Tuesday, October 28, 2008

NITLE cloud computing event report

Checking in from sunny Orlando Florida. I caught a ride from the Convention center zone to Rollins College in Winter Park Florida for the NITLE cloud computing event today. Overall, Rollins has a charming campus. The on- campus food wasn't bad either.

We heard a couple Google Apps migration stories from some CTOs. In one case, Wesleyan U, the school was only planning on switching students over, whereas at Macalester they had switched the whole enterprise, students and staff. Interestingly, in the Macalester case, the switch was done in a matter of days as the old email system failed. It seems that a crisis situation really served as an important catalyst and brought the community together. Now Macalester is ahead of the curve as it takes advantage of the whole Google Apps suite.

Jerry Sanders of Macalester said that with Google Apps, IT's role had become more "consultative" and "less reactive." It was now more about discussing the possibilities with these new web 2.0 applications than troubleshooting problems. He likened this shift and the renewed sense of unknown possibilities to the introduction of personal computers and the advent of the web.

We heard from the D-Space federation, who has some plans to enable D-Space to run on cloud-based storage. I continue to think that D-Space is not the right model for digital repositories in these times. It was designed before the Web 2.0 and Cloud Computing era and remains positioned as an isolated silo of data for supporting a single institution.

David Young, CEO of Joyent, gave his view of the cloud. Joyent provides infrastructure for some huge applications on the web. He disagrees with Carr's view that the cloud will be dominated by a few small companies and sees it as a more heterogenous beast. It was kind of fun to listen to an industry insider throw around jargon like "cloud stack" and "cloud primitives." A couple quotes:
cloud computing=aggressively distributed
a cloud should abstract away all consideration except the application and its operation
Young seemed a little concerned that some cloud providers where creating a situation where they would lock users into their platform...perhaps Amazon is trying to do this with its EC2 virtual machines. He said that Joyent's philosophy was "openness is lock in," akin to Southwest Airlines' flexibility in reservations. Using open application stacks like RoR keeps users loyal...plus the more data users put on your servers, the less likely they are to move (the dirty secret of cloud providers).

Finally, we heard form Lee Dirks of Microsoft's Education division. He said that MS sees academics as "extreme information workers." Microsoft has developed a few open source applications based on their Sharepoint platform that are designed to facilitate research, including software that can do conference planning and facilitate peer review. I was a little skeptical of some of these scholarly collaboration platforms--how far beyond more generic collaboration software do they take it? I'd have to have a closer look.

The day ended with some heated dialogue about information privacy and security concerns when using SaS providers. Many of the CTOs felt like it would be a big hurdle to get their campus legal counsel to agree to putting their data on external servers, but pretty much all agreed that this was the direction things are going.

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