Cloud computing refers to the delivery of some computing applications, services and storage to users from ‘the cloud’ (something that can generally be thought of as an extension of the internet), rather than from a local computer or server.
Cloud computing is used loosely to describe all manner of services delivered via the internet JISC InfoNet (2012). It is not a new technology but a new way of delivering computing resources based on long existing technologies such as server virtualisation. The 'cloud' as such is composed of hardware, storage, networks, interfaces and services that provide the means through which infrastructure, computing power, applications and services are accessed by the user on-demand and independent of location Convery (2010). In cloud computing, organisations or individuals contract with a cloud computing service provider on a pay-per-use basis to access data centres, application software or web services from any location. This provides an elasticity of provision which can be scaled up or down to meet demand (McDonald et al, 2010).
However, despite considerable interest in cloud services among education providers, the rate of adoption is generally low JISC InfoNet (2012). The most common adoption is cloud-based email for students in HE and FE. In general, institutions are awaiting the results of early adopters' foray into cloud computing before committing to moving its more core business processes into the cloud (McDonald et al, 2010).
The adoption of cloud computing is often driven by economic reasons, with some schools seeing austerity and reduced budgets as presenting an opportunity (e.g., Hastings, 2009; McDonald et al, 2010). Against this, socio-cultural issues such as perceived risks to security of data and applications in the cloud and concern over jurisdiction and privacy of data (McDonald et al, 2010).
Benefits of cloud computing
The cloud offers savings on software, storage and support costs Hastings (2009). It provides a flexible, scalable, cost effective model that does not tie schools to infrastructure or application investments. Cloud computing can also eliminate the upfront financial burden of deploying new technologies through a pay-as-you-go model Intel (2010).
Cloud services can make a contribution to reducing energy consumption (e.g., JISC InfoNet, 2012; SURF, 2011) It can do this by bringing computing resources together in state of the art, energy-efficient data centres. However, institutions need to take care that the cost-effectiveness of cloud computing does not mean that wasteful and energy inefficient processes are simply being moved to the cloud rather than being reviewed and redesigned (McDonald et al, 2010).
The cloud offers a great deal of flexibility to meet rapidly changing software requirements, making it possible to provide services 'at any time', 'at any place', and 'on any device' (e.g., Intel, 2010; JISC InfoNet, 2012; SURF, 2011)
Risks of cloud computing
Data Protection is amongst the legal issues that cause most concern for those considering the cloud, data security and legal issues can be compounded by lack of control over who has access to data and lack of visibility about what processing is taking place. The cloud may also adversely affect their ability to comply with the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act JISC InfoNet (2012).
See also this publication from the Information Commissioner's Office (2012): Guidance on the use of cloud computing
There are risks related to 'lock-in' when moving to a cloud environment. One is the (typically) proprietary nature of the systems, the other is the risk that, by restructuring internal IT service departments, you lose the capability to deliver services in-house in the future JISC InfoNet (2012).
Byrne (2012) Google drive and google docs – what teachers need to know.
Convery (2010) Cloud Computing Toolkit: Guidance for Outsourcing Information Storage to the Cloud. Aberystwyth University and The Archives and Records Association UK and Ireland.
Hastings (2009) Don't Worry, Be Scrappy: Good, Cheap Tech for Schools, Cloud Computing and More. School Library Journal.
Intel (2010) Cloud Computing for School IT and 21st Century eLearning. Intel
JISC InfoNet (2012), Cloud Computing infokit. JISC Advance
McDonald et al (2010) Final report from the JISC Review of the Environmental and Organisational Implications of Cloud Computing in Higher and Further Education. Strathclyde: University of Strathclyde.
SURF (2011) Into the cloud with SURF - Cloud computing and cloud services in higher education and research. SURFnet/Kennisnet. Innovation Programme.
Free Software Foundation on Software as a Service by Richard Stallman, 2010
An interesting article written for the business market is The Future of Mobile Cloud, which opens by saying:
"As more enterprises adopt cloud services and embrace enterprise mobility initiatives, mobile and cloud are converging."
The article goes on to look at the driving forces of the "mobile could", and explores the relationships between BYOD and cloud computing, and BYOD and consumerisation, as well as the future of the cloud and its challenges. (Note that you need to subscribe in order to read the article, but there is no charge.)
Northern Ireland: 1 April 2012 saw the the roll out of "Europe’s first Education Cloud environment", providing all NI schools with "superfast connectivity to the Education Cloud" with up to 200Mb of bandwidth. DENI making a £170 million investment over five years "A key aspect of the service will be to facilitate the increased use of personal smart mobile devices, such as tablet computers." http://www.c2kni.org.uk/news/nENniLeader.html