Wednesday, 24 February 2010

I've looked at Clouds......

Not often I have a week's absence from blogging when I'm not away - mixture of lots of work (some not bloggable), and a couple of days feeling poorly sick (flowers and chocolates can be sent via my work address....).

But, I'm back now hopefully with a few things to report. At the end of last week we had a meeting optimistically called "Cloud Gazing" where a group of us got together to look at the implications of moving some of our services into the cloud. This was of course prompted by the fact that we recently outsourced our student email service to Google, and are now looking at how we handle staff services.

I was keen that we took a step back from just mail and looked at other services which are available - calendaring, filestore, document authoring and sharing for instance. There are several drivers in my mind - not least cost cutting. We are going to face serious cuts across the sector over the next few years and need to plan how we're going to deal with them. There's also the issue of carbon footprint - a recent study showed that the two highest carbon emitting buildings on our campus per square metre are our two machine rooms. When you throw in reducing complexity, doing more with less, and improving services it seems to be me a no brainer that should at least consider it.

We tended to focus on Google's offerings rather than the cloud in general, but it was the first discussion. It was interesting having a very mixed group of people in the room, with a range of opinions. We identified a number of benefits, including improved services, faster development and deployment, reduced costs, reduced carbon footprint. Of course, there were risks identified too - access to data, security, privacy, loss of control, vendor lock in etc. A big issue while we were concentrating on Google (and if anyone from Google is reading this, take note!), was whether Google is going down what was termed the Microsoft route. With the development of an operating system (Chrome OS), browser (Chrome), mobile operating system (Android) and now even a hardware device (Nexus), are Google going to concentrate on producing services which will only run on these services, or at least be optimised to? If so, that will cause real problems with widescale adoption in the education community.

So, no decisions, but a good first meeting with opinions fairly evenly divided between the risk takers and the risk averse, and there'll be plenty more good discussions I should think.


George Credland said...

I thought the University has a renewal energy contract for its electricity?

Therefore (on paper at least) are there any carbon emissions from our machine rooms? If the services move to the "cloud" won't they be less likely to be run on renewables?

I agree its a good idea to optimise resource usage and reduce energy consumption to cut costs, just not so clear on the environmental claims.

Pablo said...

'Free' services like mail & calendaring for students are good value of course - for now - but outsourcing is rarely a way of saving money unless quality is drastically reduced. Technicians are replaced with contract managers and the reduced in-house skills leave you much more at the mercy of consultants. And the sort of tailoring which can transform a system (eg eRecruitment) becomes prohibitive. Which doesn't rule outsourcing out of course, especially for 'commodity' services, but it's certainly no magic bullet, particularly not for budgets.