Shifting to the Cloud: Reshaping Library Technology Infrastructure

By Breeding, Marshall | Computers in Libraries, March 2014 | Go to article overview

Shifting to the Cloud: Reshaping Library Technology Infrastructure


Breeding, Marshall, Computers in Libraries


Cloud computing provides access to software applications, digital storage, and other technical resources through services that are usually accessed with only a web browser and a connection to the internet. I've covered this family of technologies in many books, articles, and essays that provide more in-depth treatment of the technical details and the specific library products and services in this realm. In broad terms, it comes as the next phase in the evolution of computing following an era that depended more on locally housed servers accessed through software installed on desktop and laptop computers. This change from local to cloud computing has interesting implications for many aspects of a library's technology strategy.

The increased involvement in cloud computing enables libraries to focus more on their core areas of expertise and reduce time spent on routine technical activities, now available as commodity services. In these times when libraries seem to be busier than ever, it is important to make judgments on how to allocate resources, especially those involving technical infrastructure as well as the time and talents of personnel. By moving away from the operation of local servers and relying more on SaaS, libraries effectively have the opportunity to shift resources away from the plumbing of technical infrastructure toward higher-level activities with more immediate impact on their users. The adoption of technology services delivered through some flavor of external hosting or cloud computing brings a variety of changes in the shape of its infrastructure, including both technical and human resource components. This edition of The Systems Librarian explores some of the areas libraries might want to reassess as they move to the cloud.

The Increasing Burden of Local Computing

The responsible operation of servers and network components requires higher levels of expertise. It involves many layers of attention. Hardware components must be configured in ways that not only perform optimally, but that can withstand inevitable failures, which is generally accomplished through redundant components and clustering configurations. A well-designed hardware configuration can survive component failures with no data loss and with negligible diminishment in performance. Libraries that rely on local servers often do not have the resources to deploy redundant components making them more susceptible to failures, compared to the data centers of service providers that routinely implement multiple layers of redundancy.

Security remains more of a concern than ever. Servers must be defended through multiple layers of firewalls, hardened to withstand the ever-present threats of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks and malware intrusions designed to gain access to any sensitive information, among a host of other concerns. Attending to security concerns can be a full-time job in itself, and few libraries have the resources to proactively defend their local systems against the full range of possible attacks and intrusions.

The administration of operating systems and database management systems likewise requires constant vigilance. Proper tuning and optimization of OS parameters relative to the database management systems and application software can make an enormous difference in system performance. Only a small percentage of libraries have adequate technical personnel to manage all facets of their ILSs and other critical applications. Moving to cloud computing can allow libraries to step away from many of the complexities of hardware and software management that large-scale data centers are better equipped to manage.

Design and Control

A move to cloud computing does not mean ceding control of a library's strategic technology. Regardless of whether software applications operate on local servers or through externally provided services, a library needs to retain control of the high-level design of its technical environment to ensure that it supports its operational and strategic activities. …

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