Is your training in "the cloud?"

What is cloud computing, and why should your training operation care about it?

Cloud computing is a catchphrase that has become very popular these days. It is not, however, by itself a new concept.

Essentially, a company's computers are client machines that primarily (or only) run software and applications hosted in a central mainframe. Industries like banking, insurance and airlines used a primitive form of cloud computing as far back as the 1970s. While many companies embraced the structure, many workers rebelled at having to use what were essentially "dumb terminals." Thus, we had the personal computer revolution in the 1980s and 1990s.

However, with the expansion of broadband networks, the cloud is making a huge comeback – including eLearning applications. Anyone who uses Flickr, ShutterFly, PhotoWorks, YouTube or any of several social networks is working in the cloud.

Built-in benefits

Some advantages to cloud computing include:

Software use is monitored and controlled, and individual user licenses are often less expensive.

Virus dangers are minimized.

Source data can be stored and managed centrally, and protected behind firewalls.

A lost or damaged computer is less likely to compromise company data.

Most "online campus" operations incorporate cloud-style content management. The user (client) downloads the necessary software on an as-needed basis, and has access to controlled content objects.

At some larger companies, where this concept is used for company-only learning, certain users can be given edit privileges to correct and update content. Thus, text editors, photo uploading/tagging tools and Flash authoring tools may also be part of the central database.

Setup arrangement

Cloud setups can be open-Web or private. Open Web uses blog sites, social networks or other third-party sites (such as Moodle) to post content. A private network is usually set up specifically for a company or individual educational institution.

If you are using your own private version of cloud computing, the downside is minimal. The main disadvantages are system maintenance - such as expanding storage space when necessary, and software updates.

If using a third party, that party usually handles the necessary updates. Your company doesn't have to worry about technology issues, and can focus on publishing valid learning content. But the disadvantage is that your company's training content is not necessarily your own.

While appropriate security precautions can and should be incorporated, the system provider still has a lot of control over your content objects. Also, being dependent on a third party's platform can limit the flexibility and creativity of your instructional designers.

Your choice may very well come down to your company's needs and budget. If a cloud computing service isn't offering enough flexibility and computing "horsepower" for your operation, you may well opt for the expense of a private system, or perhaps using a smaller, more local provider that can customize a network for your needs.

On the other hand, many companies have found the economies of scale offered by a centralized infrastructure that can be easily accessed via the Internet are too much to ignore.

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