Six questions hoteliers should ask providers of cloud-based systemsNewsBy Glenn Gruber | June 21, 2011Share This article was originally published on Cloud computing is hot and if you don't believe it, just ask a CIO.IBM did just that and surveyed 3,000 of them in its 2011 IBM Global CIO study, which found that CIO interest in cloud computing notched the greatest category increase compared with results from its survey two years earlier.And, if you consider virtualization -- when virtual servers are created on a single piece of hardware -- part of a private cloud strategy, and you should, then interest is even greater in cloud technologies than the chart indicates.It is fitting then that cloud computing will be one of the key themes at the 2011 HITEC conference in Austin, Texas, Frank Wolfe, CEO Hospitality Financial and Technical Professionals, which produces the show. Companies including Choice Hotels, PAR Springer-Miller and Newmarket International will be amongst those promoting their cloud offerings at HITEC. Choice described its cloud initiative here.However, in most cases, I wouldn’t expect to see hoteliers deploy their own cloud instances, but they are more likely to use CRS, PMS and RMS systems via a Software-as-a-Service model. Cloud/SaaS can bring many advantages over on-premise solutions for hoteliers. Among them: Conversion of CapEx (capital expenditure) to OpEx (operational expenditure);Access to the latest version without the pain often associated with upgrades;Removal of the burden of application and infrastructure management; andPotential for heightened security beyond internal capabilities. I’ve heard some in the industry voice concerns regarding availability, security and disaster recovery. And, Wolfe notes that part of HFTP’s role is to help educate its members about the pros and cons of cloud computing and help eliminate misinformation, which fuels fear, uncertainty and doubt.I understand that hoteliers worry about being cut off from their PMS and not being able to check in guests, or their CRS and not being able to take reservations, which can be disastrous given that room nights are a perishable good. Further, I can understand how events such as cloud outages and the ensuing headlines can fan the flames.The cloud does not fix poorly designed applications automagically, but good software design and architecture can address availability and security issues and it must take the computing environment into consideration.As I’ve written before, that’s why you need to understand your software provider’s architecture.But in evaluating whether to choose a cloud/SaaS solution over on premise you also need to do an honest evaluation of your own IT organization’s ability to manage your infrastructure. Google’s cloud-based Gmail service offers 99.984% availability, which is 46 times better than the average Microsoft Exchange implementation.In addition, the cloud is being used by the federal government and financial institutions, both of which likely have stricter, more complicated regulatory requirements than most hotels.And, major cloud platforms offer better physical and network security than virtually all hotel chains can provide. These examples show that the cloud is not inherently less secure or less available than on premise solutions.So, that being said, what are the six questions that you should ask hospitality software suppliers about their cloud offering, whether you’re at HITEC or not:1. Is it really cloud? You may think this a bit pedantic, but there is an awful lot of cloud-washing going on in the enterprise software business, so there’s no reason to think that hospitality software should be any different. There is so much buzz about “the cloud” that some may use the term while not implementing their solution in a public cloud manner. Some may simply be offering a hosted model in their own datacenters. They may employ some of the public cloud techniques like virtualization, but this is not necessarily the same thing. Some of the key aspects of real cloud offerings include: infinite bi-directional elasticity; pay for what you use; and detailed monitoring and reporting (governance)2. Do you have Service Level Agreements on RTO/RPO? OK, let’s start with a few definitions. RTO is Recovery Time Objective and RPO is Recovery Point Objective. These are critical disaster recovery attributes. Bascially they translates into how fast will you get my application back up and how far back in time are you backing up my data. If vendors don’t have SLAs on RPO then they’re likely not using continuous data protection techniques and you have a greater risk of losing data if the app crashes.3. What are the availability SLAs? It’s one thing to quote uptime in marketing materials, but at some point you have to put your money where your mouth is. The penalties never truly make up for the loss of service, but it gives you your best indication of what you can expect and the basis for how you should evaluate that performance against an existing solution.4. Is there an offline mode? Just because something is cloud-based doesn’t mean it only works when you’re online. There are techniques that can enable some level of offline functionality and then automatically synchronize when you’re back online.5. What about integration? A PMS or a CRS have to talk with other solutions, whether it be restaurant, golf facility, spa or accounting systems. One of the challenges in the early days of SaaS in the enterprise was that it was difficult to knit together different systems. Some companies build their own integrations, others use platforms like Boomi (acquired by Dell last year). But you need to find out what systems they integrate with automatically and check that against the other systems that you need to connect with. If there are gaps, ask the company how it will help you close them.6. How can I get my data back out? This is what I call the Hotel California syndrome. Software providers will gladly tell you how easy it is to get onboard, but rarely are they forthcoming about how you can get your data back out. Some refer to this as data portability. It’s critically important as you may need to change systems if you change flags or if you just don’t like the way the platform works. Be sure you are comfortable with the flexibility provided.Cloud computing can be a very useful tool for hoteliers. But before you make the move, be sure that you ask the right questions and get the right answers when choosing a platform.-----Note: Glenn Gruber is attending HITEC for Tnooz and Ness Technologies.