The idea of storing data on a remote computer rather than a local one isn’t really new, despite what some of Steve Jobs’ hagiographers might want to tell you. The idea goes back at least to the middle of the 1990s, and probably has its roots back on the old Multics terminals of the 1970s. What is new, though, is the ease with which you can take advantage of what’s come to be called “The Cloud”.
The purpose behind cloud computing is, in very general terms, to substitute the power of the internet for a local computer. For the end-user, that gets expressed in web-based applications. Instead of an application being installed on one physical device, the application is stored on a remote server, and can be called up from any web browser. The advantages are evident: as long as you’ve got an internet connection, you can connect and work. No more worrying about carrying a flash drive, or not having the right version of a program to open a document (MS office users are nodding their heads with me). Everything is centralized and managed elsewhere. It’s also easier to synchronize data between not only multiple devices, but between different sorts of devices: Macs, PCs, tablets, and even phones. This isn’t to say that cloud computing is without its problems; there are some important philosophical objections to this from, most notably, Richard Stallman. For many users, however, the convenience offered by the cloud will probably outweigh those concerns.
The B.L. Fisher Library already offers a few services which are entirely cloud-based. All Asbury Theological Seminary students, faculty and staff have access to Google Docs. Google Docs is an office suite which handles most simple tasks, like word processing, and a few more complex tasks as well, like creating presentations or making spreadsheets. It’s still not quite as fully featured as Excel is, for example, but Google is adding new features constantly. We also offer Refworks to students and alumni. Refworks is a system for managing your references and citations, and it’s also integrated with Asbury Scholar, so that when you are searching for articles, you can add bibliographic data with an extra click or two. Refworks can then export a formatted bibliography and enter footnotes for you. Additionally, since all your data is stored remotely, you never have to worry about losing your Seminary bibliographies when you change computers, even after graduation.
As technology advances, what services do you think are next to put into the cloud?