After spending far too long stuck in my hotel room this morning resolving a technology issue that was keeping ENR's CONEXPO videos from streaming properly, I finally made it to the show floor and sat down with Jim Paulson, the COO of Viewpoint Software, a Portland Or.-based enterprise system provider. 

Paulson immediately started talking about the benefits of offloading software and data management and technology support to external professionals, and extolling the virtues and inherent redundancy of cloud computing.

As he talked I realized that it was just that ability to call in a surge of support from our video hosting service, which re-connected links that had been accidently broken and rebuilt files from data safely backed up on servers—somewhere—that had just saved the day for me. 

"We were talking with a contractor who had a poor backup system and when he needed it, his data was gone," Paulson said. "Another was flooded out this spring and lost all of his data too. With the benefit of cloud computing, if that happened to you, you could be up and running again with dumb terminals tomorrow."

Paulson and Viewpoint have reason to endorse cloud computing so strongly. After 33 years of providing its products using the client server model, where the software is installed locally on the customer's machines, in the last year or so the company began developing an alternative, hybrid model for providing a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform over the Web, but using a private cloud computing approach to host the Viewpoint product and data itself, which he says gives end users more control over managing their use, updates and configurations. 

Paulson says Viewpoint has invested significantly to leverage Microsoft .net and Citrix technology and has partnered with a company called 3T Systems—also present at CONEXPO—for datacenter operations and technology. 

Paulson says Viewpoint started offering the alternative delivery model to its existing base and new users in January. Predictably, established users are not leaping up to change systems overnight, but he says expects about 20% of the new customers this year will reach for the cloud.

The greatest interest seems to be coming from the larger companies, those with annual revenues of $50 million to $7 billion or so, which are looking for greater operational efficiency. But also, he says he sees strong interest from the smaller firms, with revenues below $10 million, that may have less of an investment locked up in older technology than their mid-range cousins. They also may be a little hungrier for operational improvements in a tough economy, he adds. 

Paulson also says he thinks smaller firms, especially, are having a hard time attracting good tech talent to keep up with the fast changing demands of hardware and software technology. He says prospects he talks to are considering shifting to the SaaS and cloud approach as a way to stay technologically current for a monthly fee, and get on with their core business of contracting.

"It's going to provide contractors the ability to scale up more efficiently when the time comes, and to focus resources internally on the things they do best as contractors," he says. The model also will more smoothly integrate distributed operations and an increasing use mobile computing, he says,

"I think it's much like the mainframe-to-PC move. It will happen gradually, but when it reaches the tipping point it, will happen in a hurry," Paulson predicts.