Sunday, February 20, 2011

Is your head in "the cloud"?

by Jonathan Shoaf

My career is the Internet. If the Internet goes away, I will need to make major adaptations. It’s a little scary to be so dependent on one technology, but isn’t that how most people’s careers are? For example, home builders, auto manufacturers, plumbers, and air conditioning repairmen all depend on a certain type of technology for their careers. So is depending on the Internet any riskier of an endeavor? I think only in the since that the Internet is new do people see it as risky. However, more and more people are starting to realize the Internet is not going away and will always be an important part of our lives just like home, cars, plumbing, and central heating and air have been for my entire life.

So now here comes cloud computing and once again my risk flag goes up. Am I really comfortable storing my applications and data on the Internet? What happens if I can’t get to the Internet? Well if you can’t get to the Internet for more than a day (from work, home, or mobile), then the world as we know it has changed dramatically and we may be in the midst of World War III! I think you get my point. Having my head in “the cloud” is not as risky as it appears.

I use the cloud everyday. My news and information aggregator is in the cloud. My task management is in the cloud. My social connections are in the cloud. E-mail, calendar, office docs, miscellaneous file storage...all in the cloud. I’m even writing this document in the cloud!

So what is the cloud? As with all loose technology labels these days, it’s not always obvious what they physically refer to. Remember Web 2.0...what is that? Is the cloud the same thing as Web 2.0? If that’s the case, is the Internet itself the cloud? Wikipedia describes cloud computing as “computation, software, data access, and storage services that do not require end-user knowledge of the physical location and configuration of the system that delivers the services.” Ok, got it?

Let’s take a closer look at this definition. So does this mean your LMS is in the cloud? Well, maybe. Is it installed at your corporation? Well, then that’s not really the cloud now is it? But what if your LMS is a 3rd party provider and you don’t really care where it is or how its configured and backed up...well that could be considered in the cloud. Consider your LMS could be a hybrid. It’s installed on your corporate network but uses some services from the cloud. SCORM Cloud by the good folks at Rustici is an example of this. They provide SCORM services in the cloud that can work with online applications through an API.

You may now be saying, “I have no clue where any Internet sites are...aren’t they part of cloud computing?” Well, not necessarily. Cloud computing generally means you are replacing what would normally have been done on your desktop with an Internet application. For most people this means replacing software and data storage locally with Internet versions of those. Reading the news at is not reading news in the cloud but using the Google Reader RSS aggregator to read your blogs is in the cloud. The reason, Google Reader is storing information about your favorite blogs and performing a software service that was previously desktop-based.

I know these distinctions are subtle and there is some ambiguity in the term. But I hope that you are getting the sense that information and software in the cloud is something that 5-10 years ago would have been stored on your computer. Today you have no clue where it’s stored but you love that you can access it anywhere, any time, from any device. Isn’t that great! So in a sense, my head is in the cloud. Is yours?

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