For years, cloud computing has been one of those technology terms that everyone has heard but few people actually understand. If you're involved in technology buying decisions for your school, you've likely even been pitched by companies offering cloud services. Still, many of us, even those of us on the cutting edge in terms of keeping up with tech solutions, still can't quite define what “the cloud” actually is.
Cloud computing operates on the principle that users need broad access to applications and information. Whether it’s a word processor or photo editing utility – users need the software wherever they happen to be and on whatever device they happen to be carrying.
The cloud essentially extends the concept of the Internet and adds applications alongside what formerly was only pipeline. Nobody knows where their online email gets housed or exactly how it works, but they know they can log into Gmail, Hotmail or any similar service wherever they happen to be. Cloud computing broadens that idea to include what had traditionally been software-based computer functions.
Before cloud computing, if you wanted to create a spreadsheet, you would need to have a program installed on your computer that allowed you to create a spreadsheet. If you wanted to share that document with someone else in your school electronically, he or she would also have to have a copy of that program on their machine.
Cloud computing removes the need for that software, as well as the need to store documents and files on individual machines. Cloud services (there are both free and paid versions) allow you to access programs and documents from any supported device through the Internet. Depending upon the cloud service being used, devices can be anything from a computer to a tablet or even a smartphone.
Basically, instead of having the programs you use and your files on one computer, you have them in a place where you can access them from any computer or computer-like device. This certainly removes the need to make sure the software you need – perhaps Microsoft PowerPoint for a presentation – is on the computer you will be using to present. Instead, you will simply need to log into the “cloud” to access the program and your presentation.
Of course, the cloud is not some magic place; it's actually a grid of computers that a cloud service provider uses to house data and applications. Cloud computing adds flexibility and in some cases, allows schools to buy less powerful (and less expensive) computers with smaller storage capacity. Because they won't be storing lots of data or actually having to power any software, netbooks and other cheap computer solutions work well as part of a cloud strategy.
Cloud computing has been a growing category, and many, but not all, computer applications or programs are offered this way. Many schools already use cloud solutions for data storage, and many teachers likely use cloud solutions such as the free Google Docs (which basically is a lower-powered knock-off of Microsoft Office) in order to access, edit or create documents from multiple computers and multiple locations.
The bottom line: Cloud computing can give your school added flexibility while potentially reducing software and hardware costs.
Article by Daniel B. Kline, EducationWorld Contributing Editor
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