Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Cloud Computing and Cloud Thinking

Hello from the 2008 Web Conference in Beijing! Yesterday I took part in the Web Science workshop on Web Evolution and spent my evening uploading all the presentations to the Web Science EPrints repository and feeling a bit like Cinderella while my senior colleagues from Southampton went to a reception hosted by Microsoft. While I was uploading a 15Mb PDF over a very slow connection I took the opportunity to have dinner in the hotel's Brazilian restaurant. Several Caipirinhas later I returned to finish off the repository management tasks in much improved humour:-)

Today is the first day of the main conference, and the keynote speech was given by a Chinese VP from Google on "Cloud Computing". He covered all the basics about Cloud Computing and particularly about Google's internal cloud infrastructure and their cloud-based user applications. Now I'm very interested in Cloud Computing as a Computer Science Researcher and Lecturer, and I'm looking at including it in my teaching and in my work. Hurrah for David Flanders and his Fedorazon project who are giving us advice about running EPrints in the Amazon cloud.

However, it also seems to me that all this hard work and infrastructure is just moving our current working practices from our laptops and workstations to yet another exciting new platform. Instead of having my files stored on an identifiable piece of hardware in a known location, they are now stored somewhere unknown and unknowable, but invisibly managed, replicated and always available. This might offer various advantages, but it is a fairly superficial change in my working life.

What I'm really interested in is not a shift in technology, but a shift in human behaviour. Not cloud computing but cloud thinking. Encouraging researchers and scholars to move their ideas from the private and inaccessible domain of their laptops or workstations or manuscripts or CD-Rs into the public domain of the Web to increase the efficiency of the research process and to improve the sum total of human knowledge. Just putting documents or data in the cloud doesn't make it any less private. Moving all of research into the cloud wouldn't increase the sum total of disclosed human knowledge - and that's what I think is really important.

It's all part of the Open Access ideal - don't withhold your intellectual capital unnecessarily. And cloud computing (like service oriented architectures and any other platform infrastructure) may be a useful step in the right direction, or it may be a complete red herring.

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