|Universities and colleges are yet to tap the huge potential of cloud computing for virtualised learning and greater collaboration.|
These days, we live much of our lives on the cloud. Whenever you send an email, or upload photos on Facebook, or post something on your blog, you are essentially navigating through something called ‘the cloud'.
While the term ‘cloud computing' has entered popular usage, the technology behind the term is not widely understood. What exactly is cloud computing? The name cloud computing was inspired by the cloud symbol that is often used to represent the Internet in flow charts and diagrams.
As the name suggests, cloud computing is about relocating computing tasks from a physical terminal on to the virtual cloud. A personal computer has three main components – a display, input devices such as the keyboard and mouse, and the CPU that houses a storage disk. A cloud computing terminal shifts the CPU's entire workload to a virtual server. All data and associated applications are stored on the cloud. The network of computers that make up the cloud handle all the computing tasks. The only thing that the user's computer has to run is the cloud computing system's interface software, which can be as simple as a web browser, and the cloud's network takes care of the rest.
Most people would have already used some form of cloud computing. Anyone who uses a web-based email client such as Yahoo or Gmail is tapping into the power of the cloud. Neither the data (email messages), nor the software that acts as the email client is stored locally in the computer.
Anyone can build a cloud through an open source toolkit such as the Open Nebula. Each application on a cloud behaves like a separate server.
So what are the advantages of cloud computing? The most obvious is that one's data can be accessed from anywhere through the Internet. In theory, a cloud computing system could run practically any computer program you can imagine, from a simple text editor to video games.
Institutions such as universities and IT companies that host and operate in-house servers have a lot more to gain by adopting cloud technologies. Instead of maintaining hardware clusters, space on the cloud can be rented on a monthly or even an hourly basis.
Since software applications are stored in the cloud, maintenance and upgrade need not be done manually in each terminal.
While Indian universities have been very slow in adopting cloud computing technologies to virtualise learning and to encourage greater collaboration, the potential is huge.