What is Cloud Computing?

Cloud computing refers to expandable, on-demand services and tools that are served to the user via the Internet from a specialized data center and do not live on a user’s device. Cloud computing resources support collaboration, file storage, virtualization, and access to computing cycles, and the number of available applications that rely on cloud technologies have grown to the point that few institutions do not make some use of the cloud, whether as a matter of policy or not. Cloud computing is often used as a synonym for grid computing, in which unused processing cycles of all computers in a single network are leveraged to troubleshoot issues that cannot be resolved by a single machine. The primary distinction is how the host computers are accessed. Clouds, especially those supported by dedicated data centers, can be public, private, secure, or a hybrid of any or all of these. Many businesses, organizations, and institutions use storage, software (SAAS), and API services to reduce IT overhead costs. Google Apps, a SAAS provider, for example, has become a popular choice for education institutions and many have moved their email infrastructure to Gmail and adopted Google Docs for document sharing and collaboration, but such services do not meet the high security needs of many corporations or government agencies. Private cloud computing solves these issues by providing common cloud solutions in secure environments. Hybrid clouds provide the benefits of both types. Whether connecting at home, work, school, on the road, or in social spaces, nearly everyone who uses the network relies on cloud computing to access or share their information and applications.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to academic and research libraries?

  • this technology is already here and immersed in a large way in every university. I don't see this as anything new or emerging. - dianeb dianeb Apr 9, 2015
  • - lcshedd lcshedd Apr 9, 2015 I agree that there's nothing tremendously new about cloud computing, but the "new" part is finding a better/more active way to use it. For example, I would like to see use using virtualized desktops, find better ways to deal with cloud software services, such as Adobe, and, as the description says, utilize cloud computing to reduce IT overhead costs.
  • - david.groenewegen david.groenewegen Apr 10, 2015 I think that the emerging issue for libraries is file storage. Many of us have set up various digital storage services, but we have to question why and how we would do that in a world where Amazon and Google are offering huge, robust and very cheap storage options. What are the curation implications of this? Do we trust these huge multinationals? And even if we don't, how do we compete on a cost basis? Similarly there are cloud based tools that will impact on services we offer - electronic lab notebooks like LabArchives, or data management tools like FigShare. How do we interact with them? What is our role if our users decide to use those services?
  • - jan.howden jan.howden Apr 12, 2015Cloud computing is re shaping how information hosts provide and also share information with secondary service providers. Increasingly we do not hold our own data and locally generated data on commercial digital objects mirroring records in other library databases seems unnecessary. At a national and professional level, libraries need to consider the opportunities of cloud computing for open access to scholarly information And the rapid change it can bring to the information market or environment.
  • In many regions, cloud-based library services is not just a preference but a requirement. Interest and reliance on this technology is growing, spreading to more regions, and perhaps most significantly - it applies to virtually all library technology services, including back-office systems such as library resource management systems (ILS, sometimes called now Library Service Platforms, or LSP) and Digital Repositories. Libraries realize both the opportunities and the risks. The opportunities include: greater process efficiency and focus on their core mission and competencies (and not on management of servers and software), big data and cross-institutional analytics, new opportunities for a range of collaboration possibilities with other cloud-tenants, etc. Perceived risks include: privacy considerations and adequate service level agreement. But, to a large extent, the adoption curve is already beyond the early adopters, even for larger back-office library management systems, and risk has been mitigated to a degree that enables much wider adoption today. - oren oren Apr 13, 2015
  • With MS 365 our students now have cloud access to 1TB of data this is a great service enhancement, libraries should encourage students to share and collaborate in the the cloud - DaveP DaveP Apr 14, 2015
  • Agree with earlier comments that cloud computing has been with us for a while. However, I still think this is a very important and as yet unresolved issue for academic libraries. Many libraries are still working through strategic shifts in resource allocation, in which various kinds of services/infrastructure are being peeled off from internal library systems and moved to external providers (e.g., cloud-based ILS). In many cases, this shift away from internally managed infrastructure is coupled with a stronger focus on building new services that directly support emerging research and learning practices. Libraries will need to give special attention to optimizing the right combination of internally managed services vs. those moved to the cloud. - lavoie lavoie Apr 17, 2015
  • Also in agreement. Cloud computing has been seen as a solution to local computing service scale issues, though many of us are still attached to what it means to be "local." We have been talking about "enterprise scale" regarding technology for a long time, but what I am hearing more is the use of "scaling up" to describe library services, too. Depending on how we implement our library cloud services, there is the potential for content aggregation that will make sharing of content easier, collections decisions to be more strategic across regional institutions, and for our collective collections to reach a broader audience, fostering the creation of new knowledge "at scale." There is also the benefit of both data security and remote access through geographic diversity of storage.- anthony.helm anthony.helm Apr 18, 2015
  • Cloud computing could reduce the cost of local computing facilities and enhance the services.(- liusq liusq Apr 20, 2015)

