Image Courtesy of Technology Review at http://www.technologyreview.com/files/21853/cloud_x220.jpgWell, now you can. Cloud computing has been a popular resource in the scientific research community because of its tremendous computing power. The amazing realm of cloud computing is now being used widely in the education sector. The reasons for its popularity are the ease of management, availability of consolidated resources and infinite computing power.  Before we go any further about the aspects of cloud computing that make it an invaluable resource for education, let us find out what is cloud computing.  As Christopher Dawson points out, it is “lots of computers somewhere (we don’t actually care where) doing lots of processing to deliver services to our desktops via the Internet”.  It provides computer applications to users without the need for them to purchase, install, or support software on their local computers and/or servers.

There are three key features of cloud computing. They provide Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). This implies that not only is the software hosted on a remote computer, but data are stored remotely too. These features indicate large financial benefits to educational institutions apart from the high scalability due to its infinite storage capacity and the ability for users to collaborate and access data and applications anytime, anywhere.

Cloud computing, which is touted as the next big thing in education, already has found many takers in the K-12 education sector as well as in higher education. Thomas Bittman from the  Gartner Group voices the opinion of many technology coordinators for K-12 education when he writes “cloud computing will definitely have an impact on enterprise IT – but the impact on our educational system will be astounding”. Professors at UC Berkley used cloud computing, instead of the Berkley-owned infrastructure, as part of an undergraduate course. They found that the students found it easy and faster to work with. Another promoter of cloud computing, William Hurley at InfoWorld, in an open letter to President Obama, has asked “for a government-funded computing cloud for use by all colleges and universities”. According to him, not only will such a move provide wider access to this technology, but it also will “dramatically improve our collaboration and innovation as a nation.”

As with every technology, this one comes with its bag of issues too. Security and reliability pose a big threat as it lies with the cloud provider. As security guru Bruce Schneier accurately articulates, “Be careful who you trust, be careful what you trust them with, and be careful how much you trust them. Outsourcing is the future of computing. Eventually we’ll get this right, but you don’t want to be a casualty along the way.”

Almost all the computing giants offer cloud computing options for educators. Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), Microsoft’s Azure Services Platform, Google’s App Engine, IBM’s Cloud Academy and a host of open source computing tools like Sun Microsystems and Nimbus are few of the many options available. So are you ready to take your teaching to the next level?

Guest Blogger: Prashanthi Selvanarayanan is a former web developer at Arizona State University. After completing her Professional Masters in Computational Biosciences, she was involved in developing online assessment and homework delivery systems for higher education. She is currently pursuing her Masters degree in Instructional Design and Technology at the University of Memphis. She plans to be an e-learning and training developer in the corporate sector.

About Michael M Grant

Dr. Michael M. Grant is a passionate professor, researcher, and consultant. He works with faculty members, schools and universities, and districts to integrate technology meaningfully and improve teaching and learning. When 140 characters just won't work, then he blogs here at Viral-Notebook.com. He has a beautiful wife and three equally beautiful daughters, who will change the world.

3 Thoughts on “How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?

  1. Nice thinking here, Prashanthi. I like the issues you’ve considered here. Particularly, the notions of security and reliability. Has there been enough time yet for us to determine these?

  2. Although this technology is being used extensively in all disciplines and fields only in the past year, its use in computing and mathematical research has been going on for the past 3-5 years. Hence there is enough knowledge pertaining to the security and reliability issues. Network and computing security experts seem to be very cautious towards this technology based on general server security issues. The complexity of this technology would only increase this risk level all the more. An article (http://www.infoworld.com/d/security-central/gartner-seven-cloud-computing-security-risks-853) in Gartner enumerates some of these issues clearly.

  3. Prathi, great point. Sometimes in education we’re certainly on the backend of adoption cycles. I also think that within education we’re concerned about the reliability and security in our own networks and systems along with the viability of other companies when we read about loss of data, going out of business, etc.

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