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Thursday, 27 August 2009

Cloud Computing for all?

'Cloud Computing' image from Dreamstime.comJust a brief post in response to one from Tony Bates. He makes reference to a recent EDUCAUSE 2-page document entitled '7 things you should know about Cloud Computing' which is a well balanced paper and well worth reading.

As the abstract says:
Cloud computing is the delivery of scalable IT resources over the Internet, as opposed to hosting and operating those resources locally, such as on a college or university network. Those resources can include applications and services, as well as the infrastructure on which they operate. By deploying IT infrastructure and services over the network, an organization can purchase these resources on an as-needed basis and avoid the capital costs of software and hardware. With cloud computing, IT capacity can be adjusted quickly and easily to accommodate changes in demand. Cloud computing also allows IT providers to make IT costs transparent and thus match consumption of IT services to those who pay for such services. Operating in a cloud environment requires IT leaders and staff to develop different skills, such as managing contracts, overseeing integration between in-house and outsourced services, and mastering a different model of IT budgets.

However, before teachers all jump on the bandwaggon of 'free resources', as I have hinted at before, two things need to be considered which the author, P. Kurkowski, forgets to mention. Firstly, younger pupils, the less able, some disabled students and the elderly may require systems that are much more e-safe than the responsible average HE student may require. Secondly, Cloud Computing lends itself very much to the ideosyncratic choices of applications that teachers may never have experienced. The provision of support for an unknown number of different applications would become a nightmare if no forms of control were established. - But who would advise students to invest in a product that has no guaranteed future or who may be hooked into a system that suddenly starts charging for its services?

For a most erudite and lengthy exposition on cloud computing see Stephen Downes' article. He starts from the basis:

In the cloud of connections, we each become social neurons, mimicking the biological human brain but on a giant scale. This collective knowledge is far beyond anything a single search engine could index and archive. Intelligence is spreading everywhere, every minute, and cloud computing can draw new links across new ideas.

However, for an even more challenging read, see the site: Day 81: Ars Electronica Symposium Examines Cloud Intelligence one extract must suffice:
Jules Verne published his novel at the dawn of industrialised globalisation, when the steam engine and the colonial conquests of Europe made it possible for the first time to circumnavigate the planet in relative comfort, and in less than three months. In the 125 years since, the pace of globalisation has accelerated exponentially. Our cars, clothes, computers, and cupboards all depend on vast international networks of manufacturing, finance, and trade. This flood of globalisation has carried the economic and environmental crises to almost every corner of the world. Are these crises an inevitable part of human nature? Or is it possible to shape a new connected consciousness to tackle global problems collectively and equitably?

Welcome to the
cloud. Welcome to new the social ecology of the 21st century. Welcome to mobile banking from a New York taxi cab direct to rural Kenya. Welcome to the wild wondrous web of blogs, podcasts, mailing lists and streaming video from camera phones the size of credit cards. All instant and all the time. The world has changed. We have changed.

But, I would ask, has 'Education'?


Paul said...

Ray, thanks for sharing this. I have recently read a white paper from Sun (apologies in advance but registration is required). I found this a useful overview of developments and directions.

One comment I often here is that the cloud may not be there tomorrow, meaning the service I use might be turned off, bought out, unavailable, etc. But then again we do occasional power cuts and yet that does not stop me using electricity.

Ray Tolley said...

Hi, Paul,

Thanks for the link to the paper a good solid exposition, well worth studying, even if Sun does have a vested interest.

Your argument re power-cuts is not that strong, however. They rarely turn the service off completely and, certainly not without warning. If I am worried about costs I can easily go to 'go-compare' and smoothly change providers without any of the hassle that downloading, re-configuring and uploading of artefacts to another host might incur - and that for a 5-year old or aged granny?

Thanks again!