables file management for the cloud.

Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for eight years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like our PLM Project Pack, or our Annual Publications, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.