Cloud Computing

This week is a time to reflect upon the cloud.

I’ve always found the term “cloud computing” to be both accurate and completely inaccurate. In the for column, the idea of dispersed content is completely accurate. As is the idea that you can never really touch the place where your data is kept. In the against column, the term is irrelevant and really has no relation to weather and no real association with computers and online storage at all.

Cloud computing is internet storage! That is all. It is web apps, collaborative online storage, it is Web 2.0. I like that the Tech Tips article really put that idea into context. Cloud computing isn’t some new service for you or your library to buy into, but is something you are already doing.

Advantages and Disadvantages 

For me, there have been many topics related to technology, privacy, and how they interact over the years that have been of great interest to me. There have been times when privacy concerns have been really real and have caused me to not participate in a service such as questions about how long Facebook retains your pictures after account deletion. These concerns informed what survey software was used when my Library Technician group ran a salary survey. We went with a system we could host on a local university’s server, instead of going with a system like SurveyMonkey which stores your data on servers in the US. This is a real concern for Canadians, because the data can then be accessed by American authorities as it is stored on American soil.

But, as someone who has been online as a consumer & participant for many, often I will look past potential privacy concerns in order to participate, or take advantage of a service. For example, I like Dropbox, a service which somehow allows me to edit and store documents in a folder that can be synced to any computer that I used and sign-in to. I don’t really understand how it works, or how secure it might be, but the convenience of the service is very appealing.

As well, I have drank the Google “punch”. I will use any service that they put out (at least for a little while) and do so cheerfully. When Google Voice was realsed a few years back a comedy site put out this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrontojPWEE (warning NSFW) and although the way that the video approaches the privacy issue is a little crude, the question of what is done with your data, how it is used, and how might be able to petition to use it outside of the company is a very real concern. And the question of convenience versus privacy is a question that I have been wrestling with for a long time.

If you are interested in the issues surrounding privacy and the onloine world, you should check out these sites- and be aware that even your internet service providers might be involved in some shadey business.

In fact, read this recent article on Michael Geist’s blog about Bill C-11 and cloud computing as soon as you can:  http://www.michaelgeist.ca/content/view/6385/125/

Libraries and Cloud Computing
As a library assistant in the Community Computing Centre of my library, the idea of cloud computing is extremely positive. Many of the people coming in to use the public computers are doing so becasue they don’t have access to a computer anywhere else. And at many public libraries (mine included) all of the data saved onto the computers is wiped on restart. So, people cannot use the public computers to store documents. For a few years, many people used floppy discs to store their data, but as that format fell away (for many, many reasons) patrons have had to find an alternative. Let me outline the most common one.

Situation: Updating a resume to print out
Process:

  1. Log in to computer, open browser, navigate to webmail website and sign in
  2. Locate a saved email with the most recent version of resume attached
  3. Download file onto desktop of computer
  4. Close browser, open resume file
  5. Edit file
  6. Save, print
  7. Open browser, navigate to webmail website and sign in
  8. Start a new email, re-attach new version of resume, send to self.

This process is fairly lengthy and many errors can occur during the process like: running out of time to send new version to themselves, not being able to locate the most recent version, not being able to find the file once it has been downloaded, or the last version having been saved in an incompatible file format.

Using a cloud service like Google Docs (or even the buggy Microsoft Skydrive) the process is simpler:

  1. Log in to computer, open browser, navigate to document website and sign in
  2. Open resume document and edit
  3. Print & Save
  4. Sign-out

Or even using a service like Dropbox, where you are using document files is better- as long as a library can make sure that logging out is enforced, patrons can sign in to the service, open and edit their documents using MS Word or Open Office and save/log-out.

To me, as a library employee who works primarily with the public, cloud computing is an amazing innovation. This improves access to information- because a patron’s own information/data is still important for them to be able to access whenever they need to.

On the other hand, it also is important for me to know about all of the issues surrounding the storage of information online so that I can evaluate new services and assist patrons in making informed decisions when they come to the desk with questions.

The Future of Cloud Computing
With new products emerging in the US and elsewhere like Google Play, Amazon Cloud Storage, and iCloud it is apparent that the big players are interested in us storing our data on their servers. We need to ask ourselves why they are offering these services.

But, we can’t ignore the proliferation of devices that can access our data wherever and whenever we want to. Or that we are becoming increasing reliant on the internet always being available. And in Canada, where we have extempore expensive broadband prices, a history of ISP throttling and many areas that have no cell (3G/4G) coverage due to geography. It aslo might be notes that Iceland has a lower population density than we do, but greater penetration of home internet (http://www.oecd.org/document/54/0,3746,en_2649_34225_38690102_1_1_1_1,00.html).  Can our infrastructure handle a full move to internet storage? Will it ever? What impact will this have on the digital divide? What happens when their is an outage?

There are a lot of questions, and not many of them have easy answers. But the questions aren’t going to go away, and neither is the internet or the services that exist online.

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2 Responses to Cloud Computing

  1. cmonnin says:

    What an excellent and thorough post Sarah! I never thought of the benefits of a cloud computing for library users trying to create and print their resume. It does make a huge difference to have access to that file on different computers and devices. Granted, privacy is a major concern, but it seems that convenience may win out in this battle.

  2. katharine22 says:

    This post is really good – I love the Situation/Process that you’ve outlined for the resume…It really shows the benefits to uploading your documents to the cloud!

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