Cloud Computing, SaaS and Digital Signage

November 18, 2010

I was asked three questions today and I had so much fun responding to them I thought I would share them with you.

How closely related is cloud-computing with SaaS? Are they the same concept? If not, what do you see are the differences?

From my perspective cloud computing is an abstracted layer above SaaS, that a SaaS provider may, or may not choose to take advantage of. Amazon, Google, Rackspace and others provide a computational and storage cloud that can free the provider of software as a service (SaaS) from the complexity of managing server farms, bandwidth, demand spikes, access points, etc. etc. and allow them to just focus on the functionality of their service. And if done right the SaaS provider who uses cloud computing can have a variable cost model that allows them to know precisely what one more user or display will cost them.

The alternative, managing your own server farm, generally means that every expansion of your farm results in a substantial cost outlay for continual, but small, incremental growth. Meaning that each increment in the server farm infrastructure raises the overall variable cost of each user and display on the system until volume returns to some average across the entire farm, but then the cycle repeats, making it very difficult to cost and plan for expansion.

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For just these reasons we have moved from providing a digital signage SaaS product on a hosted server farm to Google's infrastructure. We chose them because of all of the reasons mentioned above.

How can cloud-computing customers leverage their cloud to include digital signage services?

This is the age of the mash-up / business to business mesh, and all of those web 2.0 lingo stuff that everyone keeps throwing around. Aside from the lingo, the points are completely valid. By putting yourself on the cloud you are now able to access and use everything you they do from anywhere, using any kind of device and most importantly you can "mash" or "mesh" what you are doing with others that reside in the cloud to provide a better offer or service to whoever your intended target is. And you can do it for far less cost and distraction.

In our case we used to manage about 30 servers, some hosted, some in our office and heck of allot of equipment in between to keep it all going. It was very difficult to keep running, secure and god forbid if you wanted to work from home or mix desktop operating systems or use your mobile phones. And, worst of all, it was really hard to mesh what you did with any other services that weren't absolutely compatible. We did away with the servers, went to the cloud, saved hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, and now everyone works in the environment of their choice - actually they all cross environments constantly - Windows, Ubuntu, OSX, iOS and Android - from anywhere on the planet that has reliable Internet. All of these benefits apply to all who embrace cloud computing, including those who use digital signage. Your digital signage should not be the reason to break this model and lose these benefits, or use a service that is so proprietary that it is impossible to mesh it with your existing cloud computing usage. Let's take for example media asset storage and usage for digital signage. A very common issue and function. I doubt that the entire digital signage industry, I mean everyone, would equal the user base of cloud storage services like Box.Net or DropBox. I admit this is anecdotal on my part but hear me through for a moment. My point is that cloud storage service providers are going to deliver a far superior and cost effective product for managing media assets than any single digital signage provider could. So why pay your digital signage provider to do this for you? Why not use the most cost effective and functional cloud service and "mesh" it with your digital signage product?

What is needed to have “digital signage in the cloud?”

From the digital signage developer and providers perspective: Pick a reliable cloud provider, with global access points, a development environment you like, move everything you do to the cloud so that you live it and can build for it, use open, non-proprietary standards, create API's for everything so that anyone can leverage what you do, don't build what others do better - mesh / mash it up, know your variable display / user costs to the fraction of a penny, and take advantage of your new found focus and of all of those cost savings to deliver a great product for the best price possible. And, last, but definitely not least, get over your proprietary ways and open source what you do so that you can leverage the crowd to deliver something that is bigger that what you are.

From the users perspective: Okay. I have a bias, I admit it. It's pretty simple. Pick a digital signage provider that is doing everything in the paragraph above. ;-)