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.


ALT-C Next Steps:

Please capture the discussion of your groups around this question in the space below:

How can we maximise the ability of Higher and Further Education institutions and their learning technology innovators to take advantage of this emerging technology and its applications?

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  • We are already there with google email - in some institutions all students already using cloud (SaaS). It is already ubiquitious not education specific. But for some communications (e.g. student teacher) email is inefficient compared to use of discussion board for Q&A.
  • Large data sets and analysis are an opportunity not yet exploited.Teaching students about treating large data sets. Also collaboration to collect large data sets
  • Problems - lack of confidence, blocked ports, ownership of content, systems integration, legal limitations mean it ISNT global (which is the premise of cloud)
  • when things go wrong is it supported? leads to caution. Same issue for user support.
  • conceptualising the application (in the business) to the software application (pote tially a generic cloud app)
  • intertia - where is the critical mass of exiting data
  • coming to terms with a need to drop ideosyncracies
  • can we migrate?
  • mind the gap - subject specialists
  • current drivers are cost cutting and efficiency - how to avoid short term decisions with longer term pain?
  • possible danger of 2 tier division - who can afford vs minimal service





Work of the Advisory Board previous to Sept 5


INSTRUCTIONS: Enter your responses to the questions below. This is most easily done by moving your cursor to the end of the last item and pressing RETURN to create a new bullet point. Please include URLs whenever you can (full URLs will automatically be turned into hyperlinks; please type them out rather than using the linking tools in the toolbar).

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 27, 2010

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

  • It might be easier to state the cases where cloud computing will not be relevant. There is a very strong case to be made that states the default should be for computing in the cloud solutions with all the benefits of resilience and redundancy these provide at a fraction of the cost of traditional LAN-based and extranet host-based computing solutions. So wherever you have a corporate-IT requirement the cloud computing service should be considered, and only when it doesn't stack-up, should the host-based alternative be considered. The main criteria should be for any self-provided computing solution (and I'm not talking about in-house development here, I'm talking about procurement and implementation of a service on the corporate network) to be one that provided a competitive edge for the institution. There is no point in trumpeting the success of your email system, your personnel system or even your core-finance system; but systems that handle applications better and faster, enabling efficient cash-flow and which enable better retaining of students (and staff), would be good candidates for non-cloud based services. The other candidate for non-cloud computing solutions might be those relating to personal productivity and I can see a great increase in the number of applications that central IT Services will have to work with due to the growth in number and improved capability of end-users computing capabilities and the variety of devices they wish to use. Thus I believe the cloud is inevitable, it is desirable and it is ubiquitous. The institution that doesn't embrace cloud computing will find itself falling behind quite rapidly as it finds itself unable to redeploy the shrinking internal resources it has to more innovative and future-looking requirements that support the institution's mission. [I wrote the above before watching the excellent presentation from Simon Wardley at #esym11. With Chris Cobbs also presenting at the event, I would defer to their views. However, I note with some sense of relied that my rather simplistic analysis is not greatly at variance with what Simon was saying - he just said is so much better. He also provided answers to the "missing themes" questions I posed {below}. I was also pleased to hear him putting the case forward for open source, but from a different standpoint than mine. His case was that the cloud would accelerate the growth of the cloud for economic, competitive and survival reasons. I hadn't thought of that - I still however prefer the release of innovative capital reason - "set our people free" and they will create great things :-)] - david.harrison david.harrison May 9, 2011
  • At a recent JISC Strategic Technology Group meeting, delegates looked at current cloud inititiatives in HE and the broad conclusion was that models of cloud computing at the moment are more likely to succeed in HE in meeting commodity services or where they can supply a new service which is not already met within the University IT environment. Registrars, finance directors and other key process are not ready to relinquish control of shaping processes and at the moment they feel, rightly or wrongly that they have that with in house staff and systems. There is very little need for flexible processing power in administration and the cost benefits are still to be proven. http://blogs.cetis.ac.uk/wilbert/2011/04/15/the-cloud-is-for-the-boring/. user:patrick.oreilly|1305633112]]
  • it's true that adoption thus far has been opportunistic - as new needs or solutions materialise. However I do think a more strategic approach is possible if institutions consider processes rather than systems/services and identify those that are transactional in nature. Enterprise Architecture supports this approach to disaggregate processes from systems and physical infrastructure and thus identify paths to to cloud provision. - chris.cobb chris.cobb May 17, 2011
  • through the Universities Modernisation Fund, HEFCE and JISC are supporting a number of new national services based around the cloud - see http://www.hefce.ac.uk/news/hefce/2011/cloud.htm - chris.cobb chris.cobb May 17, 2011

