It is easy to use jargon when talking about IT in education and I did this myself on Friday when referring to ‘Cloud Computing’ What is more I did trip between the concept of Cloud Computing and Software as a Service as interchangeable ideas when they are not. Quite a few people have contacted me asking for clarification on these terms when I have used them recently and so I thought it was worth a post. Before I try to define the differences in the terms myself I thought it might be useful to employ the use of YouTube! Here is a short (5 minute) video on Cloud Computing which is a big buzz word in IT at the moment.
If you are still thirsting for more then take a look at The History of Cloud Computing. Alongside this is the idea of Software as a Service. Take a look at this video here for a quick input.
So the difference? Cloud Computing is a broad term which refers to the availability of Internet based services on a ‘pay as you go’ basis replacing the traditional need for significant hardware and software investment for businesses to run their online operations. Software as a service is a much narrower concept based on cloud computing where software is hosted in the cloud and available to users via the Internet instead of on their machines. So thinking about education what is a managed Learning Platform like Fronter or Frog? Does it represent Cloud Computing or Software as a Service? I think it is both but am keen to be corrected by someone more knowledgeable. Surely though it is software (e.g. SharePoint) which is hosted in the cloud and is easily scalable dependant on the number of users. I knew this post was a bad idea!
Yesterday I started talking about the trial Twynham School is running on ‘Cloud Computing’. This is being led by Network Manager Dave Coleman and Tony Smith who is Head of ICT. Since September Twynham has had Terminal Services 2008 installed with a number of applications being run through SharePoint over the internet. These have included Outlook, Word and Excel with a small group of teachers and a few students testing the robustness of the system. Starting this week we have opened the trial out to two of Tony’s classes for the specific use of Microsoft Project 2007. It made sense to start our trial with this software as it is less memory hungry and is only used for 6 weeks of the year on a specific A-level course. Running the software remotely saved the need to set up the software on all the computers yet it can still be accessed in different rooms each year without any setup.
The student homepage is shown above for Twynham’s Learning Gateway. Dave has provisioned the applications on the right side of the page for the specific classes using Active Directory and SharePoint audiences. Although we are only in our first few lessons of the new term the signs are encouraging that this model can work.
Of course the real test will come over time with potentially 2,000 users pulling on a server farm both inside the school and at home. Will it work on this larger scale? At this point the jury is out amongst the technical staff with some wondering if a large secondary school can effectively run a setup of this nature in-house. This reality seems to be what is driving Microsoft to move into Software plus Services and could lead to an explosion in the use of SharePoint Online.