What is Cloud Computing?

The cloud is the term for the myriad of servers and other computers, often located in enormous data centers, that power the Internet. New cloud applications harness the unused resources of these computers to distribute applications, storage, and even processing power to users in ways that are increasingly useful, low cost, and ubiquitous. Applications like Gmail use the cloud as their platform, in the way that programs on a desktop computer use that single computer as a platform. Cloud-based applications use storage space and computing resources from many available machines as needed. “The cloud” denotes any group of computers used in this way. Improved infrastructure has made the cloud robust and reliable; as usage grows, the cloud is fundamentally changing our notions of computing and communication.

Many emerging technologies are supported in some way by the cloud: collaborative environments and tools like Ning, PageFlakes, Voicethread, and Google Apps are cloud applications. A wide variety of online communication tools are supported by cloud resources and many, many personal web tools are cloud-based. Data storage is cheap in these environments — pennies per gigabyte — so cheap that it is often provided in surprising quantities for free. Specialized applications like Flickr and YouTube provide options for hosting and sharing media; tools for creating multimedia projects, like Prezi and Vuvox, live in the cloud; and most social platforms, including Facebook, do as well. To the end user, the cloud is invisible, and the technology that supports the applications does not matter — the fact that the applications are always available, no matter what device is used to access them, is key.

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Please "sign" your contributions by marking with the code of 4 tildes (~) in a row so that we can follow up with you if we need additional information or leads to examples- this produces a signature when the page is updated, like this: - alan alan Jan 27, 2010

(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • in general: accessibility (anywhere, anytime), large data capacity, collaboration on documents, affordability - helga helga Sep 29, 2010
  • A recent "big picture" article by John Hagel III and John Seely Brown has much to say about the disruptive potential of cloud computing and its implications: http://blogs.hbr.org/bigshift/2010/09/cloud-computings-stormy-future.html - rubenrp rubenrp Oct 3, 2010
  • Thanks for the reading tip, Ruben. It gave me something to think about. I think that cloud computing, writ large, will finally hit, as Gartner puts it, the "Slope of Enlightenment" in the coming years. At HCC we had a lot of issues with Blackboard Vista hosting and that has left many reluctant to try hosting solutions. However, we simply don't have the infrastructure to host many of the applications that are being demanded by users. In the short term, we never even considered hosting our new implementation of Moodle ourselves but the ability to move the platform from one hosting provider to another should Mooderooms not meet our performance expectations was a significant consideration in the choice of Moodle in the first place. Our public-facing instructional CMS, the Learning Web (based on Plone), has been moved into the cloud in its latest iteration. The ability to fire up services with little or no prior experience in the area was a primary motivating factor. As institutions cut or limit staff in this era of budget-cutting economic reasons will also drive institutions to embrace more-and-more cloud-based solutions to their online needs. - tom.haymes tom.haymes Oct 4, 2010
  • Providing close to unlimited storage to undergraduate students has provided great facilities for the multimedia degree's and when we require space for very large datasets. - JamieMadden JamieMadden Oct 5, 2010
  • When I was first really started paying attention to cloud computing early this year, I thought it was a fabulous concept that would hit lots of opposition from colleagues very much concerned with proper use of firewalls and with network security breaches. Much to my surprise and delight, I found that large organizations which would have run away from the concept even two or three years ago were successfully exploring and promoting it in-house. The use of cloud computing tools, including those mentioned in the "What is cloud computing?" introduction above, is making a big difference in our ability to have learning materials at our hands without having to cart things around each time we prepare to deliver a learning opportunity, and already appears to be making it easier to deliver educational opportunities in any setting that provides us with online access. - paul.signorelli paul.signorelli Oct 16, 2010
  • Easy access to technologies, services and storage at little or no cost. In addition as budgets tighten and refreshing computer equipment perhaps come more difficult, and if access to cloud computing services can help extend the life of equipment for schools, colleges and universities, then cloud computing will become increasingly popular. Cloud computing may also increasingly seen as a simple to organise route to collaborative work. - Gavin Gavin Oct 17, 2010
  • Cloud-based technologies continue to make accessible emerging (and also mundane) tools to students of all kinds and little or no cost. One area that is most useful to students is cloud-based tools that are now usable on mobile devices. Two ways that this is significant is 1) more tools that can be used for teaching and learning are available at little or no cost on mobile devices and 2) students can rely less on heavy, stationary technologies to become engaged in learning. - drvdiaz drvdiaz Oct 17, 2010
  • The cost implication will make it a good choice for emerging economies - Olufemi.Olubodun Olufemi.Olubodun Oct 19, 2010

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • open issues regarding the future development cloud computing might take: will it remain cheap in the long term, will there be data security issues, legal issues (access), on the whole: how dependent will cloud computing make the users - helga helga Sep 29, 2010
  • Many of the service providers catering to educational institutions face unusual challenges in hosting services for us in the cloud. We tend to have unusual cycles from a business perspective. For instance, our LMS would routinely go down at the beginning of the semester or during finals when usage tends to peak because usage estimates were based on average figures that tended to underestimate the loads placed during periods of high usage. As the vendors mature in their approach to the educational sector, these kinds of issues should diminish as systems are designed with our usage patterns in mind. - tom.haymes tom.haymes Oct 4, 2010
  • Some countries and Universities have policies of where the data can physically be located for issues including speed, security and data integrity. - JamieMadden JamieMadden Oct 5, 2010
  • Although Universities in Africa and other developing countries are not yet looking at this but it will soon spread to their notice - Olufemi.Olubodun Olufemi.Olubodun Oct 19, 2010

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, or creative expression?

  • enormous potential regarding data amounts, ease of use and actual money saving on a large scale, provided none of the open issues I mentioned under (2) poses a threat... - helga helga Sep 29, 2010
  • I would second Helga's response here. Cost savings are potentially huge in this area but only when we have more competition between vendors. With more portable open source platforms like Moodle, this should make "shopping around" for hosting services more viable and encourage competition in both prices and service levels. - tom.haymes tom.haymes Oct 4, 2010
  • From the amount of storage we have already provided our students, its already removed a lot of the limits they had just a couple of years ago in terms of such things as what as helga has outlined. - JamieMadden JamieMadden Oct 5, 2010
  • As we see increasing need for large amounts of storage - at one time it was about text, it's now about images (of increasing file size), sounds and videos. In so far that growing production of and access to multi-media allows different forms of expression or completing work - then the technology supports creative expression in learning and teaching - Gavin Gavin Oct 17, 2010
  • I will agree on the cost savings but security of data will be a big issue for some - Olufemi.Olubodun Olufemi.Olubodun Oct 19, 2010

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

http://lonewolflibrarian.wordpress.com/2009/02/17/cloud-computing-tech-tips-for-libraries021709/ (although libraries appear to be exploring the use of cloud computing, little appears to have been written about how it is actively being explored and promoted; this blog piece hints at the possibilities; another online report, from Library Journal in August 2010, is hardly worth mentioning since it only includes a one-line reference to the topic having been discussed at the 2010 American Library Association conference in Washington DC) - paul.signorelli paul.signorelli Oct 16, 2010
http://www.techsoupforlibraries.org/blog/what-is-cloud-computing-and-how-will-it-affect-libraries - paul.signorelli paul.signorelli Oct 16, 2010