Libraries in the Clouds – Seriously!


There is an undeniable trend toward cloud computing for many good reasons – compatibility being the primary motivator.

Last week Farhad Manjoo, writing for Slate Future of Innovations wrote about “The Future of the Internet“.

People spend a lot of time and money on apps these days, and many developers are indeed devoting more of their resources to apps than to the Web. Still, I’ve been skeptical of the Web-is-dead idea. The Web has one main advantage over apps: It works everywhere, and that’s important in a post-Windows world. Since our computers, phones, and tablets use different operating systems, we need a single platform to unite them all. Sure, programmers can theoretically write different apps for the iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, Palm, and every other gadget that comes along, but that doesn’t seem tenable. Instead, they’ll come to see the advantages of creating content and applications that work across devices. There’s no better uniter than the Web. [Emphasis added.]

So, while all those Millennial library customers are using different smartphones and remote devices, cloud computing can reach all of them. Makes “libraries in the clouds” sound more serious.

According to our good friends at Wikipedia, cloud computing means;

Cloud computing can be compared to the supply of electricity and gas, or the provision of telephone, television and postal services. All of these services are presented to the users in a simple way that is easy to understand without the users needing to know how the services are provided. This simplified view is called an abstraction. Similarly, cloud computing offers computer application developers and users an abstract view of services that simplifies and ignores much of the details and inner workings. A provider’s offering of abstracted Internet services is often called “The Cloud”.

Manjoo also wrote;

Let me be more specific: These days many people store e-mail, photos, and documents in the “cloud.” It’s possible that you get a lot of your entertainment via broadband lines, too (if you listen to Pandora, say, or spend your evenings with Netflix’s streaming service). I predict that this trend will continue, but that we’ll also see something more interesting. Instead of just using the network just to store data, we’ll also rely on faraway servers for their processing power, too. For a taste of this, try OnLive, an Internet-gaming service that I’ve praised a couple times. OnLive lets you run high-def games—the kind that once required a monster PC or console—on rinky-dink hardware.

Obviously, for the 21st Century library this means cloud gaming is in your future. Faster, better quality, and more games. All at a price tag of course, but maybe by the time your library figures it out and your customers demand it, it will be affordable. And don’t forget Facebook – it’s in the clouds, as are Picasa, Wordle, HotMail and Gmail, etc., etc.

One of the most common examples of “cloud computing” for internal organization use is Google Docs. It has been used for staff collaboration and document sharing for many months.

Manjoo goes on to explain an even more attractive cloud computing feature in the near future.

Your devices’ deeper integration with the Internet will change your life even if you don’t do a lot of processor-intensive tasks. One of my favorite ideas about the future of computing is the notion of the “continuous client“—Joshua Topolsky’s view that when we move from gadget to gadget, the stuff we’re doing on one machine should travel with us. If you’ve got Slate and a spreadsheet open on your office computer when you leave for the day, the same windows should show up on your laptop at home, too. Right now, different companies are working on different aspects of this problem. Google’s Chrome OS, which stores all data online, currently offers the most advanced implementation of the continuous client, but it’s far from perfect. I suspect that continuity will be one of the main areas of interface innovation over the next few years. [Emphasis added.]

So what are the fantastic advantages to this cloud computing?

Key characteristics of cloud computing are listed at Wikipedia as;

• Agility improves with users’ ability to rapidly and inexpensively re-provision technological infrastructure resources (update existing or acquire new software).
• Application Programming Interface (API) accessibility to software that enables machines to interact with cloud software in the same way the user interface facilitates interaction between humans and computers.
• Cost is claimed to be greatly reduced and in a public cloud delivery model capital expenditure is converted to operational expenditure (spend your limited funds on providing services rather than computer stuff that will become obsolete).
• Device and location independence enable users to access systems using a web browser regardless of their location or what device they are using (e.g., PC, mobile phone, iPad, etc.).
• Reliability is improved if multiple redundant sites are used, which makes well designed cloud computing suitable for business continuity and disaster recovery. (BTW, how is your data disaster recovery plan?)
• Scalability via dynamic (“on-demand”) provisioning of resources on a fine-grained, self-service basis near real-time, without users having to engineer for peak loads.
• Security could improve due to centralization of data, increased security-focused resources, etc., but concerns can persist about loss of control over certain sensitive data, and the lack of security for stored kernels.
• Maintenance of cloud computing applications is easier, because they do not need to be installed on each user’s computer. They are easier to support and to improve, as the changes reach the clients instantly.
• Metering means that cloud computing resources usage should be measurable and should be metered per client and application on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis (meaning the price is also scalable).

These are all advantages from which libraries could benefit. Sound complicated? Have your IT people read this and see if they think it is complicated, or maybe just very smart strategy.

Reinventing libraries and the way we do business are getting easier with more tools available all the time. Librarians simply need to keep in touch with technology developments, figure out how to improve an existing service, or establish a new service, and go for it!

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