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Head in the Clouds

You may have heard of having your head in the clouds, but what about your computer? Cloud Computing is a trend that is taking the computing world by storm. You have probably already done some cloud computing without even knowing it. Do you have a Hotmail or Yahoo! mail account? Do you use Google Docs or Google Calendars? If so, you’ve done some cloud computing.
Cloud Computing is basically the use of web-based services, whether it is an email client such as Hotmail, or document storage such as Google Docs or Me.com, instead of relying solely on your computer or server to store your software and files.

There a number of reasons why libraries or organizations might head to the clouds. Web services can be implemented quickly and modified equally fast. There is no need to install hardware or keep track of software licenses. It is nimble and can expand or contract as needed. If you need more storage, you can increase it with a phone call. Need more email addresses? Another phone call and done! It’s quick and easy.

Many large companies such as Amazon, Google, and IBM have found Cloud Computing to be cost effective. Through using web-based services, they spend less on hardware purchases and only pay for the services they require. If you use someone else’s server to store your files, you don’t need to buy one yourself. If you own fewer servers, you spend less on maintenance costs.

Of course with every new service, there are issues. Two of the biggest concerns with having another company house your files are security and privacy. Some businesses are hesitant to put their confidential files in the hands of another business. The hosting company must have excellent security in place to prevent hackers from accessing client information.

Privacy is also an issue. When clients can login from any computer and access data, this can compromise privacy. Authentication techniques must be in place, as well as guidelines for where and when clients should access documents. The hosting company’s reputation will depend on their ability to ensure the security of customer data.

You may wonder if Cloud Computing is just a flash in the pan. I doubt it. With the economy the way it is, companies and individuals are looking for affordable solutions to their needs. Why spend $500 on a laptop, when you can purchase a netbook for half the price, especially if all your documents are online? You do not need to buy an expensive computer with a huge hard drive for storage. As long as you have something that can access the Internet, whether it’s a netbook, iPad, computer, or cell phone, you have access to your files. My forecast shows more clouds in our future.

For more information about cloud applications, request any of the following workshops: “Library 2.0”, “Google 2.0”, or “Head in the Clouds: Cloud Computing for Libraries”. I can be reached at: email: rita.gavelis@umassmed.edu and phone: (978)662-2119.

-Rita

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