The cloud is no longer the future of IT — it’s now the present state. We have already seen the cloud having a transformational effect on both businesses and individuals all over the world. So what exactly is cloud computing, and how can it benefit the transportation industry today?
Gartner Inc. defines cloud computing as “a style of computing where massively scalable IT-related capabilities are provided ‘as a service’ using Internet technologies to multiple external customers.” Instead of storing software and data on a local PC hard drive or on data servers as businesses have for many years, cloud computing uses the power of the Internet to store and distribute data online.
Some businesses more loosely name other data storage and communication infrastructure as a “cloud.” An Intranet, for instance, is simply an internal network housed behind the firewall. Developing an Intranet, no matter how complex, is not cloud computing. Other businesses might take advantage of a group of servers or load balanced servers for backup and redundancy. Again, those data storage options utilize traditional computing strategies, not cloud computing.
Public IT cloud services are Internet browser-based and are available to any person or entity. Cloud services are off-site from a customer standpoint and do not require any dedicated, application-specific or proprietary client-side hardware or software to support access. Since cloud services are stored offsite, they provide a level of backup and redundancy that is beneficial to any industry, but they can also improve efficiency significantly in the transportation market.
A February 2011 report by International Data Corp. (IDC) states the services and distribution sector — which includes vertical markets such as retail, professional services and transportation — contributes the largest share of U.S. public IT cloud services revenue. Currently a $3 billion market, IDC estimates the services and distribution sector’s public IT cloud market will more than double to $8.5 billion by 2014.
Worldwide revenue from public IT cloud services exceeded $16 billion in 2009 and is forecast to reach $55.5 billion in 2014. This rapid growth rate is more than five times the projected rate of growth for traditional IT products (Figure 1).
Early adopters in the transportation industry are using cloud computing today, and the data shows the market is poised for fast growth. In 2008, total transit ridership reached an estimated 10.5 billion unlinked trips, the greatest number of trips taken on transit since 1956. Although cloud computing does not make sense for every transportation application, its key value lies in bringing various measurements together into one useful dashboard.
By connecting devices in transportation directly to the cloud, agencies can bring multiple pieces of data together from square one for a more accurate and dynamic picture. At the same time, operational efficiencies are gained by eliminating the need for 10 different employees to analyze 10 different dashboards with data such as ridership, delays or vehicle safety. Through the cloud, the data also becomes available much more quickly, in near real-time, allowing managers to make quick adjustments for better service. Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of connecting transportation devices to the cloud.
The Device Cloud
Traditional transportation IT departments are set up with an IT director and staff, a network infrastructure, and local data centers. For many years, the transportation industry has been exchanging information, such as passenger counts and vehicle diagnostics, through a local network. Using cloud services to store fleet data may be where Web-based capabilities can have the largest effect in the transportation industry.