To the Cloud! Sort Of

You see it in advertisements and you hear people talking about using the cloud. What in the world are they really talking about? They simply mean services that are not at your location but rather somewhere out there on the Internet. Why would they use the term cloud? Unfortunately, I am old enough to remember where the term originated. Back when we started installing Private Branch Exchange (PBX) systems owned by the user instead of Ma Bell, the signal flow diagram would show a connection from the users PBX to a cloud symbol with the abbreviation PTSN (Public Telephone Switched Network). As those PBX systems became digital, the abbreviations changed but we still used the cloud symbol to represent connection to Ma Bell. Now that the connections are essentially data connections to the Internet, we still use the cloud symbol with the word Internet in it. Now you know why we use the word cloud meaning connection to the Internet; it is a symbol on telephone connection diagrams.

It may also help that any time you hear or see the word cloud, think web browser. That should help explain why the cloud is such a big deal. Every smart phone and tablet out there uses some type of browser, driving the design of Internet services to become more robust and easier to access from those simpler computing devices. The goal of the market is to make sure that Internet access from a smart phone or tablet appears to be just as fast as when you use your laptop or desktop device. That is a neat engineering trick since those smaller devices do not have the same computing power. So the word cloud also implies quick and easy access to resources.

The cloud has two versions, private and public, and yes, the labels describe the exact difference between the two. A private cloud is where an organization has developed an internal data solution, connecting all of its resources through circuits the general public cannot see or connect to. Those resources can be scattered across multiple facilities occupied by the organization around the corner, around the world or connect to dedicated computing resources secured under contract from a data center services company. Employees can access the resources they need using a web browser from anywhere but no one from outside the organization can access those resources, they are not available to the general public. It’s private only when you get into the system. The public cloud is what you, the general public, interface with everyday when you open up your web browser and search Wikipedia or do a Google search and any other similar activity.

In today’s world, educational organizations are moving more and more to a hybrid model of the private and public cloud. Most corporations are at the same place; I am not aware of corporations placing their entire data operations out in the cloud.

Even though you are not placing everything out in the cloud, hopefully your district is migrating to applications which use a web browser as the user interface — moving away from the client/server model. This needs to include all of your administrative applications for teachers and staff. Those applications should be set up in a private cloud configuration.

When we take a good hard look at moving to web browser-based applications, the concept of using digital content, moving away from textbooks, will also come up and you will need to provide each student with a computing device. I have already expressed in a previous column what those student and teacher devices should look like so I will not review the rationale, just simply state they will be some type of Chromebook or Netbook. While student assessments and even district social media will be part of the district private cloud configuration, I expect there will be quite a bit of public cloud use by the students and teachers.

Unfortunately, most districts do not have sufficient bandwidth to the Internet to enable every student real-time access. Your data solution must include a robust “web-caching” appliance, which reviews the history of Internet access from your district and goes out to the Internet when data usage is low and ore-loads those web pages to the appliance. You will also need to have a similar type of device associated with one of the free or inexpensive office suites, which are cloud based. Student and teacher files for Google Docs, ZOHO Office and Microsoft Office 365 will be stored in the cloud. 

Glenn Meeks is president of Meeks Educational Technology located in Cary, N.C. He can be reached at gmeeks@meeksgeeks.com.

About the Author

Glenn Meeks is president of Meeks Educational Technology located in Cary, N.C. He can be reached at gmeeks@meeksgeeks.com.

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