Cloud Computing

A simple way of thinking about cloud computing is to consider the idea of moving all the physical servers and applications that are located inside a school into a hosted environment outside the organisation (in the 'cloud'). The 'cloud' is not an actual physical «thing», but may be loosely thought of as a collection of networked servers.

The concept of clouds has been around for some time, but is becoming attractive to those in educational institutions because of;

  • The roll-out of fibre networks which allow much faster access to the remote servers
  • The increasing number of applications that are available as online 'services', rather than having to be purhased and installed in the school's own servers. This phenomenon is often referred to software as a service, or SaaS

Many people are already making use of software as a service without knowing that's what it is – for instance, the range of sites that will host your blog or wiki for you, the sites that will store your photographs or movies. More significantly are the services such as the Google apps – with Google mail and Google docs etc – available as a service rather than having to purchase and install your own software.

Cloud computing options will provide an attractive alternative to schools looking to spread the risk of their ICT investment. Benefits include:

  • it is (more-or-less) infinitely scalable
  • clouds shift the costs of IT investment from CAPEX to OPEX which allows finer control of expenditure and avoids costly asset acquisition and maintenances
  • services on the cloud can be accessed from anywhere and at anytime, reducing the need for costly firewall and external access systems in the school
  • information in the cloud is (generally) backed up and less subject to server failure within the organisation

The concept of cloud computing supports very well with the concept of ubiquitous computing, and the increasing use of internet capable mobile devices that are designed simply to use services that are in the cloud, not necessarily installed on the device.

Take aways

  • How would you describe the concept of the cloud to your staff or board of trustees?
  • What do you understand to be the advantages and risks of storing school data in the cloud?
  • What services currently owned and managed by your school would most easily be provided in the cloud?