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How the Cloud Works for Aviation

July 22, 2012

It seems that everywhere we turn, “the cloud” seems to be the buzzword of the day for anything new. There’s “in the cloud” and “cloud-based”  “web 2.0” or even “SaaS”, which is also “the cloud.” What’s this all about and how does this work for GA?

What Is the Cloud Anyway?

I grew up thinking that clouds were big, fluffy and made of marshmallows.  But when we talk about the cloud in the today’s world, we’re really speaking of a large computer system sitting in a faraway building.  When we want to use a cloud program, we connect to that computer over the internet, usually using a web browser or a mobile device application.  We don’t have to buy that big computer; instead “cloud-based” companies own the physical machine and share it across many users.  We don’t have to purchase and install software on our own computer. The whole thing happens across lots of wires, networks and equipment.  Because the details of how all this works is complicated, and not that important, we simply started drawing this as a big fluffy “cloud.”

How Can This Help Me as a Pilot?

Before cloud-based services became popular, most of us would purchase computer software, load it on our own personal computers, and be on our way. Personal finance applications, flight planning applications and even software to keep track of my pilot times could be purchased and loaded with a simple floppy disk or CD. As software and computers get more sophisticated, the installation and maintenance of the software starts to cost time and money. And so the cloud helps us tremendously here because we just create an account on that large computer in the cloud, and off we go.  If you have used Google Mail or Hotmail, then you have already used a cloud-based service.

A Typical Cloud for GA

Since the cloud system is really across the internet, we’re also able to access all of our important information from any corner of the world.  We also don’t need to lug around our own computer to do this,  a simple mobile tablet or a friend’s laptop will work just fine. Want to switch from a PC to a Mac or tablet?  No problem. Well-designed cloud services can run on any system and your data will automatically be shared across all of your devices.

There’s another big benefit of the cloud. Because the cloud can be accessed by other systems too, we can now exchange pertinent information between other cloud services.  For instance, your flight records in the cloud can also include information retrieved from an Air Traffic Control track, a WiFi equipped flight deck or even an iPad moving map system.

Finally, most innovation in the aviation industry is now happening in the cloud. To take advantage of the latest flight planning tool and record keeping system updates, you’ll need to move to a cloud-based service or risk using software that might not be compatible with future computer operating systems.

Isn’t this Risky for Me?

When we start using a cloud service, two important transitions happen that you need to know. First, your “data”, which could include logbook entries, personal notes or even your date of birth, is now being stored outside of your direct control. You need to ask yourself if you trust the cloud company to safeguard your information and back it up regularly in case of disaster.

Second, the programs that you are accessing are on a remote computer and you are relying on that computer whenever you need to view or update your records.  How often does that system crash or get bogged down to the point of uselessness? There is no reboot button on the cloud, so you need to be sure that the cloud company fixes problems quickly and has enough computer power to provide always on access.

If done properly, the cloud can be more secure and more accessible than keeping your records on paper or on your own personal computer.

Summary

Cloud-based systems are here to stay in the General Aviation world. If done right, they can offer tremendous benefits over purchasing software or using pen and paper. But not all clouds are created the same.  Be sure to understand:

  • • How well does this service work across PC, Mac, tablets and smart phone devices?
  • • Can this cloud service take advantage of other innovative services like ATC tracks, WiFi cockpits and other leading systems such as iPad “EFBs”?
  • • How safe is my information with this cloud company?  Do they have a second computer location in case of a natural disaster? How and how often is my data backed up?
  • • Are the business fundamentals of the cloud provider strong enough to stay the course?

Learn More

AvConnect has been offering a cloud-based GA record keeping services since before cloud was even a term. Founded by a former Cisco Systems CCIE who used to teach companies how to build large cloud networks, AvConnect has the right experience, technology and partnerships to safeguard your personal information and provide the most innovative features for your pilot logbook and aircraft maintenance tracking systems.

www.avconnect.net

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