It seems like the budget gods rarely smile upon schools and districts. Education allocations are often subject to stagnation and slashing from states and municipalities. It is hard to blame them outright, though, as there never seems to be enough to go around and they definitely leave more than educators frustrated. And it also hasn’t stopped schools and school systems from making something out of seemingly little. In fact, now more than ever, there are so many options for solutions in education even when facing bad budget news from the powers that be. Technology in recent years has driven innovative, efficient, and affordable means for schools to make magic despite limitations. There is a lot behind this, really, but one of the chief forces behind this potential is cloud-based software.
What is the cloud?
The cloud is one of those terms that seems to have appeared one day and became so common that one might imagine they’re the only one that isn’t quite sure what it means (don’t worry, you’re not alone). Simply put, the cloud is shorthand for the service of computing equipment elsewhere. Where you might ask? Well, anywhere, but actually somewhere. The idea is that it doesn’t matter exactly because the results are delivered so seamlessly the user doesn’t even think about the fact that it comes from beyond their own equipment. It’s something that’s possible because of (not only computers) but the internet and data centers — networks of computing equipment. In the cloud each piece of computing equipment is like a molecule of water in a real cloud. They work collectively and in tandem to function as a greater whole. In this way, cloud computing can deliver the power and possibilities of entire networks of computing to a user on a single piece of equipment.
What is cloud software?
In the past you bought software in person. It probably looked something like this:
You go to the computer store and check the side of the software box. Pentium III — check. CPU speed 1 Ghz — check, I think. Windows XP — check, for sure. 8X Speed CD/DVD ROM, I think so?
You go back to your computer. Pop in the disc. You run the install application. Then you hope it works. If it doesn’t you call the number on the box. Hopefully they talk you through any issues and then, finally, you can use your software. Assuming there are no other complicating factors on your computer.
With cloud computing you can buy access software that’s running in the cloud. The software is powered not by your computer but the collective processing power, memory, and storage of the computing resources of the cloud, all connected to you via the internet. No worrying about system requirements, troubleshooting, or anything else associated with the operation of software behind the scenes. Just service delivered on demand.
What are the advantages to cloud software?
In some ways cloud software is a bit like having a membership at a warehouse wholesaler. They are able to offer your favorite popcorn at a price your local supermarket can’t come close to touching simply because they buy so much of it. And they pass those savings on to you. Cloud providers do the same with computing power. It’s usually offered in a pay-as-you-go plan or a subscription at rates way lower than what the cost would be to purchase software and outfit all of your own hardware with it, let alone manage it. No worrying about the space of all that computing power and it’s upkeep. It’s elsewhere, it’s in the cloud. And the provider takes care of those things. But really, it just makes sense with the state of technology now. Here are some other advantages:
- Interoperability. Cloud Software can be accessed from all types of devices. Anywhere, at any time.
- Backups and Redundancy. If a user device goes down the cloud is unaffected, no files or information is lost.
- Collaboration. Since software can be accessed from all types of devices even at the same time there are plenty of opportunities for staff and classroom collaboration.
- Reduced obsolescence. Accessing cloud software doesn’t require users to have ever more state-of-the-art devices. Years ago, schools accumulated outdated computing equipment fast. No more!
- Security. Cloud providers go to great efforts to make sure information is safe, secure, and reliable.
- Reduced Costs. Besides not having to constantly buy new hardware cloud solutions allow schools and districts to save money on licenses, power, and support.
It’s really not as novel as you think. As early as the 1960s organizations rented time-slots to use the ginormous and expensive mainframes of the day. They were simply making the best of their budgets to get the solutions they needed. And today, thanks to cloud-based software, schools can do the same with ease.