At this point in your life, there's no way you're not using cloud computing, in one form or another. It's here, it's there, and it's everywhere. You might, however, not know or care about the specifics of the cloud and how it works. You just want to read your email and share your files without using thumb drives, right? Wrong. It's changing the way we communicate, share information and resources, and you should pay attention. In this article we are going to explore how it's going to help you, what you need to watch out for, and how it's already changed college and your experience, whether you realize it or not.
There is no shortage of definitions of "cloud computing." That's partially due to the evolving nature of the concept. Let's call it computing that uses the internet to share resources, information and software on demand. The real insight comes from examining the service models. In this paper on cloud computing, the author notes three distinct service models. They include Software (SaaS), Cloud Platform (PaaS), and Infrastructure (IaaS), all as a Service.
SaaS is the cloud service you'll likely recognize first. eCampus News claims that 6 of 10 campus technology officials are using Gmail for their student populations. Fifteen years ago, providing email meant managing an on-campus email server that might have included a web mail access account. Those days are gone, along with the dreaded campus server downtimes. That's not saying Gmail doesn't have its problems, but they also have the resources to manage them immediately. This provides a great advantage smaller schools that do not have the scale to employ a large IT staff. That means students at smaller schools get better software than they would have ten years ago.
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is the second service model you'll likely recognize. If you have a Dropbox account, use Google Drive, or Amazon's cloud storage service, you're familiar with IaaS. How has it changed college? This case study from Cisco outlines how Claremont McKenna College built their own private cloud to provide IaaS for students, faculty, and staff who hosted web sites. Campus IT wanted to offer an alternative to students and staff who kept their site files on their own laptops or physical machines, which also left the network vulnerable to attacks. Score one for campus IT security! These technologies also allow students and faculty to share data without the physical exchange of a USB stick, or its predecessor, the floppy disk. Collaboration becomes as easy as emailing a link or sharing a file. In a group learning environment like a university, the impact of this on student life cannot be understated.
The final service designation is Platform as a Service (PaaS). In this article from InformationWeek.com, they recount the story of Marian College getting big benefits from the use of cloud computing. They discuss the use of a virtualized environment to train university staff on virtual machines running one kind of software in a computer lab, and then revert back to a different operating system when they were done. This kind of flexibility means more resources can be spent on the business of educating, not on the business of IT.
It's not all fun and unlimited data. There are concerns worth mentioning. Cornell IT published information about cloud computing from Educause, including their concerns about privacy and security. In a shared environment, you give up control of your data to a third party. It's easy to forget that your data is somewhere else, controlled by someone else. Encryption and common sense are two ways to keep data safe.
As today's students face an economy that challenges every university to tighten budgets, cloud computing offers their IT department a way to control costs, and give students access to top-tier technology. It also brings with it some security and privacy concerns worth acknowledging. Today's student should both appreciate and be aware of cloud computing, it's changing college every day.