ABS in the Cloud
ABS is being used in the cloud right now by some offices.
So how are they doing it when this software was originally designed to be run on a Local Area Network? Good question that has several answers depending on your ultimate goal. In this article, vendors mentioned are done so as examples and should not be considered an endorsement.
So, what is The Cloud? According to the MIT Technology Review, the term was first used in late 1996, when executives at Compaq Computer were evaluating the future of Internet business and called it cloud computing. In fairness, it has only become a popular term since about 2006, when Amazon and Google began using cloud to describe the way people access software, compute power, and files via the Internet. They basically turned cloud into a modern buzzword. Without the Internet, the word cloud would only represent water and ice crystals in the sky.
We are often asked, can ABS be web-based, or can it be run in the cloud. The answer is absolutely yes, and a good number of offices are doing it right now. However, there are several alternatives, and the actual solution depends on what is really needed. We’ll take them in the order in which I think the question was really intended.
Application Service Provider (ASP)
This is for offices who want to open the program, go to work, and not deal with servers, networks, or backing up their data. They just want to use their agency management system in the same way they browse the internet. Fortunately, ASP vendors specialize in putting application designed for a PC network on the web. It is their job to make it seem as if the program was designed for the internet. By using an ASP all you have to do is log into a website they create for you, open ABS and go to work. With an ASP, ABS is in the cloud. You can open it anywhere you have an Internet connection. Naturally, ASP providers charge for their service. They have to have a server computer for you, and they must maintain the computer, and they must backup your system, and so on. However, ASP is a booming industry, and a web search will turn up hundreds of companies. There are even sites that list and rate them. However, in selecting an ASP, you need to clarify just what they will do, their guaranteed up-time, and their rate structure. It is also a good idea to find out if they have experience working with insurance agencies. Ajasent.com is one that specializes in working with insurance agencies, and agency management systems. They have firsthand experience with providing ABS software on the cloud. Using an ASP vendor such as Ajasent may be the fastest and most convenient way to agency management that is totally in the cloud.
A quick note about this technology
Prior to the popularity of the cloud, the number of desk-top applications used in the business world was staggering. The industry-wide investment had to be in the trillions. Think of the cost of converting all those programs to pure web based applications. Forget the cost. Think about how long it would take — 10 years, 15, 20…too many. Businesses needed a way to run those perfectly good programs in the Internet, without having to re-invent them. That was the driving force behind the development of the technology used by Application Service Providers. I mention this to emphasize the power and reliability of this technology. It is used by pillars of industry, as well as our Federal Government. It is available to you, too.
It is very convenient to have a 3rd party ASP. They do everything for you, but that can be a little expensive. It is possible to do it yourself, but you may need a little professional help. You’ll certainly need a high-speed Internet connection, a Windows Server, and the software that turns ABS into a cloud-based application. A multi-user licenses of Remote Desktop is one example of that software. It is an extra cost add-on to the Windows Server Operating System, and can be purchased from Microsoft. A competing product is available from www.citrix.com. The ASP providers mentioned above, use these products. Either of these alternatives allow ABS to be installed on the server, and accessed simultaneously by multiple users (either remotely or locally). Additionally, the program does not need to be installed on each workstation. Only one copy needs be installed on the server, and multiple users can open it via the local network or the Internet. There is no need to install the program on every workstation. This literally makes ABS a web-based application that can be used by any web browser, even a laptop, tablet or smart phone. Although, the screen on a smart phone would not be realistic for an application that displays as much information as ABS. The beauty of this scenario is that ABS can be accessed from anywhere in the world where there is an Internet connection – just as if an ASP were hosting it. You could be on vacation in Hawaii, walk into an Internet Cafe, and securely access your agency information. Reality: It is probably not within the expertise of agency staff to operate and maintain this kind of server. You will probably need the assistance of an on-call IT Professional. So, if you really want your system in the cloud, it is probably better to pay an ASP provider, and free yourself from the headache of running your own web server, and the expense of an on-call IT person..
Occasional Remote Access
For the office that sometimes needs to let someone work from a remote location, such as home, there are a few inexpensive solutions. They all require a computer in the office be free for the remote worker to access. That is usually okay if the off-site worker is normally in the office, and their computer is idle on the days they are away. If that is not the case, a computer must be provided for the off-site worker to use via a remote access service. Typical remote access services are www.logmein.com, www.GotoMyPC.com, or www.TeamViewer.com. There are other similar vendors, and later versions of Windows even have Remote Desktop (previously called Terminal Services). Regardless of what is used, the remote user takes over the operation of the in-house computer, just as if they were sitting at the desk. Naturally, that means that office computer can’t be used by anyone other than the remote worker. Some offices get around this inconvenience by keeping an old computer in service when it is replaced by a newer computer. This is a very good solution assuming the remote worker is not full time. They might get tired of working on an old, slow, boat anchor.
Summary / Conclusion
All of the above is intended to give you enough background to make an informed decision. It also begs the question, which is better, an application that was designed for the web (HTML), or one like ABS using an ASP? Personally, I don’t like the “designed-for-web” apps. They simply don’t use monitor real estate very efficiently. The data fields take up too much room. The result is a program that requires lots of windows to see the same information that can fit on a desktop application. For me, that means running a desk-top application on an ASP is far faster, and more efficient. Here is my rationale:
- Because HTML demands more space to display information on your monitor, ASP apps take fewer page changes to do the same job. ABS on ASP is faster.
- ASP apps tend to look and behave the same, regardless of which web browser you prefer. The same cannot always be said about HTML.
- ASP apps look and behave the same regardless of where they are run (on the web, or on a local PC). This eliminates the learning curve when making the switch to, or from, cloud computing.
- If your Internet goes down, you can still run the ASP app on your local computer (assuming you have your own server and are not using an application service provider).