Even coming up with a useful definition for cloud computing was not easy. I see cloud computing as a useful abstraction, where an application or other capacity is made available over the internet/web as a service. The hardware/software/etc behind this service is abstracted as a ‘cloud’: all you need is an internet connection and you can access anything in the cloud.
Seen in another way, the cloud represents a move away from seeing the web as a collection of web sites, pages, and forms. Today’s web can host much more, including rich applications, software interfaces, and databases.
When we speak of moving into the cloud, we are referring to the practice of migrating from applications, databases, and services that we currently run and manage on our own hardware (PCs and servers) to services available in the cloud, typically provided and managed by someone else.
The trend of ‘moving to the cloud’ is the natural progression of organizations looking to outsource business functions that are not within their core competencies. For example, libraries are not in the business of running servers and IT systems. They do it because they have to, but if they can find a more economical and efficient way of doing this, they are right to consider it.
This recent opinion piece in the Economist provides a good summary of the main issues that I think information professionals needs to be aware of:
There are many advantages to [cloud computing] for both customers (lower cost, less complexity) and service providers (economies of scale). But customers risk losing control once again, in particular over their data, as they migrate into the cloud. Moving from one service provider to another could be even more difficult than switching between software packages in the old days. For a foretaste of this problem, try moving your MySpace profile to Facebook without manually retyping everything.
The question I am asking myself is whether cloud computing was something that librarians, and especially MLIS students, need to be thinking about. I think a general awareness of the idea and the issues, as I’ve tried out outline above, is important. Although the technical details can remain behind the abstraction of the cloud, the issues and potential trade-offs need to be understood by librarians. Unless you are a systems librarian, you are not likely to find yourself building, implementing, or directly managing a migration to cloud service. However, most librarians are key stakeholders in the applications used in their libraries, and as such need to understand what moving to the cloud means and the benefits and risks involved.
Thanks to ETIGcamp for putting this on my radar! You can be sure I’ll be writing more about this here, and also thinking of ways to make the students at SIS aware of this developing technology.