What is Cloud Computing?

The emergence of very large “data farms” — specialized data centers that host thousands of servers — has created a surplus of computing resources that has come to be called the cloud. Growing out of research in grid computing, cloud computing transforms once-expensive resources like disk storage and processing cycles into a readily available, cheap commodity. Development platforms layered onto the cloud infrastructure enable thin-client, web-based applications for image editing, word processing, social networking, and media creation. Many of us use the cloud, or cloud-based applications, without even being aware of it. Advances in computer science to ensure redundancy and protection from natural disasters have led to data being shared across many different hosting facilities. Improved infrastructure has made the cloud robust and reliable; as usage grows, the cloud is fundamentally changing our notions of computing and communication.

The “cloud” is a term used to describe the vast collections of networked computers, typically housed in regionally distributed and redundant data centers, that comprise the totality of the Internet. Cloud computing is a set of strategies that distribute data, applications, and computing cycles across the many machines in such data centers, and even across data centers.

Applications like Flickr, Google, YouTube, and many others use the cloud as their platform, using storage space and computing resources from many available machines as needed. Cloud computing currently includes three broad areas of development: cloud-based applications, which are designed for many different tasks and which are hosted in the cloud; development platforms for creating cloud-based applications; and massive computing resources for storage and processing.

Most people are familiar with the first type: applications that serve a single function, such as Gmail (http://gmail.com) or Quicken Online (http://quicken.intuit.com/online-banking-finances.jsp), that are generally accessed through a web browser and that use the cloud for processing power and data storage. The second group of services offer the infrastructure on which such applications are built and run, along with the computing power to deliver them. Examples include Google App Engine (http://code.google.com/appengine/), which allows developers to create and host tailored programs using Google’s infrastructure; Heroku (http://heroku.com), which does the same for applications developed in Ruby on Rails; and Joyent (http://joyent.com), which hosts and scales applications in a variety of languages. The final set of cloud services are those that offer sheer computing resources without a development platform layer, like Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (http://aws.amazon.com/ec2/) or the GoGrid (http://www.gogrid.com).

Cloud computing makes it possible for almost anyone to deploy tools that can scale on demand to serve as many users as desired. To the end user, the cloud is invisible; the technology that supports the applications doesn’t matter — the fact that the applications are always available is key. Data storage is cheap in these environments — pennies per gigabyte — so cheap that it is often provided in surprising quantities for free.

The cloud does have certain drawbacks. Unlike traditional software packages that can be installed on a local computer, backed up, and are available as long as the operating system supports them, cloud-based applications are services offered by companies and service providers in real time. Entrusting your work and data to the cloud is also a commitment of trust that the service provider will continue to be there, even in face of changing market and other conditions. Nonetheless, the economics of cloud computing are increasingly compelling. For many institutions, cloud computing offers a cost-effective solution to the problem of how to provide services, data storage, and computing power to a growing number of Internet users without investing capital in physical machines that need to be maintained and upgraded on-site.

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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 25, 2011

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

  • This was on our near horizon last year and I think it remains so for many schools and districts in the US and I suspect it is still a little further off in some countries. In any case, this is a truly disruptive technology - just ask Microsoft. As is above, Google has been moving this way for a while and Amazon and others as well. For schools, this is a cost saver and productivity enhancer.- chris.brown chris.brown Feb 21, 2011
  • I agree with Chris that this is just hitting US school systems...last year it made the top of the Horizon's but my sense is that it still is just happening...and perhaps just around the corner in many places. I think cloud is front and center on minds of school district CTOs. - keith.krueger keith.krueger Feb 22, 2011
  • Cloud computing has amazing applications when it comes to e-learning in developing nations that do not have the financial resources to buy the software to create e-learning programs at their education institutions. - virginie.aimard virginie.aimard Feb 22, 2011
  • I'm seeing much more of a discussion around this idea esp. due to budget concerns, even though some have yet to make that connection. - will.richardson will.richardson Feb 26, 2011
  • The cloud is becoming a more attractive option for budget holders in schools as spending is cut, and there is a better understanding of it - including security. - roger.blamire roger.blamire Feb 27, 2011
  • Enormous importance for continuously improved software services, collaboration and data services - for some key arguments see its emphasis in the 2010 National Education Technology Plan [- roy.pea roy.pea Feb 27, 2011]

