© Ugur Akinci
I’m not a regular Author-it user but, having sat through a webinar presented by the company Founder and CEO Paul Trotter, I have to say that I’m impressed by Author-it’s new SaaS (Software As A Service) cloud platform.
Author-it is an integrated single-sourcing and structured-authoring editor. It’s integrated in the sense that you do not need to buy additional software to, for example, generate a help file from your source files, or create a PDF document or post your content to a web site. With FrameMaker or MS Word, for example, you need another application like WebWorks or RoboHelp to generate help files from your FM source files. In that sense, neither is as integrated as Author-it.
Author-it Cloud is an online service you subscribe to and pay a license subscription fee per person per month. There is nothing to buy and install.
According to a majority of the webinar participants (64%), the one outstanding benefit of the cloud platform is its anytime-anywhere availability. I totally concur with that. No more the rush back to the office to finish that critical assignment just before a deadline. You can hookup to the Author-it Cloud from anywhere you like and finish your work from wherever you may be. Author-it guarantees 99.9% up-time availability but “externalities” and “environmental factors” like a slow Internet connection etc. are not included in that guarantee.
Trotter’s presentation was pretty fast. The screens flew by at every click without any hang time. If that’s an indication of an average user’s experience, the cloud will rule — if, that is, you can afford it. At this writing the “professional” category of subscription costs $200 a month per user (starting January 9, 2012) and the “enterprise” level subscription costs $300 per user per month (Spring 2012).
The main AI portal presents a switchboard of available modules
On the left navigation bar, there are links to configuration options like Users, User Groups, etc.
Basically, you need to have a User Name and a Password to enter the portal through an Internet connection. In addition, as a user you need to be on the list of ACTIVE USERS. If you are labeled as an INACTIVE user by the admin, you cannot access the system.
There are two main types of Author-it subscribers: 1) Users (Writers), and 2) Reviewers. A reviewer becomes activated automatically by taking part in a review and again becomes inactive automatically by completing the review.
Before going any further, let’s mention the BENEFITS of a SaaS Cloud platform:
- Lower upfront setup and hardware costs and lower TOC (Total Ownership Cost) in the long-run.
- Faster ramp-up time and implementation.
- Anytime-anywhere access. If you’ve got an Internet connection, you’ve got Author-it.
- Strong disaster recovery. If everything crashes in the middle of writing that million-dollar document set, you can use regular onsite (daily) and offsite (weekly) backups.
- Greater vendor accountability. When things go wrong, you know whom to call and blame. “You’ve got one throat to choke,” as Trotter put it succinctly.
- Easier hardware and software update and support since all updates are made automatically by Author-it. Nothing to download, or buy and install.
Paul Trotter listed the main FEATURES of the Author-it SaaS Cloud platform as follows:
- Performance is the main concern over the Internet. SaaS performance is said to be even better than the performance of onsite-maintained platforms due to superior system architecture, dynamic load sharing, HW optimization, etc. which are all taken care of behind scenes by Author-it. A well-maintained back-end assures a high front-end performance.
- Monitoring. Author-it says their systems are monitored 24-7 and alarms issued promptly at any mishap. The clients can monitor the status of their systems 24-7 through their portal.
- Scalability. You can start small and expand as you go along. Scalability is assured as a matter of fact.
- Disaster Recovery. As we mentioned earlier, all files are backed up both onsite (daily) and offsite (weekly).
- Availability. Author-it guarantees 99.9% availability in writing, by contract. “Or else, we pay you,” is how Trotter put it. External factors beyond Author-it’s control like the unavailability of Internet etc. are of course not included in that guarantee. Enough redundancy is built into the network through multiple network connections to prevent downtime. The “hot swap” feature provides real-time swapping from one server to another to assure project continuity without any interruptions.
- Data Security is provided by third-party vendors through a SAS 70 Data Center. Both the network access and backups are all encrypted. Author-it does not use “shared databases.” All clients have their own databases thus no one has any access to any other DBs.
The Million Dollar Question
Of course, the “burning question” when it comes to ANY cloud application is this:
“How secure is the cloud compared to its on-site equivalent?”
The question is a real one since in a cloud situation you are turning over all your database to the vendor. Your database, with all its proprietary and confidential content, will be sitting on the vendor’s servers. So you have every right to be concerned about the level of security that the vendor provides.
48% of the webinar participants said they thought the security risks between the two alternatives was just about the same. Only 29% thought cloud was less secure. So apparently this is not as big an issue as some observers think it is.
I personally cannot say that my questions about cloud security have been answered yet to my satisfaction. But I recognize this: just because something is on-site and sitting on a server next room does NOT mean that it’s secure. You can lose your data even if you keep it on a machine right next to you.
And secondly: this is exactly like how most of us probably felt when the microwave ovens were first introduced. Any new technology brings with itself an initial resistance, a sense of uncertainty which is usually expressed as a “security question.” But I guess with every passing day, as we get used to the pros and cons of the cloud and as more companies prove their worth with the way they conduct their business, we’ll warm up better to the idea, especially when we start reaping its benefits.
So at this point I’m looking at the “security question” as something that will become moot in the long run.