Hastings, Robin, Library Technology Reports
Mike Gunderloy, a contributor to the Web Worker Daily blog and a frequent author on tech topics, made an interesting analogy in a post on his blog on July 30, 2008. (1) He compared the way we handle information to the way we handle money: either we can keep it all on our personal computers, subject to risk of hard-drive failures or natural disasters, or we can "deposit" it in the bank of servers that exist in the network--sometimes called the "cloud"--and just pull it out when we need it, much like using an ATM.
Web Worker Daily blog
Defining Cloud Computing
The cloud, in this case, is the massive network of storage devices (servers) that exist somewhere "out there" on the Internet. Wikipedia defines cloud computing as an "Internet-based ('cloud') development and use of computer technology ('computing')." (2) For this report, we will consider the cloud to be the network of servers that run the services (Facebook, Flickr, etc.) that can be used as collaborative platforms. When we use this cloud, we are uploading documents, data, images, and other artifacts of our work to a server or server farm that is under someone else's control. A server farm is a number of servers that are linked together to provide more storage and more computing power than a single server could alone (see figure 2). Often, in the Web 2.0 world, these services are free, but just as often there are versions that offer more storage, more features, or better accessibility for a price. This chapter will discuss some of the benefits that we can realize from our use of cloud computing and the pitfalls of using other organizations' servers to hold data.
Benefits of Cloud Computing
There are many benefits for those who use cloud computing. The ability to outsource much of the day-to-day technical duties--the commodity part of any job-frees employees to concentrate on other aspects of their work that could otherwise have been neglected. If an organization doesn't have to worry about doing backups, keeping hackers out of its data, or providing more virtual storage space, it can worry about the bigger picture and the more mission--focused projects that it might be working on. It is important to note that choosing cloud computing assumes a high degree of trust between the organization and its cloud computing provider, as the provider will be trusted with sensitive information and security details.
A cloud computing provider can be any company that runs many servers that are available for use either directly or as a part of an application like Facebook, Flickr, or Ning. Direct service providers give companies access to computing resources "in the cloud" that are scalable--many companies use services such as Amazon's Simple Storage Service (S3) to provide extra bandwidth and storage space that is reliable and can be expanded on a moment's notice. The type of cloud computing provider I will be referring to in this report, however, offers more than just computing resources. Facebook, Flickr, and Ning are all providers of applications that make use of the cloud and can be considered cloud computing providers. When you post a message to Facebook. upload a picture to Flickr, or add a document to a Ning group, you are taking advantage of a cloud computing provider's resources.
Chris Brogan, a popular social media blogger, provided a great example of cloud computing when he wrote a post about what happened when his main personal computer died. (3) Surprisingly, the event actually turned out to be much less trouble than he anticipated. Most of his daily computing life was conducted on various websites instead of on his personal computer--his life was "in the clouds." Because he used cloud-based applications like Gmail, Goggle Calendar, Evernote, Flickr, Goggle Docs, and Delicious (formerly del.icio.us) for his data, none of it was lost when his computer refused to boot up. …