The cloud: A translation business essential

How many of us think twice before uploading a document to Google Drive or playing a song from our favorite online music store? The cloud has long been part of our personal and professional lives. On the business side, it embraces a wide range of internet-based technology, ranging from basic storage and computing services to specialized applications for managing customer relationships (such as with Salesforce) and human resources. Not surprisingly, translation tools and services have found their way to the cloud.

As with other forms of cloud computing, translation in the cloud relies on the web and specialized servers managed by third parties. In this case, those external suppliers are globalization software vendors or language service providers (LSPs). Traditional desktop or other locally installed software and storage systems require you to be physically connected to a computer or a company network. Cloud-based resources, on the other hand, are located off premises but available whenever you have a connection to the internet.

Common Sense Advisory’s research has long shown market interest in translation services and software that in 2006 we characterized “as a black box provided in the internet cloud.” Our research demonstrates widespread experimentation with growing deployments of cloud-based solutions as both a translation commerce and production platform.

Most companies will use the cloud to buy translation services. As LSPs offer their own online portals or plug into multivendor marketplaces, we see that an increasing amount of purchasing is happening online. These cloud-based sites eliminate inefficiencies in buying and managing translation. People who need translation like the click-to-buy convenience they enjoy for other activities. Purchasing departments like the ability to manage vendors, budgets and service levels through a single interface.

Additionally, many organizations will employ cloud-based tools in their workflows. Two forces are pushing enterprise buyers and translation teams to the cloud: first, the corporate move to the cloud, driven by IT and business issues, and second, the ongoing migration of translation tools and services to the cloud. Few organizations will be able to move all their operations there, but many will find that some components naturally belong there. Those with a heavy investment in the current generation of translation management systems (TMS) will encounter the most resistance.

What should you look for as you puzzle over vendor presentations and marketing collateral? We expect that most buyers won’t be as dogmatic as the solution suppliers. Instead, they will focus on two sets of management issues that today cost them a lot of time and money.

The first management issue is provisioning resources on demand. Three attributes resonate with most organizations that face broadening translation needs. First of all, the internet as a platform gives them worldwide access. Secondly, resource and server pooling means that they get solid and reliable performance tuned to their needs. Third, rapid elasticity lets them scale performance and capacity up or down depending on their needs. These capabilities stand to substantially reduce the investment that companies need to make in infrastructure to support their business goals.

The second issue deals with keeping systems up and running. Translation teams and their IT support staff spend a lot of time in the daily care and feeding of computer-aided translation (CAT) tools and TMS. Most will be very interested in migrating software — and their onerous management and maintenance requirements — from desktops and data centers to a third-party hosting service. Practically speaking, many will be satisfied with simply hosting or co-locating products originally designed for behind-the-firewall installation.

As you evaluate translation services or tools in the cloud, you should assess candidates not only for the functions and performance that you require but also for critical IT concerns such as reliability, availability, scalability and security. This appraisal of the “-ities” will require taking a close look at the hosting facility used by your prospective provider. Finally, have your counsel examine the contract before you hit the “subscribe now” button.

Functionality: Does the product do what it’s supposed to do? Traditional CAT tools, developed over years or decades, can do everything that anyone might ever want. The challenge with buying new software is to support what you need done, and to do it easily. Subject newer solutions to the same scrutiny that you applied to past purchases, but recognize that usability and web integration might trump that enormous pool of old-school functionality. For translation markets or portals, make sure they can incorporate your existing translation memories, quality assurance processes and other linguistic assets.

Capability and performance: Does it do what you want, when you want it to? List your document throughput requirements such as word volume, transactions per second or hour, and concurrent users. Gauge the ability of online products and translation services to meet those goals. Test the response times for common operations such as translation memory and concordance look-ups. This will be a concern in parts of the world where linguists don’t have good connections, but not much of an issue with TMS where most work is performed offline.

Availability: Is it there when you need it? Your business may require that online solutions run in ANSI/TIA-942-certified data centers — with redundant infrastructure support, multiple independent distribution paths and an expected availability of as much as 99.999% of the time. Factor in disaster recovery, support for geographically dispersed data centers, automated backup, data archiving and failover. These characteristics will be critical for organizations operating global translation teams relying on language service providers and freelancers around the planet. Distributed data centers will also help reduce latency for linguists in regions with less network access.

Interoperability: Does it work with your processes and technology stack? Tools and portals must plug into your workflows and interact with content and database management systems. Look for integration with and migration from other CAT tools through specifications such as TMX and XLIFF; connectors for the content sources you use; support for private cloud platforms such as VMware and Windows Server; and awareness for cloud development initiatives such as Open Stack and Hadoop. The former promises to be an open approach to cloud development, while the latter provides a framework for processing large datasets — the big data used by machine translation, textual analytics and other natural language processing applications.

Scalability: Does it grow or shrink with demand? Solutions need to support as many users inside your company and at your suppliers as the application requires, with no loss of performance. This is one area where the cloud’s “rapid elasticity” will trump most in-house or traditional hosted software — it will automatically increase or decrease server resources based on demand. Well-designed cloud solutions, whether private or public, can deal with these challenges more easily with a quick upgrade at Amazon Web Services than by having to add physical server capacity in advance of major marketing campaigns or product releases.

Security: Does it protect you, your assets and your customers? Review the software or service’s hosting facilities for physical and logical security continuous monitoring, auditability and multi-tenancy. Depending on their location, third-party data centers might not comply with European Union security and privacy regulations. Your company may already have its own guidelines for hosted or cloud-based software. For example, you may require online data centers to support ISO 9000 standards for quality management, comply with SAS 70 and Service Organization Control 2 auditability, and provide PCI payment card data security. Depending on your industry or location, it might also specify compliance with HIPAA regulations for health care or US government NIST 800-53 security controls.

Legality: Does the contract protect your rights? Make sure that the click-through “I accept” doesn’t cede your rights. For example, some online service providers’ clauses assert unfettered rights to access your data, the ability to transfer service to other companies and the privilege to terminate functionality at will. For large purchases, don’t click on “I accept” until you’ve had a lawyer review the contract. Make sure that you and your attorney formalize your business requirements in service level agreements for uptime, security, data recovery and the other elements listed here.

Several years ago, CSA Research forecasted the migration of translation tools to hosted, software-as-a-service web services and cloud-based solutions. In the latest iteration of CSA Research’s TMS Live comparison tool and our new assessment series, MarketFlex (launched October 2014), we evaluate products on these and other criteria, which may be seen in Figure 1.