OK, folks, repeat after me: “I am not afraid of the cloud. I am not afraid of the cloud.” Good. Now with that out of the way, we can take a look at how much better cloud computing is for 90% of the things we use computers for. I’m going to approach the topic a little differently, discussing how cloud computing is beneficial using the illustration of my favorite device, the iPad.
Following a standard bell curve, what the largest majority of computer users use computers for the majority of the time is consuming information. They read e-mails, read news, check stocks, check weather, watch videos, look at pictures, etc. Because of this, the iPad is a perfect device. It does not need huge 1 TB internal hard drives because it gets all of that information from the cloud (or it can, at least). Once upon a time, all e-mail was downloaded to your computer for you to read and respond offline and replies would be sent the next time you dialed in. Once upon a time, you would download news from a “newsgroup” and read them offline. Once upon a time, you would download pictures your family sent you so you could print out a copy and put it in a frame. Today, we have webmail for our mail, websites or news apps for news, and Flickr or PicasaWeb for our photos (and the iOS device is our picture frame or wallet).
Now, what about that other 10% of the time when users are actually creating content? Well, that’s when an iPad sometimes (though not as often as you might think) falls short. In a very similar way, cloud computing is only beneficial 90% of the time. There are times when you simply need more power, more storage, or faster access (though again, this is getting increasingly more rare).
Here’s just a short list of the cloud computing apps that I use on an extremely frequent basis: Dropbox (online storage), Google Docs (Office/productivity apps), Gmail (e-mail), Aviary.com (graphics editing & sound editing), Mint.com (personal finance), and PicasaWeb (photo sharing; editing recently added as well). Also, the 2010 tax year is the first year that I did my taxes 100% online–in the cloud, using TaxAct Online. I had used the offline version of TaxAct since about 2001, and it was a rather seamless transition.
Just today, I attended a webinar hosted by Tech & Learning magazine that was all about cloud computing in schools. HP & ClassLink have teamed up to offer a service/product called SchoolCloud. It essentially allows all of your users in the district to operate “thin clients” that interface with the servers that are serving the apps from another location. There are more details and many pros and cons to doing this that I won’t get into here, but suffice to say that I was very impressed with the ClassLink product and I am now looking into similar products/services for private industry that I can incorporate into my company’s infrastructure (who, by the way, I migrated to using Google Apps for Business just last year).
To sum up my obviously biased thoughts on the topic, cloud computing is the way of the future, and you can either resist it and do everything the same way you always have, or you can embrace the cloud and support and develop it to make it an effective tool in your own lives and in your classroom.