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

  • Why an institution should embrace cloud computing; the motivation for doing so; the business benefit. - david.harrison david.harrison May 9, 2011
  • with students expecting to use/see/experience systems/processes/tools similar to those in industry the use of cloud is a vlauable employability skill, alongside the relevant digital literacy skills - neil.witt neil.witt May 16, 2011
  • I think the confusion between 'cloud' in the sense that it is defined in this question, and SaaS which is often described, wrongly, in this context, is going to become a real problem when our institutions come to work out their business plans. Cloud may offer efficiencies and savings but it is infrastructure and should, and mostly will, be invisible to users. As such it will not directly differentiate institutions. SaaS is a different matter. - paulwalk paulwalk May 16, 2011
  • Most discussion about cloud infrastructure (that I've heard) - i.e. IaaS, which is what I think we are addressing here - has focused on administrative computing and research computing and storage. I've seen relatively little reference made to use of cloud infrastructure to support teaching and learning. - andy.powell andy.powell May 17, 2011
  • The introductory description seems to miss out any analysis of collaboration and power between students, academics and administrators. Much cloud functionality is free or low-cost and democratic in nature, permitting anyone to initiate creative effort, and to control privileges for reading and editing information. The opportunities available contrast with the rather top-down, course structured control imposed in VLEs as a rule. - rmillwood rmillwood Jul 6, 2011

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on teaching, learning, research or information management within the next five years?

  • Potentially the greatest benefit is that creative energy, enthusiasm and endeavour can be employed on finding solutions from the web for real users problems. An explosion in enablement coupled to a much better attempt at engagement would lead to users being assisted to find solutions to their problems. This might also lead to a resurgence in open source computing solutions as innovators across the sector once again begin to work collaboratively to produce solutions based upon solutions for end-user devices. - david.harrison david.harrison May 9, 2011
  • the live@edu and google cloud solutions also provide a collaborative / social learning space. Perhaps the Cloud could deliver what the VLE only promised. - neil.witt neil.witt May 16, 2011
  • None whatsoever in a direct sense - it's just infrastructure - although cost/efficiency savings may be passed on to these areas. - paulwalk paulwalk May 16, 2011
  • I think there will be a role in providing processor intensive but peak demand services such as rendering for digital images, video, services that are being provided in quite inefficient ways at the moment. The ability to simulate realistic development environments e.g. for web services without risking the Univerity network (security, performance etc) makes cloud attractive for Computing and business schools - patrick.oreilly patrick.oreilly May 17, 2011
  • In the context of teaching, learning and creative expression, any application which needs more compute or storage than institutions can easily provision themselves, or which is bursty or short-term in nature. This might include video type applications I guess. In the context of research, I think we will see an increasing use of the cloud (both true public clouds and education community clouds) for both research computation and research data storage. - andy.powell andy.powell May 17, 2011

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

Please share information about related projects in our Horizon Project sharing form.
  • This does not mean that hosted or shared services through suppliers is not being considered - just the case for cloud. There could be a role for cloud in technology environments to support teaching and learning where demand for a service is peaky e.g. cloud based redering services in digital design, or where IT services are required for simulations or other emphemeral activity.
  • The JISC-funded FleSSR project includes a pilot activity at the University of Reading that is using cloud based virtual machines to support Computer Science undergraduate project tasks. - andy.powell andy.powell May 17, 2011
  • The JISC University Modernisation Fund Programme includes a Cloud Brokerage service (at JANET(UK)), a cloud advisory service (at DCC) and a pilot cloud infrastructure (at Eduserv) as well as a range of SaaS projects running on that infrastructure. http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/umf.aspx - andy.powell andy.powell May 19, 2011
  • through the Universities Modernisation Fund, HEFCE and JISC are supporting a number of new national services based around the cloud - seehttp://www.hefce.ac.uk/news/hefce/2011/cloud.htm - chris.cobb chris.cobb May 17, 2011