One very relevant question in today’s industry is, “Where is the industry going, and why should I know about cloud computing and my shipping system?”

Everything is in a constant state of change, so why should the shipping industry be any different? For the last five years, there have been people selling ideas that technology could not yet support. This year this technology is now available and is changing the logistics game dramatically. This technology is called cloud computing. Large companies and very small companies have been using this for a few years now with limited success due to the immaturity of this concept. 

The concept is that the Internet hosts your servers and therefore your software applications. This can be used for everything and can save your company thousands, if not millions, of dollars. There are so many great uses of this technology that entire books have been written on the subject, but I am going to try to explain this from a shipping perspective and try to keep the IT jargon at a minimum. The basic concept is that a third party that is huge and well-equipped takes the responsibility to maintain the hardware. 

Let us take a look at FedEx. It’s a large company that can have thousands of servers around the country that are set up with virtual servers that are clustered together so that they can maintain 100% uptime. With this configuration, FedEx could have the ability to perform windows updates, add storage or new servers and never have a down time window. 
Why Am I Just Hearing of This Now?
Cloud computing sounds great, but why have we not heard more of this before? Until recently, and still in some parts of the country, there is a major problem with cloud computing: Internet bandwidth and dreadful programming. If you think of the Internet as a super highway with 12 lanes, there is an opportunity for a lot of vehicles to travel on a highway like this. Now imagine bandwidth to be construction on this super highway. The more bandwidth you have, the more lanes that are open. The less bandwidth you have, the more congested the highway is. Just a few years ago, only the breakdown lane was available. Moore’s law roughly postulates that computing speed doubles every 12 to 18 months. This has been a conservative estimate. Take full advantage of Internet by making sure your applications are multi-threaded.

Today’s companies have remarkable access to the Internet through huge amounts of bandwidth. This has forced programmers to take advantage of this increased and increasing bandwidth. They do this by creating a concept of multi-threading. You can think of it as running programs in parallel. The more programs you have running at once, the more you can accomplish.

Save Money and Time through Cloud Computing
Let’s go back to the practical example of FedEx. When using an in-house FedEx server, you get speeds of three to 90 transactions per second per server. To get more transactions, you need to add more servers. These servers need to be acquired and updated with virus protection updates, windows updates and FedEx enhancement updates. These servers and the software running on them all become obsolete at some point. If you let FedEx maintain these servers, you take this upkeep out of your hands. You can do this by making web services calls to FedEx to get the same information you would get from the server. The more transactions you need, you just programmatically add them. In the past, the bandwidth was the limiting factor, but with ever-increasing bandwidth this concern is a thing of the past. Now you are able to: grow as needed, maintain the most up-to-date complete carrier compliance and have 100% uptime at an overall lower cost. Utilizing the Internet for cloud computing to include web services for shipping system is not the way of the future but rather is the right move now when you are looking for savings and increased functionality — which seems to be needed now more than ever.
Look for me this year at PARCEL Forum, where I will be speaking more in-depth on this and many other subjects. Need answers now? Feel free to email me.
Oscar Murray, PMP, is the IT Manager at Cinram. Contact him at