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On a Cloud
Cloud computing provides business management solutions without the hassle of infrastructure maintenance and costs.
By Jeffrey Noles
A s a new wave of IT and digital technologies inundates the dental laboratory industry, many laboratory owners and managers remain confused about the best way to invest their precious capital. Laboratories face purchasing decisions about expensive CAD/CAM milling machines, 3-D printers, laser-sintering systems, and low-cost outsourcing for digital coping fabrication. But there is another option most laboratory owners have heard little about—cloud computing.
Cloud computing can save laboratory owners money and increase sales. Cloud computing “will be the dominant technology platform for the next 20 years,” says Frank Gens, chief analyst at the global research firm IDC. For those unacquainted with the technology, cloud computing is a straightforward concept that a small handful of laboratories are already using with web-based lab management software.
What Is It?
Many people already use cloud computing, but they might not even realize it. Gmail or Hotmail accounts are forms of cloud computing, in addition to the auction and marketplace services provided by craigslist and eBay. Last year, an article in The Wall Street Journal summarized1 the concept: “Broadly speaking, any service or program sent over an Internet connection can be considered a cloud service. An outside vendor runs the servers and software, so the buyer doesn’t have to worry about the technical issues in-house—and can focus on its own business.” Put another way, businesses “buy” software, data processing, and storage from a cloud service provider just as a household buys electricity from its local utility. In doing so, cloud customers only pay for what they consume.
How Does It Work?
Because users only need a computer and an Internet connection to access software and services, all of the traditional headaches of IT—purchasing servers, setting up software, maintaining networks and hiring IT support—are taken care of “in the cloud.” The cloud computing service provider handles data backup and security, in addition to providing continuous updates so users always have the latest version of the software. In other words, it is not actually a cloud.
While most cloud services store the user’s data in more than one location for security and redundancy, there is still a dedicated server, somewhere, that holds the information. Google maintains more than 1 million individual servers around the globe for its cloud services, including Gmail and Google Documents. Since cloud service providers absorb IT costs, larger organizations, both old and new, are embracing cloud computing to save costs they would have spent on in-house hardware and software.
Some business owners, however, are afraid of not having databases stored on hardware on their premises. Nevertheless, cloud computing is earning a reputation for reliability and security that few companies can match internally. In the United States alone, the $68.3 billion spent on cloud services in 2010 is expected to rise to $148.8 billion by 2014, according to technology research and advisory firm Gartner.
Web-Based Management Systems
Web-based lab management software was the first industry-specific application of cloud computing in dental technology. Similar to a Google search, users can get immediate access to the software through their regular browser because installation and setup is instantaneous. For larger laboratories, web-based software empowers them to manage multiple sites without the need for expensive networking gear, software, and servers.
Currently, only two companies provide completely web-based dental lab management software systems—SoundBite Technology and Evident Labs. SoundTrack (www.soundbite.com) and Evident (www.evidentlabs.com) employ two different approaches to pricing.
SoundTrack has a pay-as-you-go monthly subscription consistent with cloud computing, while Evident offers a fixed monthly user license familiar to current lab management software users. Both systems have modest setup fees, and the average monthly cost is usually a few hundred dollars for each software system, depending on total users, unit volume, and software features.
Since users avoid hardware maintenance costs and hassles, these subscription fees reflect the true software cost. After setting up an account, users receive a login name and password. Creating one-time settings takes just a few hours, and in most cases, users can transfer client and case information from previously used lab management software.
The cost savings and innovative sales tools that web-based software provides are helping laboratories grow both their businesses and their bottom lines.
About the Author
Jeffrey Noles is the chief executive officer of SoundBite Technology, which provides the web-based SoundTrack dental laboratory management system.
1. Cheng R. ‘Cloud computing’: what exactly is it, anyway? The Wall Street Journal. 8 Feb. 2010. Available at: http://online.wsj.com.