Sunny with a chance of clouds

Last week, Matt Cohen of Clareity Consulting asked me to provide him details of what cloud services we are using for a presentation he’ll be giving. After I responded to him, I realized that others might also be interested, so I’ve included the details below.

It’s rather surprising how consistently we’re using cloud related services for everything we need.

It wasn’t our intent to try and latch onto some hot new buzzword or technology.  I think it’s just a new business reality – do what you’re good at, concentrate on where you can add value, and find outside help for services that aren’t core.  It helps us financially, as we don’t need to come up with large capital expenditures to purchase or lease equipment, software, or services.  It helps us handle growth, since most of these are tiered services where we can add capacity as we need it.

We are using RailsMachine to host our apps and databases. They are a Rails specialty shop running out of the Atlanta NAP data center. We chose them because we could easily scale the virtual server we’re on as we grew, they provide excellent support, especially for Rails apps, and they have a great location at the NAP.  I’ve already expanded the CPU of our Cloud CMA server once and the RAM twice. Each time it was because we’d hit a performance plateau for the product as we’d added more users and it’s a simple 5-10 minute process.

We are using Amazon S3 to host static content like photos, logos, and final PDF reports. We chose them for scalability, redundancy, and price.

We use Braintree to host and process credit cards.  This is the most sensitive data we collect – we don’t want to store it, don’t want to be responsible for it – our contract with our merchant account doesn’t even allows us to store it.   We collect that data on our order form, then the HTTPS connection sends it directly up to their “virtual vault” and they handle all the processing of the cards.

For email, we use Google Apps for Business.

For phones, we use Phonebooth and iPhones.

For source control, we use GitHub.

For server monitoring, we use Pingdom.

For app performance tracking and exception notification, we use New Relic and Hoptoad.

For bug tracking, we use Lighthouse.

For sales and support contact management, we use Highrise and a custom admin dashboard within the app.

All this stuff is top shelf for exactly their narrow task.  It works WAY better than when we we bought and hosted our own in previous companies, there’s way less headaches, there’s no capex cost, and we can scale up or down as our business grows or declines.  These services all bundle in access to network engineers, database engineers, IT help desk, and other expert support.  We have five employees, but all we own are notebook computers, a printer/scanner, desks, and chairs.

If you add up all those services we use above, it comes to around $1000/month.  That’s more than the lease on just our PBX phone system at our last company!

All these things above apply to what we’re trying to do for agents, brokers, and MLSs with Cloud CMA

No installing, no hosting, no up front capex spend.

We used to sell software that agents had to install and 80% of our support issues were installation issues – that goes away with Cloud CMA.

We used to charge a couple hundred bucks up front for the CD that we had to ship them – that up front cost goes away.  In fact, now they can go to the site, create an account and print reports in three minutes AND get their first thirty days for free!  Brokers don’t have to get their IT guy to put the app on the network and set up rights for all the agents and worry about keeping the app working and updated.

Agents used to try to send a 20MB PDF as an email attachment to their clients – that goes away when the PDF is hosted in the cloud with a unique url which is emailed to the client.

You used to need a PC with Windows to use the app – now you can use any browser on any operating system on any hardware.  In fact you don’t even need a computer because Cloud CMA will allow you to create reports from your phone!!!

It’s a new era and a new way of doing business.

If you’ve got any questions about any of the services we use, ask away in the comments.


One response to “Sunny with a chance of clouds

  1. I appreciated the info a lot Dan. To augment my cloud computing presentation I got a *bunch* of different brokers, franchises, and other real estate tech companies to contribute case studies about what they did, what new capabilities they gained, and the related cost savings.

    The first place I’ll be giving this presentation is at the Wisconsin REALTORS® Association management conference ( but I know other clients are going to want me to present on this topic in 2011.

    Thanks again – I really appreciate the sharing.

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