What is Cloud Computing?

Cloud computing first appeared on the near-term horizon in the NMC Horizon Report: 2009 Higher Education Edition. Since then, its use for supporting collaboration, file storage, and access to computing cycles, and the number of available applications that rely on cloud technologies have grown every year to the point that few schools do not make some use of the cloud, whether as a matter of policy or not. Cloud computing has become the unifying factor among content and applications on the many devices people use in everyday life. Whether connecting at home, work, school, on the road, or in social spaces, nearly everyone who uses the network relies on cloud computing to access their information and applications. The ability to access services and files from any location and on any device offers considerable promise for extending learning beyond the boundaries of the school day.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the museums you know best?

  • The wide array of types of services and resources lumped under the rubric of "cloud" will come to be increasingly useful to many museums, especially for (1) public-facing pieces of technical infrastructure for scalable, pay-as-you-go content delivery (and ideally, content acceptance/sharing), and (2) some kinds of back-end infrastructure. The latter, less widely visible use cases may be especially beneficial to smaller museums whose staff determine that managing the risks of cloud-based storage (and/or externally hosted software, etc.) is more feasible for certain applications in their institutional contexts than is managing the risks of supporting those same needs with local hardware--for which, for example, major equipment budgets for needed redundancy and reasonable replacement schedules may simply be absent, or not foreseeable with sufficient certainty beyond one or a few years. [carried forward, in slightly shortened form, from my comments on cloud from our 2011 Wiki; I believe this is equally true now.] - rob.lancefield rob.lancefield Oct 9, 2012
  • - len.steinbach len.steinbach Oct 14, 2012 Supporting Rob's stance, I have long felt that "A museum's core competency is not the support of complex technologies but the creative use of them." I think this will help museum better deploy resources and focus on the mission based aspects of technology utilization.
  • Another perspective here.

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • Along with supporting personal access as noted in the top (bold-face, educationally focused) paragraph, cloud storage can offer a means of maintaining geographically dispersed copies of institutional digital resources, especially if replicated across systems independently maintained by more than one provider. Of course, offsite hosted storage is nothing new; but compared to, say, plain SFTP to a server somewhere, some of its newer incarnations under the banner of "cloud storage" offer such advantages as easier integration into local workflows, and easier scalability. Security of sensitive or confidential information in the cloud is a justified concern; but this shouldn't obscure the fact that information security on local networked devices isn't intrinsically or automatically any better, and should be of equal concern. Wherever the touchy stuff lives, its security needs careful management. This makes cloud security no less crucial to assess, but it's not a binary point of difference between "insecure" cloud-based and "secure" local solutions. [As in (1), carried and abridged from 2011 contribution.] - rob.lancefield rob.lancefield Oct 9, 2012
    Also relevant here is the applicability of cloud services (e.g., Google Refine) to museum data manipulation, as well as the growing tendency for popular accounts of such museum image/metadata aggregators as the Google Art Project to frame them as cases of museum content moving into the cloud. The latter instances are that, in a sense, but in a different (aggregated discovery and dissemination) sense than that of using cloud services for internally facing storage, single-institution public-facing delivery, etc. in ways that don't also entail resource aggregation by a third party. It may be useful to note these overlaps but not lump all this together into one less useful mega-cloud notion that would span everything from Dropbox to s3 to Refine to GAP. - rob.lancefield rob.lancefield Oct 9, 2012
  • With cloud access, the solution to how larger files (20GB for example) will be usable becomes a greater issue. - rstriojr rstriojr Oct 13, 2012
  • - nhoneysett nhoneysett Oct 14, 2012 Agreed. I think there will be increased pressure for museums to move away from hardware support, reduction in energy costs by way of example. Desktops are on the endangered list too. I think the success of the cloud in museums will go hand in hand with wireless deployment, because bandwidth is key to cloud's success - getting high bandwidth to the laptop.
  • Another perspective here.

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on education and interpretation in museums?

  • One direct impact may be wider access to digital resources, perhaps especially storage-intensive time-based media, from museums of all sizes as they employ cloud services for certain kinds of content delivery (e.g., video); and it's hard to imagine that this impact will be limited to unidirectional flows, as cloud services can accommodate media-rich contributions from non-museum sources (visitor-made videos, whatever) to serve teaching, learning, and interpretation. Another educational impact may be less immediately felt but equally important: more sustainable access to resources over time from some smaller museums, which may have the operational capability to manage cloud services over the long haul, but not to fund and manage in-house hardware that would provide comparable continuity of those services year after year. Not to imply that the cloud magically ensures durable access, but it could dial down (at lower, contextually more feasible cost) certain risks to durability in certain institutional contexts. [As in (1), carried and abridged from 2011 contribution.] - rob.lancefield rob.lancefield Oct 9, 2012
  • - len.steinbach len.steinbach Oct 14, 2012 I would add that the dynamic capacity (storage size and accessibility bandwidth) of cloud based storage of museum content will allow broader access from diverse requestors without impacting museum operations.
  • - nhoneysett nhoneysett Oct 14, 2012 I think there is a deep philosophical point here for museums who have always wanted control, which I hope plays out. Having content (physically) in the cloud may have impact on how museums perceive control, ownership and deployment of their content.

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

Please share information about related projects in our Horizon Project sharing form.