This is the company blog for megaventory, an online software that helps small businesses that buy, sell and manufacture physical products to manage sales, purchasing, manufacturing and inventory. We blog about new features and updates but also about enterprise software, small businesses, cloud computing and the industry in general.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Open or closed cloud?



As a small business owner you have the choice of running your business software either on your own server/PCs or in the cloud. Each choice has some pros and cons but overall, the scale weighs towards the cloud.

When it comes to small businesses in particular the choice is pretty straightforward: there isn’t really any good reason why you should not be on the cloud.

However, if you start looking into the cloud solution, sooner or later you’ll stumble across another dilemma: open or proprietary cloud?


First of all, let’s see what each is. Proprietary generally refers to an infrastructure that’s been set up in vendors’ servers and is ready to receive your requests on the software-as-a-service (SaaS) business solution you’ll adopt. Installation, maintenance and everything that has to do both with the platform and the service is handled by the vendor (or its subcontractors). In any case, you’re not involved with it.

In the above definition, each vendor offers their own solution they’ve developed themselves and maintain. One such vendor is megaventory, the SaaS we offer has been developed in-house and all other infrastructure (servers, storage, backup, load balancing, etc) is managed by us and our hosting provider.

And then there’s also the open cloud.

In this case, the software part of the infrastructure is open-source and freely available. It has multiple components depending on what you want to do and anyone can roughly speaking download it and use it. In theory at least, as in practice the previous sentence needs a couple of disclaimers.

For one thing, there isn’t a single flavor of open cloud - yes, you may have heard of something called the Openstack but actually a couple of dozens exist (see e.g. the comments here) - each with its distinct characteristics.

For another, not literally anyone can download and use it. Surely, it’s not protected behind a company’s firewall and given enough time and money it’s possible. For the time being though you need to have serious IT department to handle laying out such an infrastructure. You either need specialized staff to implement and maintain it or you must outsource it to specialized consultants.

(It is the same as how operating systems evolved in the 90s - few people could run an open source/Linux machine; and few really needed to. The rest of us worked fine with good ol’ proprietary Windows machines).

So what can you do?

Well, if you’re asking the question you probably know the answer already. It’s not a bad thing to admit lack of knowledge (and basically resources) and leave it to the professionals.

And by that we mean that choosing the proprietary platform that suits your needs and not bothering with open platforms and the overhead they involve. It’s the quickest way to get the groundwork done and be able to focus on your business rather than the infrastructure on which it runs.

In any case, the trend is that for quite a few years the open source solution will be reserved for those who have the resources (staff, time, money) to afford it. For the rest, and especially for small businesses, the issue is simply about which proprietary solution to pick.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

What the cloud doesn't do doesn't matter


Much as I can admit to learning and being inspired by reading other people’s rants on the blogosphere, it’s very easy to be disoriented and misguided by certain staff.

Case in point this post by Alex Haislip in Techcrunch itself. Alex Haislip’s main premise is that cloud computing only expands and doesn’t make obsolete computing in your server.

In what seems to me a somewhat sloppily put together piece, he gives some examples in which transition from past to future system is gradual or the future system ends up complementing the past one for a long time. TV coexists with VCR, TiVo etc. while radio does the same along hi-fi, podcasting etc.

He then also gives reasons why the cloud can’t be expected to do everything. For example, cloud backup is inferior to tape(!) storage for speed, security and reliability reasons. Tape storage has also been optimized for mission critical stuff, is very cheap and complies with government regulations. Also, if you have very specific hardware requirements - e.g. for graphics computation - it’s again a bad idea to go to the cloud.

That’s the argument line according to Haislip and he’d almost have you convinced... if you weren’t to bother with reading the comments. It’s there that most of his arguments break down.

From handling graphics (Amazon offers GPU instances) to complying with regulations (cloud companies specifically designed for this) solutions actually do seem to exist - at least at first approach. Moreover, cost is increasingly less of an issue as prices both for storage and CPU cycles continue to go down.

Handling mission critical data with a tried and tested platform is perhaps the best argument in Haislip’s post but for at least some if not most of the cases, redundancy in the cloud systems can save the day for when all hell breaks loose.

