What is “Cloud Based” vs “Hosted” – Which is Better
Welcome to the inaugural issue of AKA, Ask Kevin (almost) Anything, the new monthly technology question-answer column, with a bit of advice thrown in. You can think of this column much like a Dear Abby for the parking industry. The genesis of this column came from a conversation with one of my clients about selecting a new PARCS (Parking Access & Revenue Control System). He is a 30-year industry vet who said that for most of his career, he understood the technology behind the systems he purchased. But over the past five years, the systems had become so technologically advanced (or at least that is what the vendors claimed) that he felt lost. Realizing that he couldn’t look like he didn’t know what he was talking about to his clients, he told me, “I just wished there was some way I could ask these questions and not feel stupid doing it.”
The goal of this column, then, is to answer the technology (and other) questions that you have always wondered about, but never wanted to look like you didn’t know. You can send your questions to me, and I will answer them anonymously on this column. This column is a technology “safe space”: there are no stupid questions here.
Now, you might be asking yourself: who is this guy, and what does he know about all this technology nonsense? That is a very valid question these days, so let me introduce myself. My name is Kevin Uhlenhaker, and I have been in parking my whole career. I got my start in parking in the Texas Tech University Parking Department in a student employee job working on the Parking Department’s website and providing overall tech support to the department.
From there, I joined T2 Systems as a software developer. During my almost ten years there, I worked on everything from software development to product support, and I even dabbled with a bit of sales engineering. I was also on the team that helped build the first versions of T2’s PARCS solution.
After T2 Systems, I spent a year at the PARCS provider ParkingSoft, before leaving to co-found NuPark. I was privileged to serve as the CEO of NuPark for five years before Passport Labs acquired us. After leaving Passport Labs, I founded SLS Insights to provide technology and management consulting to the parking and other related industries.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get to our first question.
Dear Kevin, it seems all the new parking technology is claiming to be “Cloud-Based,” “Hosted,” “Web-Based,” or some combination of all three. What is the difference, and does it matter? Confused in Chicago
Dear Confused in Chicago,
You bring up one of those situations where marketing lingo can confuse the actual technology in use. Additionally, some companies intentionally leverage the confusion to give the impression that their product offers something more advanced than their current products.
Let’s start with some basic definitions.
Cloud-Based: A term that refers to applications, services, or resources made available to users on-demand via the Internet from a cloud computing provider’s servers. (Webopedia)
Hosted: A computer, usually a server, containing data, files, or programs that another computer can access by means of a network. (Webopedia)
Web-Based: Any program that is accessed over a network connection using HTTP rather than existing within a device’s memory. Web-based applications often run inside a web browser. (Techopedia)
Local or Desktop Application: An application that runs stand-alone on a desktop or laptop computer. Also known as a Thick Client Application. (PC Magazine)
To simplify things further, when you see the terms “hosted” or “cloud-based,” think “where the data lives”; when you see “Web-Based or Desktop Application”, think “how I interact with the data.” An easy way to recognize this is if you get to your application using a web browser (Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer), then it is likely web-based; if not, then it is likely a Desktop Application.
Cloud-Based and Hosted are typically used interchangeably. This means the servers which are used to store and process data are located at a remote facility used to support many servers in a central location. This is different from having the server located locally, for example, in your parking garage or office closet. Examples of hosting providers include RackSpace, GoDaddy, BlueHost, Azure (Microsoft), AWS (Amazon), and Google Cloud. Just because something is hosted does not mean it is web-based. Additionally, just because it is web-based, it does not necessarily indicate it is cloud-hosted.
Now, what does all this mean to you? At the end of the day, not necessarily a whole lot. Arguments can be made for the benefits of both locally hosted and cloud-based solutions as well as desktop and web-based applications. Instead of focusing on the technology behind the solution, look for (and, more importantly, ask to be shown) the functionality that technology provides. Additionally, ensure that the ongoing support levels meet the needs and IT capabilities of your organization. For example, a mature, locally hosted, desktop application with great support and full functionality very well might meet the needs of your organization better than a newer cloud-based web application, which is lacking necessary functionality and provides a lower level of on-going customer support. On the other hand, a new cloud web-based solution might be precisely what your resource-strapped, consumer-facing organization needs.
Always ask yourself these questions: How does this technology benefit our organization’s daily operations? Are we ready to do the work needed to integrate this new technology into our organization fully? Does this technology make us better at what we do daily? Technology should be a tool that improves the lives of those who use it. Confused in Chicago, thank you for your question. Hopefully, my response was helpful.
If you have a question, please send it my way at firstname.lastname@example.org.