A CMS in the Cloud? What is the Cloud, Anyway?

By Greg McAvoy-Jensen06/20/2011 09:26 am

Greg McAvoy-Jensen with Mt. Reba in the background

What is the cloud, and what does it have to do with web content management (WCM)? The term “cloud” actually refers to the Internet; the great granddaddy of networks, on which we now communicate immensely: telephone (voice over IP), email, tweets, Facebook, Googling, Skype, television, control of your smart home, financial transactions, etc. All this takes place in the cloud. It is a “cloud” because it is “out there”, away from our worries about how the thing works and where the server we're connected to actually exists. We know it's distant from us and we can't see what's going on inside it (and generally don't need or even care to), hence the likeness to a cloud.

CMS Out of the Cloud

Content managers have two levels main levels of cloud possibilities available to them. But first let's see what it means to not be in the cloud. A high profile national manufacturer recently asked us to train their IT team and assist them in developing a series of new websites. Each day of the training I walked past their server room on the way to their IT conference room. The server room contained the machines on which the new websites would run. So they were not accessing their content management system (CMS) in the cloud; it was on their local network. (For customers, however, accessing web pages of any sort is indeed reaching into the cloud.)

Cloud Option 1: Your Cloud, Still Your Headache

We service a non-profit which improves air quality by encouraging alternative transportation. They have a few websites hosted by a third party hosting company. Essentially they rent a computer in the hosting company's data center. The server is in the cloud, because they (and their visitors) access it through the Internet. Many hosting companies (e.g. Amazon and Rackspace) offer a variant which they label “cloud servers” or the like; these make use of a technique called “cloud computing”, which for the customer essentially means you can make your server bigger or smaller, or even add more servers, at any time, without worrying about year-long leases. But in both cases, the responsibility for the website running still lies with the client. The hosting company makes sure there's a working server, powered, cooled, and connected to the Internet; but whether the website software itself is up or down is beyond their control and responsibility.

Cloud Option 2: SaaS CMS in the Cloud

Web content managers do not have to buy web content management software. The alternative, which outsources not only hosting but also the headaches of upgrades, security patches, bug fixes, and monitoring, is a well-established business model called “Software as a Service”, or “SaaS”. The website is purchased on a subscription basis which includes use of the CMS and perhaps other support services. The client no longer needs to specialize in high availability web servers and the content management software; that responsibility is transferred to the vendor, who performs this precise role as their core business focus. Low-end SaaS CMS vendors may offer their CMS on a “cloud computing” basis, allowing users to start and stop their website at a moment's notice, but are limited in how much customization is available. Enterprise SaaS CMS vendors, with products like our own Granite Horizon In The Cloud, are able to provide the same kinds of customization available when the purchased without the SaaS model. Marketing and communications professionals often prefer this method because costs are generally more operational than capital, there is less dependence on other departments for infrastructure maintenance, and the worry of maintaining servers and software is left to those who make that their profession.

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Helping web content managers extend their reach and be ready for tomorrow. The Granite Horizon blog by executive director Greg McAvoy-Jensen and guests.

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