So as you know I was at the Educause Conference last week and from the things I saw and the sessions I attended, Cloud Computing seems to be the 2008 buzzword.  So I went on a quest to discover exactly what the term meant and, as with many things on the internet, I found varying definitions.  InfoWorld published an article that grouped cloud computing into several different categories.  Of these, however, only one seems to apply to the end user like you and me, Software as a Service (SaaS).  This is the definition that I usually associate with the term.  It’s when you deliver a single application through a browser to thousands of users.  The most common example of this would probably be Google Apps.  This is a word processing application that many people can use at once and it does not reside on your computer.

The benefit of these cloud computing applications is that you can work on your applications and files from anywhere, not just from your computer.  Many of these applications will also work from your smartphone as well.  In addition, if your computer crashes you won’t have any downtime or data loss because your applications and files are stored on servers accessible from the internet.

There are a few perceived downsides to cloud computing.  The first could be security, especially if you are putting student information or grades online.  As a school or university you need to be certain that the information you are storing is safe and secure.  Normally this is done by putting information on school controlled computers behind a firewall.  This is not always guaranteed with cloud applications/servers.  Before you use these applications be knowledgeable about what you’re storing and the security guarantees offered by the company.

The second potential problem could be support.  In a school/university environment most users rely on their local IT staff to support their applications.  When using cloud apps that are not hosted by your school/university your local IT support may not be able to help you when things are not operating well.  You will need to be comfortable going to user groups for support.

Hope this clears things up…at least a bit.