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Cloud Computing and Virtual Computer Labs on Campus

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Cloud computing is a growing trend, particularly in higher education. Technology officials at several colleges that recently deployed web-based hubs where students can access necessary software from their personal computers believe that campus computer labs will become “virtual” in the near future.

Cloud Computing

The term “cloud computing” simply refers to the delivery of resources over the internet as opposed to hosting and operating those resources locally on a college or university’s own network. Cloud computing is considered one approach to dealing with the challenging and frustrating budget cuts that many colleges and universities are dealing with, reports non-profit EDUCAUSE.

Analysts project that cloud computing will see mainstream adoption in two to five years, and some higher education IT leaders believe that cloud computing programs on campus will increase considerably in the coming years, EDUCAUSE says.

Virtual Campus Computer Labs

Essentially, a virtual computer lab takes programs running on college hardware and beams the images to any computer desktop across the internet, giving students the ability to create and save work as though the programs were running on their own hard drives. The software’s performance depends on the strength of the student’s Internet connection as opposed to the processing power of their computer, so even students with older computers can use advanced software without difficulty, explains Inside Higher Ed.

North Carolina State University, Marist College, two campuses in the California State University System, George Mason University and Georgia State University are institutions that are experimenting with virtual computing labs to varying degrees, Inside Higher Ed reports.

Google Cloud Computing for Education

Although virtual labs are still relatively new, many colleges and universities have ditched their in-house email systems by switching to web-based email programs such as Google’s Gmail. In 2006, Arizona State University became one of the first large universities to implement Google Apps for Education, which provides students with advanced collaboration tools without the cost and complexity of maintaining on-site hardware and software.

Google Apps for Education boasts over 7 GB of email storage, an integrated calendar that includes group calendars and resource scheduling, the ability to collaborate on documents with others, as well as security and privacy controls. The University of Southern California and Vanderbilt University are among the other colleges using Gmail.

Microsoft Cloud Computing for Education

Microsoft’s Live @ Edu cloud computing services promise schools a reliable and easy-to-manage solution with enhanced security. Features include a free hosted Microsoft email account with 10 GB storage; online access to companions to Microsoft Office’s Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote; and 25 GB of free online storage with Windows Live SkyDrive, which offers the ability to share documents and collaborate with others.

IBM Cloud Computing for Education

Not to be outdone by Google and Microsoft, IBM announced their Academic Skills Cloud in February 2010. The suite was initially available to IBM’s Academic Initiative members at 20 colleges and universities across the United States.

Participants are able to access and use IBM software in their classrooms and labs without having to install the products on their own systems. IBM’s version of the cloud for college students will eventually be extended to additional schools in IBM’s network of Academic Initiative partners, which is comprised of 9,000 faculty members at more than 4,500 universities worldwide.

Cons of Cloud Computing: Schools Give Up Gmail over Security Fears

Despite the fact that Google and Microsoft’s education suites serve nearly half of all non-profit colleges, security fears still exist.

In March 2010 Yale University officials decided to place their campus switch to Gmail and Google Apps for Education on hold due to concerns and reservations from the faculty and administration.

The University of California, Davis had similar feelings. The school stopped using Gmail for its 30,000-strong staff and faculty body in May 2010. The university had been trying Gmail for faculty and staff with plans to roll out service to the entire campus, but school officials say the e-mail system isn’t secure or private enough to meet their standards, reports Mashable.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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