I’ll be moderating one of my favorite workshop topics this week during the Real Estate Connect conference in New York City: cloud computing. The session, "Transitioning Your Brokerage to the Cloud," will include panelists Jamie Goldman of ERA Franchise Systems LLC, Jack Miller of The GoodLife Team, and Monty Smith of NRT LLC.

Cloud computing is a big buzzword — especially as the need to access data and applications across all of our favorite devices becomes more prevalent. However, for many real estate professionals, cloud computing remains a nebulous technology. What exactly is it?

In its simplest form, cloud computing is a service that allows applications and storage to be accessed across multiple devices — typically over the Internet and with minimal administration. 

There are three popular cloud solutions:

1. Public cloud

A public cloud is a service, such as Amazon Web Services, where resources such as applications and storage are available to the general public over the Internet.

2. Private cloud

A private cloud functions similarly to a public cloud, but the infrastructure is proprietary and is managed by an organization, typically internally.

3. Hybrid cloud

A hybrid cloud combines two or more unique clouds, private and public, working together. For example: utilizing a hosted public cloud solution and an in-house database.

Public vs. private cloud computing is a popular debate in the tech community. This leads many businesses to implement a hybrid solution, unlocking the benefits of both platforms.

Which solution is right for your business? There are many variables to consider, particularly the size and scalability of the business. Like many technologies, both public and private clouds have advantages and disadvantages. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons:

Advantages of a public cloud

  • Products such as Google Apps are extremely popular in the real estate industry because they eliminate information technology hassles and alleviate expensive infrastructure costs. Google Apps allow brokerages to focus on sales and not on things like servers, software, bandwidth and archiving. That’s a good thing.
  • Pay per use is a sensible business model for real estate.
  • Public cloud services are familiar to users and can be easy to use.

Disadvantages of a public cloud

  • With a public cloud service you surrender a certain amount of control over a product and system. I implemented Google Apps last year at my brokerage and have relinquished control over certain features, such as upgrades. This can be challenging, especially when some users really dislike Gmail’s new design.
  • The service provider is responsible for security and privacy. This can be unsettling for some users and administrators.

Advantages of a private cloud

  • A private cloud solution allows a brokerage to leverage its existing infrastructure (hardware and software).
  • An organization has complete control over maintenance, upgrades and security.
  • A private cloud solution allows an organization to determine standards and supported devices.

Disadvantages of a private cloud

  • Brokerages still need to invest in the resources to maintain the platform. Not having this responsibility is the beauty of the public cloud.
  • Brokerages still need to invest in expensive infrastructure, including hardware, software and bandwidth.

As I mentioned in my previous column, "Top 10 real estate tech trends for 2012," cloud computing will play a definitive role in the real estate industry this year.

Reducing expensive infrastructure and allowing Realtors to work remotely with powerful tools will better serve consumers. This is a good thing.

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