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With the development of Internet and computer software technology, there is a long term existence of a new trend expected to continue, which is the so-called Cloud Computing. (Hu, L et al, 2009)
Boss et al. (2007, p. 4) argue that “a Cloud is a pool of virtualized computer resources”. (Weinhardt, C et al, 2008)
This paper will briefly look into the definitions of cloud computing and its service models, and introduces a cloud computing service by Google for education and universities with its benefits.
Boss et al. (2007, p. 4), argue that “a Cloud is a pool of virtualized computer resources”.
They consider clouds to complement grid environments by supporting the management of grid resources. In particular, according to this definition, clouds allow the dynamic scale-in and scale -out of applications by the provisioning and de-provisioning of resources. (Weinhardt, C et al, 2008)
The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines cloud computing as ” a model for enabling convenient and on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources such as networks, servers, storage, applications and services that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction”.
Wikipedia website defines cloud computing as “an Internet based computing, whereby shared resources, software and information are provided to computers and other devices on demand, like a public utility”.
In cloud computing environment, applications and the storage of data are significantly different.
Applications and data are hosted to the “Cloud” and no longer running or saved on the personal computers. The cloud is formed by a collection of servers and computers and viewing the data and using the applications are done via the Internet. Cloud computing allows the users to access the applications and information from any computer connected to the Internet from anywhere around the world. This makes the remote collaboration easier for the users.
Although cloud computing brings a great flexibility and ease of use for the users, but the security and safety of the applications and information is a major concern which must be considered and be prepared to solve any problems that may occur when switching to cloud computing as web-based data and applications have potential security risks. (Hu, L et al, 2009)
According to the definition of cloud computing by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) which mentioned earlier in this paper, cloud computing promotes availability and is comprised by five essential characteristics, three cloud service models, and four cloud deployment models. (See Figure 2)
The service models comprise; cloud software as a service (SaaS), cloud platform as a service (PaaS) and cloud infrastructure as a service (IaaS).
The users are able to use the provider’s applications running on a cloud infrastructure. Users can access the applications from different client devices via a client interface such as web browsers. (For example, yahoo email which is web-based). The application providers manage and control the underlying cloud infrastructure including storage, operating systems and networks. This service model usually put limitation on configuration of the applications by users.
The users are capable of deploying onto the cloud infrastructure consumer-created or acquired applications created by using programming languages and tools which are supported by the providers. Like (SaaS) the users don not manage or control the underlying cloud infrastructure including storage, operating systems and network but they have control on deployed applications and possibly are able to configure the applications.
The users are provided with the capability of provision processing, storage, and networks and able to deploy and run arbitrary software including operating systems and applications. Like the other two services that mentioned above, the users do not manage the underlying cloud infrastructure but has control over deployed applications, storage and operating systems. (National Institute of Standards and Technology, 2009)
The Internet service providers such as Amazon, Google and IBM are extending computing infrastructures and platforms as a core for providing top level services for computation, storage, database and applications. Figure 3 gives an overview of the type of cloud computing services on demand and their providers.
Universities’ needs for ICT and cloud computing
In a very simplified way, the needs for ICT in a university are demonstrated in figure 4.
There are different groups and departments in a university including students and staff who have demand for IT services. As shown in figure 4, an IT department should provide software such as email accounts, special applications for different courses and hardware such as computers and servers for the users.
The IT department can shift these services to the cloud to enable students and staff using these services via the providers of SaaS, IaaS and PaaS.
For example, an application which is launched by a student resides on the server of the SaaS cloud provider and is accessed via the Internet. Another example is, many of the Customer Relationships Management (CRM) software such as SugarCRM, Oracle and Microsoft CRM are on host SaaS as well as on premise.
The same situation applies when extra hardware such as virtual servers or computers is needed for students and staff. In this scenario, the IaaS cloud provider will execute the service online.
If a department or group in the university wants to use all the software and hardware that they need online (i.e. for hosting application developed by a group of students) then it is possible through a PaaS cloud provider. (Sultan, 2010)
Cloud computing can help the universities to rationalize the way they manage their resources. One of the good reasons for shifting to cloud computing is to get economic benefit in current recession.
