The Power of Cloud Computing?June 7, 2011
As education reaches unprecedented reform, states are seeking out new and innovative ways to use technology to improve teacher effectiveness and student achievement through efficient management of data via cloud computing, a relatively new concept in data management. We’ve come a long way in a very short time with cloud computing, which has resulted in increased efficiencies and better use of capital in schools and districts across the country.
In recent years, data management has evolved to mean many things to many people. In the past, it meant that data and software were fully contained on computers and servers near the users. However, in recent years, as technology has progressed and become more reliable and as bandwidth increased, servers may be located farther and farther from the end users.
In parallel, data center sophistication has increased with innovations like software virtualization and multi-tenant architectures. This permits many users to be supported on a much smaller number of physical servers than in the past, enabling economies of scale to dramatically reduce total cost.
These technological advances have enabled the birth of cloud computing (also known as “hosting” or “Software as a Service (SaaS).” With cloud computing, software and data is stored on a remote server where the user can access it at anytime.
Did you know, you might already be utilizing cloud-based services without even realizing it? Services like Pearson’s PowerTeacher Mobile™, Gmail, Google Docs, Dropbox, Amazon®, Facebook and MobileMe utilize this structure. Cloud computing is becoming more prevalent in our everyday lives and is projected to increase in upcoming years.
- By 2011, Merrill Lynch says the cloud computing market will reach $160 billion
- By 2013, approximately 60% of server workloads will be virtualized
- 50 percent of the 8 million servers sold every year end up in data centers, according to a BusinessWeek report
- Google currently controls 2% of all servers (about 1 million servers) with plans to have upwards of 10 million servers (107 machines) in the next 10 years.
*Above statistics via Elastic Vapor
As educational institutions face reduced budgets and increased demands for data management, the benefits of cloud computing is becoming apparent and rapidly gaining in popularity. Here is just a sampling of those benefits:
Cost Savings: Cloud computing helps schools and districts save money on multiple fronts.
- It eliminates the need to procure hardware and space for storing servers, data and software.
- It cuts back on utility costs (because you’re not paying for power to cool the servers).
- Software licenses are less of an issue with cloud-based software and are typically provided at a very low cost. “Increasingly we’ll also see more pay-for-use licensing, and licensing arrangements that take into account the specific needs and use of schools and individuals.” (via Derek’s Core-Ed Blog)
Time Savings: Cloud computing eliminates the need for the school-based technical staff to worry about the backend side of Student Information Systems, Learning Management Systems and other software (i.e. software updates). This gives them more time to focus on customizing the software to their school or district’s need. In the end, this allows the technical staff to enhance school improvement.
Decreased Risk: Cloud computing decreases schools and districts risk of the purchase of the software and their time investment in ensuring the software is installed and maintained properly. Furthermore, cloud computing ensures that schools and districts have a disaster recovery program. In other words, if the building is hit by a fire, flood, hurricane, tornado (or any other natural disaster) the school/district data will remain safe.
Seamlessness: By establishing a cloud and placing products within the cloud, education companies like the one I work for may become one seamless face for users. In the future, there may no longer be a need for multiple microchips, RAM, software and multiple logins. Educators and students will be able to visit one URL and provide one login.
Cloud computing from reputable providers is very safe, and usually exceeds the protection offered by locally hosted solutions. Here are some factors to keep in mind when deciding to utilize a cloud-based service.
- Biometric Scanning– Does the facility require employees to undergo biometric scanning prior to entering the facility?
- Surveillance– Does the facility have 24-hour surveillance, 7 days a week, 365 days a year?
- Encrypted Servers- Are the servers encrypted to ward against privacy and data breaches?
- Under Lock & Key- At the facility, are the servers kept in cages under lock and key?
- Network Uptime- How long has the network been up without any downtime.
- Network Monitoring Tools- Is there a system in place that continually monitors the computer network for slow or failing components?
- Anti-Virus Software- Does the system use and regularly update anti-virus software or programs?
- Data Back-Up- Here are some important questions to ask regarding data back-ups:
- Is the data backed up daily?
- Is the data backed up on several drives?
- Is the data backed up on another server?
Cloud computing is sure to help us all achieve our goals as we help support the education reform underway today in America. It serves as an amazing new alternative for managing education technology, and will not only help schools’ technology departments become more productive, but will help cut costs and decrease risks to ultimately improve teacher effectiveness and student achievement. In the age of education reform today cloud computing is a practice that is sure to get us all where we need to go.