By Dr. Ramiro Zuniga
Cloud Computing 101:
What is cloud computing? In a nutshell, it is a service. This service provides you with access to software programs, computing resources and storage space on a private computer or network of computers. Of course, as with most services, you have to pay a fee. And of course, as with any service, the more use of the service, the higher the fee.
So what kind of software programs and computing resources can you access and utilize “in the cloud,” in a school district environment?
Teacher grade books, word processing, on-line calendars, web pages, student information systems, e-mail, video streaming, collaboration programs and wikis, and many others.
Why would you need storage space in a school district environment?
Two examples that require massive amounts of storage space are school district data and multimedia data. There are literally thousands of pieces of data that are maintained for every student, employee, and the organization itself. Add to that, the fact that school districts are required to keep such data for at least five years.
Today, many schools are maintaining photos, videos, and audio files for students, employees, presentations, etc. Each of these is considerably larger in size as compared to a word processing document.
So where does the term “cloud” come from?
The term comes from not knowing where the computers that you are utilizing are physically located. You don’t need to know where the computers are, you just need to be able to access and use them when a need arises. Figuratively speaking, the computers are “out there somewhere in a cloud.”
Advantages vs. Disadvantages:
Although I have listed several advantages and disadvantages to cloud computing below, there is one most favored advantage and one most feared disadvantage. For those that favor cloud computing, they do so mainly because of the cost savings from not having to hire personnel or having to purchase hardware. For those that are against cloud computing, they mainly fear data security as their data is off site.
- Virtually unlimited hardware and software resources
- Cost savings from not having to upgrade large computer systems
- Cost savings associated with hiring less IT personnel
- Vendor provides software programs and updates
- Data is backed up by the vendor. This burden is lifted from the IT department
- Your data is kept offsite so disaster recovery is made easier should your facilities be damaged/destroyed
- Data and programs are available from anywhere in the world via the Internet
- If your Internet access is down, you are dead in the water
- Vendor providing services can go bankrupt without disclosing this to you
- You have no control on protecting your data
- You will be held responsible by your School Board if data is leaked
- You may not be able to access your data directly as your computer programmer would if the data were housed on your computers
- The computer system/network that you are using will be shared by others so processing time can be slower than a computer system dedicated to your district
Can cloud computing work for your school district? Yes, but it can also be disastrous if you choose the wrong service provider. Make sure that you do plenty of research before signing a contract.