The Cloud

What’s the story with Cloud computing?

Let’s start with an explanation.  Chances are your office uses a standard client/server network which consists of client computers and a server that stores all of your patient information and images.   Cloud computing differs from this, in simple terms, by moving your data offsite and eliminating the need for a server.

To illustrate this difference, think about gmail, yahoo email, or any other web based email program. When you log into www.gmail.com to view your email, you are cloud computing. Google is storing your data, you are simply accessing from an internet capable device.

What is good about Cloud computing?

·         Less hassle. With no server to care for, you no longer have to worry about updates, backups, security, and other common maintenance items associated with a server.

·         Availability. Because your data is housed in the cloud, it is available from any computer that has internet access. Think again of email, this is accessible anywhere, not just at the office.

·         Cost. We’ll find this in the bad section too, but you no longer have the cost of a server to worry about. This means no large upfront equipment and setup cost.

·         Fault Tolerance: In a Cloud computing environment, you never have to worry about your server crashing. In the Cloud, applications can switch to other servers if one crashes, so in theory there is never downtime due to hardware malfunctions.

What is bad about Cloud computing?

·         Reliance on internet. How many times does your office lose internet connection? Chances are it’s not too often, but in a Cloud computing environment you will also lose access to your data if internet ever goes down.  A 2nd internet connection is recommended as a backup.

·         Data is in someone else’s possession. If you’re like me, you might be a little uneasy knowing someone else is in charge of your data. Although they are often better equipped to care for and protect your data, it can still be unnerving for some folks knowing their data is somewhere else.

·         Speed.  Your computers can currently talk to your server at 100 or (hopefully) 1000 Mega Bits Per Second (Mbps).  Under Cloud computing you must rely on your internet connection, which at best might reach 20 Mbps. There are some creative ways that Cloud companies compensate for this, but it would be a long shot to match the performance of your in house server.

·         Cost. As mentioned above, you avoid  the initial server cost. Depending on your configuration, the monthly fees for Cloud computing may or may not be a long term cost savings.  This would take some analysis.

What does Greg think about Cloud computing?

I think it’s absolutely wonderful in the right scenario. I use google’s Cloud services for my email, calendar, contacts, and documents. It allows me to access these items anywhere in the world from any computer, tablet, or smartphone. Set up was extremely easy and there is no overhead.

In Dental, my personal opinion is that Cloud computing might just be the way of the future, but isn’t yet worth the tradeoff for most offices.  In my experience, speed is such an important aspect of day to day operations in a Dental office that it would be very difficult to use anything but the fastest system available. For imaging especially, the fastest system available to you is a server sitting in your office. 

Cloud computing for your Practice Management system can provide a lot of nice features as listed above. For those reasons a number of Dental Practices are making the transition, and with good results. For now, however, my opinion is that you can accomplish everything right in your own Practice with a traditional Server installation.

What are your thoughts?

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