By Jim Zimmermann
No, this isn’t your local weather forecast. It’s actually about where IT and learning are moving in the future…
Cloud Computing is one of the most talked about subjects among the IT analyst community. (And we should know – we track over 400 analyst firms for SkillSoft’s AnalystPerspectives product and we provide hundreds of analyst headlines each week via the AnalystPerspectives Weekly Scan Newsletter.) And along with all the talk comes a lot of hype and concern.
So what exactly is cloud computing, and why should you as an e learning professional care about it?
Cloud computing is about moving IT infrastructure and functionality onto the Internet (the term “Cloud” comes from IT diagrams and flowcharts that show the Internet as a cloud-shaped symbol). Many companies – and most likely yours – have closets, rooms, or even buildings full of servers, network equipment and all the other “stuff” needed to provide access to company data and applications. Companies have significant investments in all this equipment, and it tends to become obsolete in very short periods of time. And the investment in people to keep all of the equipment running is usually significant as well.
Unless your company is an IT services provider, running an IT infrastructure is probably not your core business. Cloud Computing is a way to move the IT infrastructure out of your organization to a firm that specializes in running IT infrastructures, allowing your company to focus on its core business. Employees then access the IT infrastructure via the Internet (the “cloud” part again). This Internet-based access is also a benefit to companies that have remote employees or employees that are on the road as all employees can work from wherever they have an Internet connection.
There are two kinds of cloud computing being touted by analysts – one where the company simply “pays per use” to access equipment owned by a service provider and possibly shared with other companies (only the hardware is shared – data is secured for each client). The other type of cloud computing involves a company using a “private” cloud infrastructure that is not shared with other companies. Although both methods claim to provide good security, companies that are very concerned with security (government contractors or firms that keep lots of information about consumers for example) tend to consider private clouds as a better solution.
So where is Cloud Computing going? Gartner is predicting that by 2012, 20% of enterprises will no longer own their IT infrastructure and will access all computing hardware via the cloud (Source: Gartner Highlights Key Predictions for IT Organizations and Users in 2010 and Beyond, January 13, 2010, Gartner). Although analysts love to argue about the percentages, the trend is clear – companies increasingly will be moving their IT infrastructures into the cloud.
How does this affect your e learning programs? It depends on your current learning environment. If you have purchased and installed learning management systems in-house, these will need to be “moved” if the IT infrastructure that supports it moves to the cloud. If you are using SkillSoft’s solutions, they already are provided via “Software as a Service”, which is one of three major components of Cloud Computing (the others being Infrastructure as a Service – Iaas and Platform as a Service -PaaS). Since SkillPort and our Books24x7 digital books product are already “in the cloud”, they should fit in well if, or when, your company makes the move to Cloud Computing.
How has Cloud Computing impacted you? Are you already in that 20% of companies? I’d love to hear your perspectives in the comments.