Cloud Technology – Are you really in control?

Reference: Huynh, L 2019, ‘Cloud Technology – are you really in control?’, World Port Development, June 2019, pp. 38-41.

Technological advancement is a perpetual trend that precipitates a revolution and heavily influences the way industries operate. Strenuous and mundane everyday tasks have become the central concern acting as a catalyst for innovation. Cloud computing is an epitome of one of the greatest creations of the Internet that made its impact dating back to over a decade. However, its growing nature to delve into new fields and open new opportunities for industries significantly attributes to its relevance and current prominence.

Nowadays, cloud computing is commonly known as the paradigm for hosting and delivering services over the Internet. The semantics of cloud computing removes the necessity for users to plan for provisioning which inherently enables organizations to start from the small but develops upon resources according to an increase in service demand.

Due to its consumer-driven and versatile composition, it has procured a strong reception by entrepreneurs, innovators, technology evangelists, and technologically connected users, facilitating its ubiquitous prevalence in organizations. More recently, a Terminal Operating System (TOS) that is entirely on the cloud is no longer a premature idea but a large reality catapulting the Container Handling Industry into a frenzy. Although the cloud technology can bestow a plethora of benefits for ports and marine terminals, it is imperative to outline the exact business objectives and implications that require attention to depict the most suitable and feasible TOS.

Cloud computing architecture offers solutions to various business implications by utilizing its diverse components in a service model to leverage the power of cloud resources. There are mainly three cloud computing service models which distinguish as:

·         Software as a Service (SaaS)

It is the most common practice of cloud computing duly for its ability to provide on-demand services hosted and maintained over the Internet, without having to install the software locally. These services are usually prebuilt, functionally dependent, vertically integrated, and universally available applications. SaaS services have a large marketplace where products can be leased and utilized by various users for different purposes. For instance, a true TOS Cloud is a direct embodiment of a SaaS.

·         Platform as a Service (PaaS)

PaaS involves providing software and product development tools, including operating system support and software development frameworks where cloud consumers can build and deploy their applications for a specific use. PaaS services are typically readily accessible as they have been already deployed and configured. By implementing a PaaS environment, the cloud consumer does not have to set up and maintain any infrastructure. Giants like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform are the largest providers for a PaaS in the market.

·         Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

IaaS provides infrastructure and hardware usually to facilitate virtual machines running in the cloud with associated storage, processing capability, other relevant services, and network connectivity. In the IaaS environment, IT resources can be accessed and managed via cloud service-based interfaces and tools. IaaS services are essentially virtual machines that cloud consumers can utilize on a cloud platform. Some examples are Amazon EC2 which is available through AWS, and Google Compute Engine which is generated on the Google Cloud Console.

However, the shift from complex data machines towards online operations has instigated a stark trajectory in SaaS, accounting for 59% of all cloud workflows in 2018. Trailing behind, IaaS declined from 44% to 28%, while only 13% of workloads delivered as PaaS. Outpacing other cloud models, SaaS is projected to become the underlying foundation running operations for 73% of organizations by 2020.

In a global industry valued at billions, it is critical to be educated of the pervasive technologies that circulate the market and understand its potential; whether it can drive greater performance and reduce costs or become a massive flop. Cloud technology has become an integral asset for organizations as it engenders a spectrum of benefits. Container terminals should leverage their capabilities to derive the following benefits:

·         Cost Savings

The most common economic rationale for investing in cloud computing architecture resources is the drastic reduction or elimination in upfront IT investments. All infrastructure such as servers, storage, and applications are managed by the service provider which enables organizations to start small and increase their IT resource allocation accordingly, whenever they require. As a result, capital expenditure becomes non-existent. True cloud software is ‘pay-as-you-go,’ a flexible payment structure also facilitating massive savings as it is calculated based on the capacity used that month which can vary henceforth. Overall, marine terminals strive to reduce risk and prefer a much more tangible relationship between a software’s benefit and its costs. By adopting a complete TOS with a true cloud architecture, terminals can easily meet that objective.

·         Flexibility and Elasticity

Marine terminals confront large issues by focusing too much attention on their current computer and data-storage solutions, which can inhibit opportunities for terminal growth and enhanced efficiency. By implementing a cloud infrastructure, it counteracts these issues and offers marine terminals more flexibility overall. If a terminal were to require extra bandwidth, cloud-based services could meet their demand instantly, rather than having the terminal operators undergo a complex and expensive upgrade in their current IT solution, which leads back to the cost savings benefit. Mobility is another characteristic contributing to its flexible nature, as terminal operators are granted access to data and information from any location via any Internet-enabled device. Cloud computing operates on an abstract infrastructure so applications are not locked into devices or locations, and they can be easily moved if needed.

·         Quality Control and Manageability

Cloud computing provides enhanced and simplified methods of managing as well as maintaining IT capabilities by centralizing administration of resources; vendor managed infrastructure and SLA backed agreements. In a cloud-based system, all files are stored in one centralized system in a single format. By doing so, everyone can access the same information with the provision of a consistent stream of data while avoiding any human error and have access to clear records of any revisions or updates. Many marine terminals which have yet to adopt cloud-computing services face the risk of data and information losses because of their current software and hardware malfunctioning – differentiating from the conventional on-premise solution for terminals, a cloud-based TOS stores all the information and data in one location safely, mitigating this threat of data and information loss.

·         Scalability

If a TOS truly manifests a cloud infrastructure, it should hold the ability to scale resources to accommodate to terminals processing fluctuations in container moves or number of TEUs (Twenty-Food Equivalent unit) seamlessly and automatically in peak periods. The ability for marine terminals to scale is expedited by the flexibility and elasticity of cloud computing, as it provides pools of resources, tools, and technologies that are always readily available for terminals to leverage.

