Cloud Computing

Let’s talk about cloud computing.

At its simplest, things that are in the “cloud” are things that float around in a sort of digital airspace and don’t exist on your computer. They exist on remote servers which can be accessed from many computers.

cloud1
Photo by mansikka under a Creative Commons license

For this reason, the cloud is a good metaphor for the Internet. For most of us, keeping things in a cloud results in a convenient and logical way to make life simple.

You can access things in the cloud from anywhere that is connected to the Internet…depending on the service and its security (private cloud or public cloud). It’s kind of like your email or Facebook account. You have lots of stuff stored in these accounts that is specific to you, but you can log in from anywhere. And it will always look the same and have all your stuff in it. Your stuff is always just…there.

cloud
Photo by AJC1 under a Creative Commons license

Getting a bit more technical, your stuff is actually physically stored somewhere as bits on servers that are run by whoever is providing the service. For example, some institutions have servers dedicated to an institutionally-based digital repository. These servers might live on the campus and will store everything that is added to the repository. But the whole repository will not exist on the specific machine that you might use to access documents stored there. Your computer will connect to the remote server to access the repository.

What makes this fun for digital preservationists is that cloud computing can really increase the scale and sharing of preservation duties. Maureen Pennock, the Web archive preservation Project Manager at the British Library, recognizes this in her blog: “This minimises costs for all concerned, addresses the skills shortage, and produces a more efficient, sustainable and reliable preservation infrastructure.”

In the future – and as we are seeing with DuraCloud – all the tech work behind producing ways to store and retrieve data may be provided as part of a single repository product. (This type of service, by the way, is referred to as IaaS – Infrastructure as Service.) This would be excellent news for a great deal of institutions that don’t have the means or skills to set up a repository themselves.

Cloud computing offers a huge potential for an off-site alternative to the out-of-the-box repository products that most institutions currently must use. Instead, external organizations will be able to do the tech work while the institutions will be able to focus on non-technical repository maintenance.

Images by Flickr users mansikka and AJC1

Original publication date: 7/15/09

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