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • - david.groenewegen david.groenewegen Apr 10, 2015 Duplication of library services by the cloud, often in a more robust and frequently updated tool set.
  • For good and bad, cloud services are usually updated more often to address system vulnerabilities quickly. The pace of updates in higher ed for on-site systems often lags behind for various reasons. Employing shared SaaS systems forces campuses to accept and adapt to new changes more frequently, requiring more rapid retraining for staff and patrons.- anthony.helm anthony.helm Apr 18, 2015
  • Commodity Disks This isn't new or all that flashy, but the question above asks about technologies that some libraries are using that all libraries might consider using. Cloud providers such as Dropbox, Backblaze, et al. are in part so successful because they have mastered the art of having incredible amounts of disk space at very modest costs. Meanwhile, most libraries sit on campuses where there is a strong preference for and tradition of enterprise-class storage, which provides the necessary muscle for core business software at the university, but is overkill for most library needs, particularly preservation storage. We should be emulating the cloud providers so that we can continue to digitize, ingest, and preserve massive amounts of data; if we continue to try to meet those challenges with enterprise storage, we will create severe financial problems. Library space providers such as the Digital Preservation Network and DuraCloud offer great service, but at prices that do not scale well as we accumulate more TB. This is a major issue in the next decade. In Ontario we just built a 1.25 PB preservation cloud (Ontario Library Research Cloud) using just such inexpensive hardware and disks, at a per TB price that is a fraction of DPN or DuraCloud. - askeyd askeyd Apr 20, 2015 Great point! - mstephens7 mstephens7 Apr 20, 2015 - dianeb dianeb Apr 21, 2015 Cloud-based research tools. We are seeing a proliferation of free-to-the-end-user information tools - typically cloud-based (Mendeley is an easy example, as is Figshare). There are hundreds of these services, and they are attracting a growing audience of researchers. My concern is that the scholarly record (data sets and other artefacts of the research process) are being stored outside the academy. It reminds me of the old maxim - convenience trumps quality every time. How do libraries point to good practice in this area - to ensure convenience whilst also curating institutional output. - cmkeithw cmkeithw Apr 28, 2015 [Editor's Note: Added here from RQ2.]

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on academic and research libraries?

  • - david.groenewegen david.groenewegen We're going to need to lift our game.--yep- anthony.helm anthony.helm Apr 18, 2015
  • With cloud-based services libraries will likely be able to deploy solutions faster and experiment in new fields of service, as the initial investment (time and money) will decrease, whereas the ability to deal with large scale data and large scale tools will increase. Libraries will also be able to look at new ways of collaboration with other stakeholders (institutions and users) - oren oren Apr 13, 2015
  • Another way of saying it is that library staff are going to be able to more nimble, but more importantly, we MUST become more nimble and more adaptable to change. We will also have to be even more proactive in communicating with our patron constituencies about the changing environment.- anthony.helm anthony.helm Apr 18, 2015
  • Libraries could pay much attention to services instead of technologies (- liusq liusq Apr 20, 2015)
  • Cloud computing could potentially serve not only as a platform but also a system enabling valuable comparisons to be made between collocated datasets and then shared among institutions, for example, a comparison of my library data with another library's.
  • Archives may find more requests to share information in the cloud, and more requests to draw donor information from the cloud. At Marquette University Libraries' Department of Special Collections, we’re already making a part of our focus to archive websites using Archive-It (a shared resource).

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

Please share information about related projects in our Horizon Project sharing form.