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

  • Many cloud providers offer tiered services that that can take some of the cost of support, and need to find hard to find skilled people locally, out of the equation. This is a big benefit for rural areas, etc. Also, operating in the cloud means you may be able to save signifiacntly on the end user devices - i.e., no need for relatively expensive desktops (remember "thin clients"?).- chris.brown chris.brown Feb 21, 2011
  • More about the potential that these cloud computing programs have for school districts that are underfunded. - virginie.aimard virginie.aimard Feb 22, 2011
  • Totally missing is the enormous opportunity for solving the low level of tech support available in most K-12 schools. See the SchoolDude/CoSN survey data on school technicans per user vs. private sector. - keith.krueger keith.krueger Feb 22, 2011 - judy.oconnell judy.oconnell Feb 26, 2011
  • The cloud is joined at the hip with mobile devices like the iPad and other tablets and especially forthcoming Google Chrome based devices. When your data is in the cloud, the device is just the access point. It may maintain a cache of your informaiton for peformance reasons but the master copy remains in the cloud. This offers high-fidelity recovery when a device is lost, damaged or stolen. Thus, trust issues become a balance -- which do you trust more, the vendor's commitment to keep your data private or your PC's ability to not crash.- brandt.redd brandt.redd Feb 24, 2011 - judy.oconnell judy.oconnell Feb 26, 2011
  • There is still a lack of trust, particularly around security and privacy of data, that prevents schools (in Australia at least from moving down this track). Whilst this is changing it has been a barrier for schools to embrace this technology. We also have technicians who see this as a threat to their positions in this marketplace. However, I agree with the comments above that this actually represents a shift to simplifying school networks, allowing schools to focus on their core business, enabling learning in/out of school, and potentially shifting costs to more appropriate areas of funding in the school.- garry.putland garry.putland Feb 25, 2011 - judy.oconnell judy.oconnell Feb 26, 2011
  • This technology can save time in investment in local resources - a boon for educational institutions anywhere who have good bandwidth. However, there is a 'fear' factor that prevents easy adoption of the cloud - judy.oconnell judy.oconnell Feb 26, 2011
  • I would echo what Judy said...esp when it comes to K-12 and younger kids, administrators are still skittish about going here. It's an unknown. - will.richardson will.richardson Feb 26, 2011
  • I think the trust issue will remain a key barrier to cloud computing becoming heartily embraced in the near future by schools, no matter how well it brings up the cost argument. The issue of security and privacy of data is a real problem. - julie.hoo julie.hoo Feb 28, 2011

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

  • The rise of the personal cloud will have an affect on how, where and when we access our personal data collections. Before, the cloud meant more of an IT or enterprise level of support and implementation, but now this has trickled down to the consumer level where we now use personal NAS systems (ex. PogoPlug) and personal cloud services such as Dropbox, SugarSync and others. By storing more and more of our personal information in the cloud, accessing and sharing this data across devices and among others has become trivial. Now our data is as mobile as both we and our devices are. Maturing of the personal cloud services will mean more access to our data when we need it, and this could be important for learning, teaching and creativity. http://www.computerweekly.com/Articles/2010/05/17/241257/Personal-cloud-will-replace-traditional-operating-systems-says.htm - KeeneH KeeneH Feb 15, 2011 - judy.oconnell judy.oconnell Feb 26, 2011
  • Cloud storage and applications can definitely reduce costs for districts. The portability of content also assists with collaboration in the educational environment. I still have a big concern about storing student and teacher personal information in the cloud. Even though we make third party vendors who have access to our data sign confidentiality agreements, ultimately it will be the district's responsiblity if data is compromised. alice.owen- alice.owen alice.owen Feb 19, 2011
  • - jan.morrison jan.morrison Feb 24, 2011jan.morrison
  • So long as there is broadband connectivity, it puts the anytime, anyplace into anytime, anyplace.- chris.brown chris.brown Feb 21, 2011
  • Ditto Alice. - virginie.aimard virginie.aimard Feb 22, 2011
  • The cloud is allowing students to work fluently between their various computing/mobile devices (e.g. using tools such as Evernote or Dropbox) aligning the organisation of their learning with their normal social use of technology - judy.oconnell judy.oconnell Feb 26, 2011
  • Huge, assuming we help students (and ourselves) develop a comfort around it. - will.richardson will.richardson Feb 26, 2011

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

  • Many districts are shifting to Google Education and moving away from MS Exchange to save money and get access to Google apps in a closed environment. Right now it is free. alice.owen- alice.owen alice.owen Feb 19, 2011
  • The CoSN Emerging Technologies Committee did a short brief on Cloud Computing that is available on www.cosn.org - chris.brown chris.brown Feb 21, 2011
  • Statewide initiatives in OR (Google) and KY (Microsoft Live@Edu) - keith.krueger keith.krueger Feb 22, 2011
  • My school has adopted Microsoft's Live@Edu for teachers to form a professional learning community. The Live@Edu has changed the way teachers teach and students learn. High cost savings for school. the servers are in the clouds!- limad limad Feb 26, 2011
  • add your response here

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