When “The Cloud” Bursts And You Lose Data Control

Jim Luff
Posted on October 17, 2016

Just about every operator has once experienced a data crash, leaving business dead in the water. Waiting for service to reconnect while you lose rides and communication can cause grief and anxiety.

Few panic-stricken operators would understand or find comfort in such terms as “service interruptions,” “connectivity issues,” and “global caches” during an outage. So what exactly is “the cloud” behind all this, and if your data and program reside in it, do you have any control?

Hosted, Cloud, Remote and In-House Servers

There are four types of computer application delivery methods available to operators in the scheduled transportation industry, says FASTTRAK Technologies CEO, Eddie McCoy, CPA.

FASTTRAK Cloud’s Eddie McCoy

FASTTRAK Cloud’s Eddie McCoy

  • Hosted Services: Typically, a local stand-alone data center that stores the reservations data on an internal server and provides access to its reservation software program through the Internet. In general, the information is stored in a single location but may have redundant or backup servers updating constantly in the same facility. Examples of hosted services include Corporate Car Online and Limo Anywhere.
  • Cloud Platform Services: Generally more globally located with servers worldwide and operated by such companies as Microsoft Cloud, Amazon and Backspace. There is less chance of a system wide outage because of the multiple server locations. Microsoft Cloud, for example, uses two additional replicas of data on a second and third server to reduce or eliminate outages due to server failures. If a server was to fail and go offline, the next server in line would still function. This is the platform FASTTRAK Cloud Livery Systems uses.
  • Remote Desktop: This is when you link your computer through the Internet to a software reservations system on its own in-house server or a provider such as Livery Coach Software using Windows remote desktop to connect. In another comparison, many operators use offsite dispatchers who connect to the operator’s office-based server using Teamviewer, Logmein, or other remote desktop software. This isn’t really true cloud computing, but some people refer to it as that.
  • In-House Server: A single computer or client/server network configuration. A dedicated server in a closet, under your desk or somewhere in your office where your software program and data reside and workstations on each desk get their information from the local in-house server. McCoy estimates most operators still use this type of system.
Cloud-Based Benefits
  • Run business from wherever you are
  • Staff can work remotely
  • Send drivers assignments and signs electronically
  • Use phones or tablets to perform work (reservations, tickets, signs, closing etc.)
  • Growth from one job per day to 1,000 jobs per day
  • Able to grow as you do without buying larger, faster servers to keep up
  • No need to hire an outside IT company or computer techs to help you
  • No personal computer is needed

Paula DeBiasi, president of Chicago Coachworks, says choosing the best system for an individual operator requires the right technical guidance.  The decision should be based on your primary goals, McCoy adds. Cloud-based solutions provide some features that meet the needs and demands of field-based operations instead of working from an office and support mobility. 

Which Should I Use?

“People may not fully understand the implications of choosing a cloud over a server-based solution, and that the proper equipment and Internet speed are key factors in how effective their application access will be,” DeBiasi says. “Regardless of which option, contingency and disaster/recovery plans are a must. There is no such thing as 100% availability of any system, regardless of platform or architecture.”

Vulnerabilities: In-House vs. Cloud

In-house and cloud-based systems are always vulnerable to many circumstances from “Acts of God” to electrical power grid failures, downed phone lines and hackers, to name a few potential disruptors. Obviously, the loss of access to your data is a major problem, so let’s examine some of the vulnerabilities of each type:

Tim Weigman of Boulevard Limousine 

Tim Weigman of Boulevard Limousine 

In-house: While many think data stored online is more likely to be stolen or hacked, data stored in a cloud environment is much less susceptible to hacking and outsider intrusion or theft than data stored in-house. The reason is most operators are good at running ground transportation companies but lack the skills to protect

and secure their networks. They have limited knowledge

of firewalls and other technology that prevent hacking. A virus

infected email opened out of curiosity can easily take down your entire network, McCoy says. That breach can cause your data to leak into the wrong hands and cripple your operation. Power failures leave you helpless because your server is down. The only solution is a large battery back-up system or generator.

Cloud-Based Systems: Weak spots in cloud computing are less likely to occur because the success and growth of the hosting business are based on the quality of controls and standards managed by skilled and experienced technicians who safeguard the infrastructure. Of course, access to the Internet is required, so if you are in a dead zone with your cell phone, your router crashes or for any other reason you can’t connect to the Internet, you wouldn’t be able to function. If using a pay-for-data phone plan, you could incur additional charges from your phone carrier. Slow Internet speeds can plague operations. 

In-House Server Benefits
  • One time server purchase
  • Inexpensive to operate
  • Use your own software, prepackaged software, or custom software
  • Control (and responsibility) of your own reservations data
  • Add workstations as needed

How The Cloud Can Fail

As mentioned, data is susceptible to all types of external causes. Weather conditions in the area can affect operations along with rare occurrences of a damaged telephone trunk line feeding the building. Just as limo operators can have engine failures, any data center can experience failure in their equipment as well. However, some perceived failures occurring with an individual user may be caused by equipment at the end user location rather than the cloud provider, says Tim Wiegman of Boulevard Limousine in Kansas City, Mo.

In a hypothetical situation explained by Weigman, a cloud-based software provider could offer its users an update which demands a higher allocation of memory than the operator’s computer is capable of loading quickly.

“This would largely be attributed to an operator purchasing a low-end computer with three or four GB of RAM, and it would appear to make software such as Limo Anywhere or FASTTRAK Cloud run slow when in fact it is the operator’s computer running slow and has nothing to do with the cloud provider,” Weigman says.

Jason Sharenow of Broadway Elite Chauffeured Service Worldwide 

Jason Sharenow of Broadway Elite Chauffeured Service Worldwide 

In-House Data Management     

Obviously, some operators will never trust anyone with their data or simply want to manage and maintain their own systems. That’s fine as long as you are technically savvy or have a good IT person, whether internal or contracted. Jason Sharenow, COO of Broadway Elite Chauffeured Service Worldwide in East Hanover, N.J., maintains dual servers in two locations updated every three hours. This came from a lesson learned as a result of hurricanes. Trent Maas, IT manager for Limousine Scene in Bakersfield, Calif., uses an external “mirror drive” attached to the server which could easily be plugged into another computer in an emergency. However, if the building were to burn to the ground, all the data on the physical drives would be lost. As a back-up to the back-up, the server is updated five times a day to a cloud storage site for an added layer of protection, Maas says. In-house servers must be protected from unauthorized access from outside sources, which requires technical knowledge.

Operator NJ Diaz Schneider

Operator NJ Diaz Schneider

Old School

Many operators still use paper to take reservations because their low volume allows them to or they simply distrust computers. NJ Diaz Schneider, a Calgary, Alberta operator who owns Dream Exotic Luxury Car, prefers to do it the old fashioned way with pen and paper.

Dianna Zanglin, owner of Cleveland Taxi Limo, also handles runs by paper, but then enters the information into a cloud-based system after the call. If her system fails, she always has a paper copy on hand. Operators who do this will never experience the anxiety of a computer crash, whether from outside or within.

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Related Topics: cloud computing, online reservations, reservations, reservations access, reservations management, websites

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