Thursday, November 27, 2008

Cloud Computing

Had a chance to see Kent Adams' (Director IT&R) dry run of his presentation on cloud computing on Wednesday.

Read the Wikipedia entry on cloud computing

It's also referred to as SaaS (Software as a Service), I'm sure it used to be called Application Service Provision (ASP) and before that 'thin client computing' (and even before that mainframe/dumb terminal) but I'm showing my age.

Basically a few players (notably Microsoft and Google) are offering to host services (from email to the Office suite) at prices significantly less than we can provide them for and arguably with a lot more utility. They do this by the sheer economies of scale and a massively distributed network of datacentres/servers. If ITR did move to that model of service provision they would remove themselves from the Sisyphean cycle of hardware and network upgrades, backup and maintenance tasks, the impossibility of meeting increasing user expectations, and a significant user support burden.

Potential downsides include:
  • our internet connection becomes crucial in IT service delivery
  • that the price today may not be the price tomorrow (Kent quoted Scott McNealy's take "the first heroin fix is free")
  • the loss of control particularly over security and privacy
The pluses include:
  • tapping into a the resources of these giants (Kent was clearly impressed that Google had 350 software engineers IN AUSTRALIA ALONE - so am I)
  • proven reliability - can you remember Google being down?
  • having access the constant improvements and additional products that are developed on behalf of all customers
  • not having to deal with the I: drive, students having gigabytes of storage they can access the same way from anywhere
I wrote an issues paper (in response to our I: drive woes) about this much earlier in the year for Heather and Kent and came across this quote from Kari Barlow, Assistant Vice President, University Technology Office, Arizona State University along the lines of ‘Internet services are no longer a cottage industry, not every institution has to build their own from scratch anymore’. ASU have partnered with Google to provide their students with email accounts.

Kent noted that we already are using this model for some services, SpendVision and Serials Solutions are examples.

Kent wasn't presenting it as a fait accompli but it was certainly worthy of consideration. Very cool to see our IT people take the possibilities seriously.

Bought the T-Shirt? See the movie. A 6 minute intro to cloud computing - clear and simple:

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