Friday, 12 December 2008

Cloud Computing and ICT Strategy in Schools

I have recently enjoyed reading The Big Switch by Nicholas Carr.

One of his main arguments is that Cloud Computing is set to transform the way in which both individuals and organisations use computers. He compares the present situation in computing with the one which faced most firms in the early twentieth century. At that time, each firm had its own power supply, but that in time they moved to electricity as a utility provided by a third party provider. Nicholas Carr argues that "cheap, utility-supplied computing will ultimately change society as profoundly as cheap electricity did." Firms such as Google, Capgemini and Amazon have made great moves into this area and are set to try to entice us away from our server rooms and PCs to on-demand computing from "the Cloud".

As the Head of a school that invests over £500,000 p.a. in ICT, I am attracted by the idea that one day I will be able to escape the arms race of constant hardware and software upgrades. I am yet to be convinced that there is sufficient reliability in what is presently available. It would be a very brave Head that would put his whole school data onto servers somewhere out there on "the Cloud". Indeed Nicholas Carr recognises this.

Larger companies "will need to carefully balance their past investments in in-house computing with the benefits provided by the utilities. They can be expected to pursue a hybrid approach for many years, supplying some hardware and software requirements themselves and purchasing others over the grid. One of the challenges for corporate IT departments, in fact, lies in making the right decisions about what to hold on to and what to let go." p.118

It is clear that Cloud Computing is the likely direction of travel and thus I am looking to include a Cloud-based aspect into our new network solution. I am keen that my ICT support team get some experience of this development, but I think that it is too early to commit to it fully. It is most likely that we look to use the Cloud as a secondary backup in the first instance.


  1. Cloud computing, from a personal perspective, offers the temptation to the individual who is mobile and wants to access their data without the need for carrying laptops, USB keys and the like.

    As soon as Google released their Documents option I gave it a try. Since my home is in France but my work is in England, and for many months of the year I shuttle between the two at weekends, the prospect of not needing to take a bulky laptop with me was appealing.

    However, in the end I found I hit a psychological barrier. Even though the files on my laptop are as virtual and intangible as those held in some unknown spot by a Google server, I couldn't overcome a sneaking suspicion that I had lost control.

    Indeed, when Apple launched their MobileMe cloud for the home user service last year, my suspicions stopped me putting all my eggs into the virtual basket. I'm glad I did, because the system keeled over spectacularly, and many people lost data.

    Cloud computing is a fine idea, but it's in its infancy.

    There's no doubting its financial advantages, but caution is the right approach for now.

  2. The ideas of a psychological barrier to cloud computing and the loss of control are interesting ones. Like so many other areas of over internet based developments, I suspect that, in time, we are likely to trade off convenience and cost for lack of control. I suspect that in a few years' time we will be in a position to place much greater trust in this new technology. I suspect that Nicholas Carr would support this view - one of his key observations in Does IT Mattter? is "Follow, don't lead" [p.120].

  3. Indeed. One could argue that many of us have given up control of our privacy in order to make life easier in a world based on fast transactions.

    I don't remember hearing anyone complaining about the risks of entering credit card details, or other personal information, into online retail sites.

    There's been a huge growth in companies offering to store backups of our digital profiles online.

    Perhaps we have walked into a nightmare unwittingly?

    Thanks for the link o Carr. I think I will use it as a reference text for my first MA module.

  4. If early adopters are making the choice "to follow and not lead", then you might ask, who is going to take this thing forward?

    In this case though the financial gains are huge. Once the corporate world has got it sorted, there are few constraints to educational establishments following (or so I believe).

    The answer is obviously to follow and lead - ie to make sure you are the first educational establishment to realise when the time is right! Apart from the financial advantages, there should be a few marketing ones ....