The moving of all aspects of the technology service into the cloud, including software as a service, infrastructure as a service, platform as a service.
What is ‘the cloud’ and ‘a cloud-based service’?
Where we once considered the size of a computer’s hard drive on which our programs and data could be stored a critical part of any purchase decision, those things are increasingly delivered from “the cloud”.
The term ‘cloud’ originates from the symbol used by network engineers when they needed to represent the Internet. It has now become synonymous with the Internet itself. A cloud-based service is anything that is made available to a device with an internet connection, delivered by somebody else’s computing resource. We typically think of devices such as smartphones and computers connecting to cloud services, but increasingly devices ranging from watches and other wearables through to appliances from light bulbs to cars and a raft of sensors like cameras will be cloud-connected to form the ‘Internet of Things’.
Giant companies such as Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and Google have most the Cloud market and have the scale to build colossal data centres. An increasing range of smaller, specialised providers deliver services built on their own or on these companies’ platforms. Services are delivered for free in some cases, or, more commonly, as a paid subscription.
SaaS or IaaS?
Software as a Service (SaaS), in which software applications are run from data centres rather than on individual computers or servers, has become the dominant model for using the cloud to deliver services to schools. Examples include Google’s G Suite, Microsoft’s Office 365, student management systems like eTap and Edge, and Xero’s accounting system. Merely using somebody else’s infrastructure to run the same services that used to be on a school’s server — known as Infrastructure as a Service (IAAS) — does not leverage enough of the benefits of cloud computing to make it worthwhile for most schools, because there is still too much technical expertise required to implement and maintain IAAS solutions. SaaS will inevitably render school servers redundant.
Some common ways that the cloud can directly or indirectly enable and support learning include:
Connectedness: Learners can accomplish tasks and interact with up-to-date resources, people, and knowledge regardless of location, time of day, or device.
Before the cloud, access to resources was limited to what a school might be able to provide, for example, in terms of books, TV, or radio broadcasts, or guest speakers. The cloud has radically changed this and will continue to do so as local and global connectivity increases to enable all learners to participate in an increasing range of learning activities online.
Performance: Improved communication, collaboration, flexibility, productivity, and creativity
The ability for multiple people to synchronously or asynchronously collaborate online, for example, will continue to have clear benefits for staff and students as we shift from a focus on individual to team performance. Administrative headaches like remembering to back up or hit the save button have been alleviated.
Economics: Reduced costs with improved technical capabilities, reliability, and security
The ‘utility model’ of procuring and consuming cloud services as a subscription means services can more readily be added or dropped, making schools more agile to meet the changing needs of their teachers and students in a rapidly changing society. Schools can subscribe to multiple cloud services. Budgeting becomes more about managing a list of subscriptions and less about trying to predict when hardware and software will need to be replaced and grappling with big-impact decisions about what to replace them with.
Schools are embracing using the cloud because it enables them to care less about keeping technology running but instead to focus on what can be done with the technology to benefit learners. But, to continue growing the uptake of the cloud, there are some challenges to overcome:
Some questions to act as a stimulus with your colleagues include:
How do you think the challenges outlined above are being addressed in your school?