In short, unless you’re after something very specific, yes, the cloud can’t accommodate you. But for 99% or more of the cases, and especially when it comes to small businesses, the choice for the cloud is a no-brainer!

This just goes to show, how things should not be taken at face value and definitely not changed by the eye-catching and provocative title. But then again this is Techcrunch.

Friday, 6 April 2012

New feature - Spanish Language in Megaventory

We are extremely happy to announce to our Spanish speaking users that the Spanish translation of megaventory has been 100% revamped and its beta tag has been waived! Here is a screen-shot of the 'On-hand Inventory and Alerts' page in Spanish:

On-Hand and Inventory Alerts in Spanish


Major localization improvements will follow for the rest of the supported languages (Arabic, Italian, Chinese, Portuguese) which are still in -beta- testing. The target is to remove the -beta- tag from all supported languages in the next 3 months.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

New feature - Sales Order APIs launched!

We are pleased to announce that three API functions have just been released for the CSV, JSV, JSON, XML, and SOAP protocols. The API functions are related to:

  • Retrieving Sales Orders [API name: SalesOrderGet]
  • Inserting & Updating Sales Orders [API name: SalesOrderUpdate]
  • Cancelling Sales Orders [API name: SalesOrderCancel]

With those in place, a developer can integrate a 3rd party shopping cart software to megaventory and gain access to the most powerful inventory & order management cloud based software for small and very small businesses.

The APIs can be found at: https://api.megaventory.com/v1/metadata and here's a screenshot with the new 3 functions:
Sales Order APIs


We are committed to improving the way small businesses operate! New APIs for Purchase Orders and Inventory Documents are next in the release queue.

Monday, 2 April 2012

The long tail of business software

Following the previous post about where things seem to be going, here’s another one that offers a similar insight into the future.

(credit)

This Techcrunch guest post by Robert Scoble - in usual Scoble style - rants about a number of things but here’s what intrigued me:

Scoble notices that, nowadays, large cloud computing companies try to get affiliated with business professionals because they are the influencers that grant the large companies access to their main customer base. This customer base consists of small and very small businesses which constitute the so-called long-tail. This strategy is similar to the one the photography giant 'Nikon' has used in the past; they got affiliated with well known professional photographers and through them, they accessed the consumer mass.

That is where all the money and the action is - there’s plenty of reasons, proof and examples why this is so damn true. Scoble is just saying the obvious from one of the many possible perspectives but people have been talking about the real customers being in the long tail for years.

But it gets really interesting when you realize that this market force towards small, flexible and numerous is not only true for customers but also also for vendors. In other words, there is a long tail of business software vendors; business software is not offered by just a couple of large players anymore.

Small business software vendors are hidden in the long tail trying to stand out for you and offer you a new way to cover your needs. Moreover, with the current tools, the threshold for being able to offer a solution for a problem you have felt yourself is relatively low (at least compared to what it was in the past). This leads for many original approaches to sprout.

For example, solutions like NetSuite or other one-size fits all approaches may not be able to fit your specification without considerable expense either in customization or money. A not so large vendor though -let’s just use megaventory as the example- may have just the features you need; no more and no less.

The reason? Small vendors are small businesses themselves and can often understand much better what a fellow small business owner needs. It is the same as checking a blog to find the solution to a problem others might have already solved and shared. These days, online entrepreneurship is so broad that someone else is certain to have created almost exactly what your company needs.

So, if you commit to it, it’s comparatively easy to become a software vendor yourself and have a product out in a couple of years that can actually help people with a business itch similar to what you’d like to have scratched as well. In fact, that’s to some extent how megaventory came to being - but that’s a story for another post!

That approach has been going on for quite a few years now. When accompanied by quality, persistence and the fact that the offered solution is the labour of love of a team of market-savvy entrepreneurs, the odds of it being effective and value for money increase. 


Taken together with the natural flexibility and reliability of relatively simple and small-scale systems, means that this new type of lean almost home-brewed vendor is probably the best option for a large number of small businesses.

The only thing that’s probably an obstacle is actually finding the right software for your specific profile in the long tail. But right now you know where to start - you can immediately check whether megaventory fit your needs or not!