In today’s world, the educational institutions have been heavily dependent on information technology, without which they can no longer function effectively. Acquisition and maintenance of computer equipment and software constantly requires substantial financial investments and qualified professionals.
Economies of scale and other features inherent in cloud computing may cause a gradual departure from the provision of information services by educational institutions having the own resources and equipment. Increasingly, these services are provided to students and teachers via the Internet. Educational institutions receive them for free or for a small fee, and often these services are more accessible and reliable than their local equivalent.
This means that in the future the majority of educational services will be provided in the cloud, and the educational institutions do not have to have its own computer centers with expensive hardware, costs for electricity, salaries of staff and computing resources that are not always at full power.
Cloud computing is typically divided into three separate categories (Johnson, Levine and Smith, 2009). The lowest level is sometimes called the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). At this level, users get the basic computing resources, such as processors and storage devices-and use them to create their own operating systems and applications. One example of this approach is the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), an organization can use this infrastructure by installing Linux on virtual machines servers and, if necessary, to increase computing power.
The next level is the Platform as a Service (PaaS). Here users are able to install their own applications on the platform provided by the service provider. As an example, Google Apps Engine, which allows developers to create and use applications in Python.
The highest level of cloud computing is called the Software as a Service (SaaS). It is this layer that is of most interest to educational institutions. The “cloud” here represents not only the data but also the associated applications, and the user requires only a Web browser. The best examples of this approach are Google Apps for Education and Microsoft Live@edu, providing support for communications and Office applications, such as e-mail and spreadsheets.
For many educational institutions, the first step in using cloud computing has been e-mail support (outsourcing) for its students (Sclater, 2010).
Email is a basic, reasonably well standardized service, which easily can be supported from the remote terminal and is definitely not a key to the work of educational institutions. Both Google and Microsoft in many countries provide education email free of charge. Both these companies include email in more extensive software package, to which, as a rule, students get along with email. Google Apps for Education and Microsoft Live@edu with the means of communications support in the form of instant messaging programs, along with the address book, and Task Scheduler. Applications for creating documents are also available that enable you to work with texts, spreadsheets, and presentations, and create Web sites. These documents can be shared with other users. Users get a large space for storing documents of all types, which they can use after graduation from the educational institution.
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