Learning with Cloud

Wikipedia definition of ‘Cloud Computing’ states that …..

Cloud computing is the use of computing resources (hardware and software) that are delivered as a service over a network (typically the Internet). The name comes from the use of a cloud-shaped symbol as an abstraction for the complex infrastructure it contains in system diagrams. Cloud computing entrusts remote services with a user’s data, software and computation.

“The Cloud” is the latest buzz word in the technology industry in last few years. Every vendor is talking about it (hardware or software) and has their own definition of it and is offering their own version of cloud. Some define it as “services available over the internet” and for others, anything you can consume outside firewall is in cloud. Cloud computing comes into focus when you start thinking about what organizations always need: a way to increase capacity or add capabilities on the fly without investing in new infrastructure, training new personnel, or licensing new software. Cloud computing encompasses any subscription-based or pay-per-use service that, in real time over the Internet and extends existing capabilities. One of the pioneer companies in this field and who made the concept of cloud popular in the hi-tech world is Salesforce.com and then many companies followed the trend.

How does it impact learning industry? When you apply the cloud technology to enable learning, it changes the game completely. It enables organizations to make learning applications available anywhere and anytime without investing heavily on systems or servers, storage, networking, operating systems, software’s, databases and resources to manage or maintain them. Cloud technology offers instant scalability to meet growing needs of the business and growing end user population. Integrated learning applications and social collaboration tools when offered with cloud model, delivers seamless capabilities. Service providers own and control all system and infrastructure aspects of the learning environment and the customers only have to worry and focus on their key business and its learning needs. Customers can access and deliver training to their audience via internet and via subscription model. This provides optimal solution with lower operational cost, improved reliability and security, improved efficiency and productivity and provides autonomy to learning organizations. Many organizations such as Cisco, EMC, Skillsoft etc. are using it to deliver learning solutions to their target audience. Cloud also can be extended to offer open environment where social collaboration feeds and enriches the learning ecosystem and delivers right blend of informal and formal learning.

Cloud technology is available in many flavors and four primary types of cloud offerings available are PaaS, IaaS, SaaS and NaaS. Each of these offerings has its pros and cons and organizations can decide what works best for their situation and what they are comfortable with. Another aspect and choice in cloud computing is choice of public, private or hybrid cloud. And what works for an organization is primarily dependent on their needs in terms of customized/specific requirements, data privacy and system up time needs and concerns.

While cloud technology is seen as the step in right direction, it is also true that moving to cloud may cost some learning organizations more in short-term, since they may be heavily invested in in-house learning infrastructure. Also of course when the organizations move to cloud model, they lose some control and privacy. For some organizations that may be a big bottleneck or a deal breaker to move to cloud. For others, the depth of custom solution(s) they may have in place may be a big hurdle to cross, before they can jump on cloud bandwagon. Some may need fully audited systems and their data to be totally encrypted with ISO standards such as ISO 27001. Big organizations with big enterprise systems also need to overcome challenges of integrating these corporate systems (such as Oracle, SAP, etc.) and single-sign-on (SSO) systems. The cost/benefit analysis with the enterprise systems could be a deciding factor to move to cloud for some organizations. What is being seen as a growing trend is that for the mentioned reasons above and due to the fact that bigger organizations are quite heavily invested in their traditional systems and considering that their resistance to change is higher, it is more likely for the smaller organizations and businesses to adopt the cloud technology faster and sooner.

Gartner and IDC, two of the respected authorities in cloud computing recently released their fearless, bold predictions for 2012.

“In 2012, 80% of new commercial enterprise apps will be deployed on cloud platforms” (IDC).

“At year-end 2016, more than 50 percent of Global 1000 companies will have stored customer-sensitive data in the public cloud” (Gartner).

While there are different viewpoints from learning organizations in the beginning when evaluating cloud technology for transition, most of the organizations are agreeing to some basis facts. One of which is that it doesn’t impact the end user experience negatively and instead it helps offer them better accessibility to the content. Also since the security and privacy concerns are now getting addressed by cloud vendors, all concerns and issues related to that are becoming non-issue now. It also offers high agility, scalability and reliability. In order to better capitalize on the benefits of the cloud technology, organizations need to plan their strategy now and start engaging with the cloud learning service providers which best meet their needs and that the vendor’s roadmap aligns with the needs of the learning organization. Saba, Blackboard, EduBrite, Skillsoft, Questionmark, etc. are examples some of the SaaS service providers in learning space.