In the Cloud ©CartoonNetwork.  Used with permission

When someones talks about moving to the cloud it can bring up images of smiling angels sitting on a fluffy cloud while playing a harp.  While this is clearly a fictionalized view most of us are no less clear on what it someone means when buzz word phrases like “I moved my e-mail to the cloud” are thrown around.  Let me give you a road map to the cloud and share some “pictures” of what this means for small schools.

First, what does it mean to move to the Cloud? This is something that started slowly in a few areas and has increased rapidly in the last couple year. It is only recently that the buzzword “cloud” has been attached to the trend.  To understand this, let’s go back to the early days of the Internet.  Back in the dialup days, you would signup with AOL or a local Internet Service Provider (ISP) for internet access.  That ISP would provide you with an e-mail account.  If you were a business and wanted your own e-mail accounts you would have to setup your own “e-mail server.”  This was a dedicated computer that you would be responsible for maintaining.  It didn’t take long to for someone to realize the advertising and money making potential of e-mail and other electronic communication and spam (junk e-mail) was born.  It cost nothing to send and could reach millions.  From the legit advertising of a product to infamous scams from Nigeria to viruses that hijacked your computer, the problem became pervasive.   If you had your own e-mail server, it added more things to do to as you maintained the server and increased the cost to the business.

This all began to change with the advent of Gmail.  With Gmail, it didn’t matter who your ISP was you could access your e-mail from anywhere!  Gmail was free and the best news of all… Gmail had a very effective spam filter included.  If you wanted your own e-mail server there was even better news.  Gmail would do that for you as well – for free.  Where before, to have your own e-mail sever you had to buy a server (think expensive computer) and either have the technical knowledge to maintain it or pay someone to do this for you, now Gmail would do it all.  It didn’t matter where the physical server was – and most of the time you had no idea!  It could be anywhere in the cloud.

Simply put, a service in the cloud replaces a computer program or server that you would have had to buy or maintain in the past.  Here are some examples:

  • Google Apps for Education – Email and more (free)
  • Quicken Mint Online (free) or QuickBooks Online
  • Google Docs – part of Google Apps (free) – you never need to use Microsoft Office again.  It’s also easy to share a document with anyone and collaborate live.
  • Mozy Backup – No need for expensive and complicated backup software and equipment.  Backup your computers and software online for free.  You data is secure and encrypted.
  • Web Sites – you can create a professional web site for free.  Some examples of services include:
  • Encyclopedia Brittanica Online (free to Adventist Schools – paid for by the NAD Office of Education) – Remember those big sets of books schools had to buy every couple years? No more!
  • Discovery Streaming – You no longer need stacks of DVDs or VHS tapes – everything you need on demand.  Special pricing for Adventist schools.
  • Jolicloud Operating System – Forget Windows 7.  Forget MacOS – you no longer need an operating system – do it all on the web!  Google Chrome OS is also coming.
  • OpenDNS – Free content filtering!

These are just a sampling of cloud tools of which individuals and schools can take advantage.  The cloud makes it possible for small schools to have advanced services that at one time were out of reach.  The barriers of cost and technical skill have been reduced and the features and accessibility have increased.  Cloud Computing is win for small school!