Cloud Computing

Time-to-Adoption: One Year or Less

The cloud is the term for networked computers that distribute processing power, applications, and large systems among many machines. Applications like Gmail use the cloud as their platform, in the way that programs on a desktop computer use that single computer as a platform. Cloud-based applications do not run on a single computer; instead they are spread over a distributed cluster, using storage space and computing resources from many available machines as needed. “The cloud” denotes any group of computers used in this way. Improved infrastructure has made the cloud robust and reliable; as usage grows, the cloud is fundamentally changing our notions of computing and communication.

Many emerging technologies are supported in some way by the cloud: collaborative environments and tools like Ning, PageFlakes, Facebook, and Voicethread are cloud applications; online communication tools are supported by cloud resources; web-based counterparts to mobile applications run in the cloud; and many, many personal web tools are cloud-based. Data storage is cheap in these environments — pennies per gigabyte — so cheap that it is often provided in surprising quantities for free. Specialized applications like Flickr and YouTube provide options for hosting and sharing media; tools for creating multimedia projects like Prezi and Vuvox live in the cloud. To the end user, the cloud is invisible, and the technology that supports the applications does not matter — the fact that the applications are always available is key.

Relevance for Teaching, Learning, or Creative Inquiry

  • Cloud-based applications can provide students and teachers with free or low-cost alternatives to expensive, proprietary productivity tools.
  • Cloud computing is being used in schools to provide virtual computers to students and staff without requiring each person to own the latest laptop or desktop machine.
  • Services like Flickr, YouTube, and Blogger, as well as a host of other browser-based applications, comprise a set of increasingly powerful cloud-based tools for almost any task a user might need to do.

Cloud Computing in Practice

For Further Reading

Above the Clouds: A Berkeley View of Cloud Computing
(Armburst, et al., UC Berkeley Reliable Adaptive Distributed Systems Laboratory, February 10, 2009.) This white paper takes an in-depth, scientific look at cloud computing.

Cloud Migrations Trigger Organizational Challenges
(Vanessa Alvarez,, February 9, 2010.) This article discusses how cloud computing can work if organizations are well structured in advance to take advantage of its affordances.

The Start of a Tech Revolution
(Kurt O. Dyril,, May 2009.) This article summarizes how cloud computing can impact school districts, especially in financially positive ways.