28 Nov 2011

Libraries in the Cloud

A previous blog entry raised the issue of preserving and sharing your digital stuff in the cloud. So what about the use of such services within the professional library and information management context? Well, cloud computing represents a strong feature on libraries’ technological chart lists. Increasingly, the cloud provides on-demand access to all sorts of resources (e.g. e-books) and services (e.g. virtual reference service desks) that libraries offer their patrons.

What is cloud computing? “Cloud computing is a method of running application software and storing related data in central computer systems and providing customers or other users access to them through the Internet” (Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, 2011).

Great; but what does that actually mean?

Essentially, three potential layers of cloud involvement apply from a library’s perspective. They refer to either Software as a Service/SaaS (software is delivered as a service over the Internet, which eradicates local maintenance and support), Platform as a Service/PaaS (delivers a computing platform as a service consuming cloud infrastructure and supporting cloud applications), or Infrastructure as a Service/IaaS (i.e. a platform virtualisation environment with “raw” storage and networking). The level of involvement is determined by factors such as the nature of resource/service in question, scalability, technical ability within the library and cost.

Notably, each layer brings with it particular advantages and disadvantages. What are they?

Below is a presentation by Yan Han (American Library Association National Conference in New Orleans, LA on June 25th, 2011) showcasing cloud computing services employed by Arizona Libraries. It’s about 25 minutes long but well worth checking out as it discusses issues such as advantages/disadvantages of using cloud services, providers and, crucially, costs.

Cloud computing presentation by Yan Han from Erik Mitchell on Vimeo.

Whilst you’re at it you might as well check out Marshall Breeding’s informative cloudy forecast for libraries. It predicts a gradual shift away from client/server computing to service-oriented architectures and browser-based interfaces deployed through cloud-based infrastructure.

They stand as the key technologies preferred for new software development efforts today (Breeding, 2011). The crucial take-away here is that library user needs for portable services can be efficiently met through stable, web-based interfaces and lightweight applications hosted in the cloud. Patron-facing library services are pushing towards cloud-based technology solutions as already evidenced by vender hosting SaaS services offered by Serial Solutions and EBSCO among others.


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