Cloud computing prove to be a great benefit and empowering in some situations to the universities due to its flexibility and cost structure. (Sultan, 2010)
Simplification, costs and convenience of the way of delivering computer related services via cloud computing are the keys which should be considered for shifting to the cloud.
Cloud computing reduces IT costs such as installation and maintaining of applications. Also continues upgrade of software and hardware and the cost of these products is another reason for universities to consider shifting to cloud computing. To promote the university and attract students, universities should always be on the lookout for the new IT services and products. Cloud computing is a way to achieve these products (Software & Hardware) at affordable prices.
The electricity costs for running an IT infrastructure in a university for hardware such as servers, switches and back-up drives could be very expensive. Therefore shifting a university to cloud computing is likely to reduce these costs and other related expenses. (Joint et al, 2009)
In addition, cloud computing means shifting the management and responsibility of these service and products to their provider. This may result in cost saving with relation to human resources as fewer IT employees will be needed for the IT department.
By reducing the number of hardware devices needed in the university to run the software and applications and replacing them with cloud computing systems, the amount of energy for running and cooling the hardware devices will be reduced. Also using cloud computing telecommunication techniques such as printing and file transfers reduces the need for office space, buying office furniture, disposing of old furniture, buying chemicals for cleaning the offices and more. Those cloud telecommunication techniques also may reduce the need for driving to work and resulting in decrease with relation to carbon dioxide emissions. (IBM, 2010)
Google offers cloud computing services for higher education and is called Google Apps. Google Apps consists of advanced communication and collaboration tools for education and universities without the cost and complexity of maintaining on-site hardware and software free of charge and advertisements.
Currently many of the universities, colleges and schools from all around the world including Kingston College, University of Leeds and University of Portsmouth in the UK are using Google Apps. (See figure 5)
Google Apps enable the students getting connected to the campus with mobile access wand 7 GBs email storage which is protected against spam and viruses. It also enables them to stay connected with built-in instance messaging (IM), voice and video chat and file transfering. Students can share calendar and schedule groups, rooms and so on from even mobile phones.
Creating and sharing documents such as word, spreadsheets and presentations online from any location by students and teachers is the collaboration feature of Google Apps. They can also share videos that anyone can comment on, tag and rate. Also they are able to build shared websites that include videos, images and documents, create forums and mailing lists.
Using Google Apps helps the IT staff to focus on other activities such as adding value to the IT facilities rather than being worried and engaged with the IT problems which may occur. There is no software to install, and no need for hardware. Google Apps have created a multitude of APIs and have approved partners to help the universities for integrating with their existing IT system. (Google, 2010)
Cloud computing is an emerging and a good model of delivering computing services for education by relying on existing technologies such as Internet, web services and virtualization. It offers the universities substantial cost saving and more efficient way of providing IT services to the students and staff. The universities can reduce their IT services cost such as software, hardware, and maintenance of the applications and shift the responsibility of the IT services to the service providers.
‘Google Apps’ is an example of cloud computing system for education which is discussed earlier in this paper. Students can get real benefits of Google Apps such as 7 GBs email storage, easy collaboration with each other and the lecturers and so on.
Furthermore, cloud computing is environmentally friendly as the reduction in number of hardware devices decreases the amount of energy for running and cooling those devices. Also cloud computing telecommunication techniques reduces the need for driving to work and results in reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.
It is important to consider that cloud computing might not be suitable for all organisations such as those which the loss of service as a result of cloud problems is a major concern and may have an impact on their customer services and loss of sales. Unreliable IT services in a university makes a bad reputation and have effect on the university rank.
In conclusion, with the speed of technology innovation and the benefits of clouding it is likely that in the near future the education centres shift their IT services to the cloud. Therefore the safety and security of the critical data and information is an issue in cloud computing which should be considered by the providers to attract the education centres. For example the law would possibly allow the governments or other organisations to access certain data and information. Thus for the time being the universities should consider clouding only on certain data and resources not the critical information.
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