As technology advances to introduce innovative and new trends to the market, it is only a matter of time before it becomes liable to scrutiny as its benefits along with its drawbacks unravel. On the contrary, cloud technology per se is one of the most significant Internet breakthroughs that have proven until this day that it is no longer a trend but has become the natural solution to run operations for any organization of any size due to its numerous capabilities. Cloud computing architecture thrives in any environment, as its flexible framework makes it operable across all industries. However, aside from its notable benefits, there are potential risks that must be considered:

·         Security Vulnerabilities

Even though cloud computing services implement very rigid security standards, migrating business data and information to the cloud means that the responsibility for data security is shared with the TOS provider. Due to this, there is an underlying conception that cloud services are easy to access, facilitating nefarious users to scan, identify, and exploit loopholes within a system. However, the likelihood of this happening is extremely low. Adopting an on-premise TOS solution invites more security vulnerabilities since enterprises only have very few personnel who deals with all the IT software and hardware maintenance on the field whereas, in the cloud, there are many levels of security. The physical storage of data resides in cloud servers which are managed in highly protected data center facilities. Stringent protocols are implemented in these cloud campuses to fend off infiltration. It is also important to note that trained professionals with strong expertise maintain these facilities, offering greater coverage of security than on-premise TOS solutions.

·         Vendor Lock-In

When a terminal decides to implement a cloud-based TOS, all their information and data is stored into one cloud service used by its TOS provider. Vendor lock-in refers to the issue that arises when a terminal wishes to move their information and data to a different cloud service provider. TOS providers may experience difficulty when migrating information since different TOS Cloud may utilize different formats. For example, a terminal may be currently using a TOS that operates on a Microsoft Azure infrastructure, and it may not work properly if they decide to migrate to AWS EC2. However, the incompatibility issue is alleviated if the TOS Cloud truly adheres to cloud computing characteristics as it should not form binding data and be flexible for transfer.

·         Limited Control

Cloud services heed the most control as they provide the foundational platform for TOS providers to build their infrastructure and application. TOS providers can control the frontend infrastructure; information, data, and applications that operate on the platform but will have limited control of the backend infrastructure. Though this is not at all considered a detriment to any parties involved, and instead derives a beneficial relationship where responsibility is divided according to its capabilities such that cloud providers facilitate data storage, and the TOS provider  offers its functionalities on the cloud to terminals. Arguably, a paradox is also rendered from cloud computing as mentioned before; its increased mobility inherently attributes to greater control over terminal data.

The only real threat that requires imminent attention when acquiring a cloud-based TOS is when planning and management are executed poorly. Only organizations which fail to align its IT strategy with its business objectives, experience the drawbacks of cloud computing. Failure to effectively depict precisely the areas of inefficiency in a terminal makes it challenging to select the correct TOS which will render maximum advantages from cloud computing.

A few existing businesses fear their data and information is exposed to security vulnerabilities if they decide to adopt a cloud infrastructure. This factor remains as the most significant deterrent, preventing organizations from operating at its maximum potential level of efficiency. Cloud computing is portrayed as a liability when organizations make uninformed decisions which creates a rippling effect, accumulating into more significant and threatening issues. For instance, if a terminal adopts a TOS with forged cloud infrastructure in conjunction with not scaling resources correctly, expenses escalate while revenues dramatically drop. Investing in a multi-vendor strategy is also another poor management decision that incurs unnecessary costs to deviate from vendor lock-in.

Conventionally, the selection of a TOS has been contingent on the efficiency of the products powering applications and data as well as the volume of discounts incorporated into enterprise agreements. However, marine terminals confront the predicament of determining the optimal architect system to run their terminal operations. The notion to diverge computing workloads between different vendors  is instigated by the risk of service disruption and data lock-in. The well-established GPS application Waze is an epitome of this, where it simultaneously runs its applications across Google Cloud Platform and Amazon Web Services to strengthen their survival of a potential DNS DDOS attack, regional failure, or even a global failure of an entire cloud provider. Though, employing a multi-vendor strategy is not financially viable as committing resources to various cloud platforms is costly and resource intensive, enforcing additional staff training. Therefore, marine terminals must define and evaluate their business objectives to ensure there is a strong alignment with the cloud architecture they plan to implement.

Being reactive to the new and growing trends in technology allows terminals to seek better alternatives to manage their resources so they can persist in prospering both financially and operationally. More recently, the wave of a TOS Cloud has motivated ports and marine terminals to restructure their operations by moving to a cloud infrastructure. However, a terminal must conduct thorough research and take correct precautionary measures to find the best solution which will spawn an increase in ROI, lower expenses, and induce an overall increase in operational efficiency.

Marine terminals most importantly must expand their trust boundaries to refrain from becoming obsolete in an extremely valuable industry. Therefore, they must move from any redundant technologies and assess the most viable TOS Cloud solution in the market. Only then can they propel their productivity levels, cater to their current implications, and deliver the best results without jeopardizing their resources or growth.

About RBS:

Realtime Business Solutions (RBS) specializes in highly specific state-of-the-art TOS solutions and have worked exclusively in the Container Handling Industry for the past 25 years. Over this period. RBS has carried out the installation of the RBS TOPS software to many Container Handling operations around the globe.

RBS most recent products include TOPS Expert Enterprise and Cloud. At RBS, we are the first to create and implement a full TOS Cloud that incorporates technologies of automation, optimization, and real-time control and planning, all in one system. For more information, please visit our website www.rbs-tops.com.