Frequently Asked Questions about Cloud Computing at the UW
What is cloud computing?
Ask ten people what cloud computing is and you'll get ten different answers, but the general idea is that you are using hardware and software that "belongs to someone else" and is accessed via the Internet. In fact, you may be using a lot of computers, in multiple data centers.
If you've used Hotmail, Google Calendar, Facebook, or Flickr, you've used cloud computing services.
Why is it called cloud computing?
In network diagrams, the Internet is typically represented as a cloud. An example is at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Sample-network-diagram.png.
What kinds of services are available in the cloud?
All sorts of applications are available in the cloud, from email and calendaring to project management, blogs, wikis, and even online videoconferencing and photo editing. In addition to user applications there are also services providing online compute engine and storage facilities that allow people to build their own applications and house their own collections of data. See Oren's presentation CloudSourced Apps for links to examples.
Why is the UW interested in cloud computing services?
Much of the innovation and cost-effectiveness in computing is being achieved by huge consumer-based services such as those offered by Google, Microsoft, and Amazon or by new "Web 2.0" companies such as 37 Signals or Facebook. The scale at which these companies operate allow them offer compelling services that evolve at a pace far faster than local service providers, including those at the UW, can hope to match.
Cloud computing services are usually available at very compelling rates, with some of the services being free to universities.
People can set up cloud services whenever they need them, and get rid of them when they no longer need them. There's no waiting to order equipment or installing software.
Sounds great! Why don't we just move everything to the cloud right away?
While many UW activities can move into the cloud with no problems, there are a number of concerns and issues that we need to understand. Understanding and managing the risk of sensitive data being exposed is a concern, as is compliance with regulations such as FERPA, HIPAA, and others. Records retention, public records access, and long-term preservation of institutional knowledge are other examples of issues we wish to understand in the cloud-computing world.
What activity is happening right now at the UW in cloud computing?
There is an ongoing project to offer UW alumni a new online service using Microsoft's Exchange Labs service. That service is scheduled to be available in 2008.
There is current work underway to reach agreements with both Google and Microsoft that would allow the UW to offer email, calendar, and other collaborative tools to students and employees. Computer Science hopes to pilot these services by making Google services available to their incoming students in Autumn 2008. The first institution-wide offering of these services will be to students, starting with making them available to students admitted for Autumn 2009.
Work is underway to understand the security and policy issues around cloud computing, particularly as it applies to employee use of cloud services. The discussion of cloud computing is helping to bring additional focus on the education efforts necessary for proper treatment of sensitive data at the UW. This work is feeding into the agreement discussions with vendors and into other policy education and enforcement discussions taking place.
Further down the road is detailed discussions with vendors about storage space and raw compute power in the cloud, which we anticipate will be extremely important to the research endeavors at the UW.
Is anyone at UW really using these services yet?
In a word, yes.
About 1/3 of our students forward their email to cloud providers.
When Google introduced their "Team Edition" offering, over 500 UW individuals signed up.
Many (but we have no data on how many) faculty/staff currently use cloud-based collaborative apps as an integral part of their daily work; notably Google Calendar and Google documents.
I've got more questions - who can I ask about cloud computing efforts at the UW?
People from a wide variety of UW units are working together on cloud computing. Some of the individuals include: Ron Johnson and Terry Gray (CTO's office), Scott Mah and Oren Sreebny (UW Technology Services), Ed Lazowska and Erik Lundberg (Computer Science and Engineering), and Mike Eisenberg and Scott Barker (Information School). Any of those folks are happy to field questions or discuss issues.
Where can I find out more?
How Cloud Computing Is Changing The World (Business Week, Aug 4, 2008)
Office In A Cloud (by Robert Scoble in Fast Company)