What’s the Big Deal About the Cloud?
From the telephone to the television set, history seems to arrange itself around innovations in technology that turn out to be true game changers. Today, according to many scientists, business leaders and the marketplace itself, the most noteworthy game changer is cloud computing.
For the uninitiated, cloud computing – generally referred to simply as “the cloud”– entails accessing and working with data and applications via the Internet rather than yielding to the limits of hard drives and on-site servers and other technology and equipment. From sharing and storing simple documents to performing sophisticated analysis on enormous sets of data, many experts believe the implications of cloud computing are enormous.
The Cloud Demands a New Breed of IT Professional
To help IT professionals navigate the implications of the cloud, the University of Washington is launching a new Certificate in Cloud Computing that gets underway in October. During the courses, students will experience firsthand the issues and challenges that often arise by scaling an existing application to a point where it’s ready to be made available to millions via the cloud.
Seattle is emerging as something of a headquarters for cloud computing. In addition to the academic work being done at the University of Washington, area businesses – including Amazon, Google and Microsoft – are contributing to the noticeable shift in the marketplace and, by changing the emphasis from the hard drive and on-site servers to the Internet, driving the demand for a new breed of IT professional.
“If you want to be relevant in the future, you need to acquire expertise about the cloud and stay up to date,” says Atul Adya, a Seattle-based engineer with Google who helped develop the UW certificate program and now serves on its advisory board. “There is still a lot of money in mainframes today, but the trend is definitely toward the cloud.”
Democratizing Big Data and Big Capabilities
Bill Howe is an assistant affiliate professor of computer science and engineering and a senior scientist in the UW’s eScience Institute. He also participated in the development of the UW certificate and will be an instructor in the program. While Howe approaches the subject from an academic perspective, he agrees with Adya that the importance of the cloud for IT professionals couldn’t be more clear. “Businesses and scientists are now using data in similar ways,” says Howe. “The cloud is a big part of that.”
Howe believes that his work with massive amounts of data used by microbiologists, astronomers and other scientists parallels what is expected of IT professionals. “Today, the analysis of data – not the collection of it – is the bottleneck,” he says. “You can now fill your hard drive with more data than you’ll ever be able to look at.”
In the realm of corporate IT, which is experiencing the same type of data overload that science is, Howe sees the proliferation of analytics that measure everything from Web traffic patterns to minute customer preferences as the most telling sign of the significance of cloud computing. “Data analytics used to be a competitive advantage, but now it’s a competitive disadvantage to not do it,” he says. “Many companies have been locked out of doing sophisticated analytics because it’s so expensive, but the cloud democratizes access to massively scalable computing resources. You pay for what you need. You can crunch the numbers once a quarter and then shut it down.”
Testing Complex Code and Helping Mom
Adya agrees that the flexibility factor is a major driver behind the change in computing enabled by the cloud. “Having data available when and where you need it is very important and always has been,” he says. “Cloud computing addresses many pain points that have been around for a long time, such as installing software and having the bandwidth needed to work with large sets of data and applications. It centralizes resources and allows both individuals and organizations to access what they need with their Web browser.”
Centralizing resources, Adya says, is beneficial in many ways. “It addresses real concerns for real people,” he says. “At Google, which pushes the boundaries, code review is entirely browser based.” He believes the cloud also enables a new kind of innovation for smaller companies. “Startups can rent the storage space they need, for example, and if they fail all they have to do is cancel their subscription,” he says.
One of the most compelling aspects of cloud computing for Adya, however, is the person for whom he provides on-call IT support: his mother. “I am considering getting her a laptop with nothing installed but a browser that she can use to access the applications she uses,” he says. “If you live in your browser, when you lose something all you need to do is sign into your account and it all comes back.”
UW’s Response to Demand
Based on the deep insight into the evolving IT landscape provided by Adya, Howe and many other professionals, the UW designed its Certificate in Cloud Computing to help those in the IT field thrive now and in the future. The program takes nine months to complete and consists of three courses that can be taken either online or in a classroom setting in downtown Seattle.
The first two courses cover fundamental concepts and components of cloud computing and scalable systems. In the final course, students will work with various tools required to manage large sets of data, such as MapReduce, Hadoop and others.
Howe, who will teach that final, data-intensive course, draws on an often-used analogy to explain how he sees the potential the cloud has to transform: Every factory in the country used to have an electricity generator in its basement until power companies began to offer the utility more efficiently and more affordably. “I believe the same thing will happen with computing,” he says. “My advice to anyone in the IT field is to not wait to see if more traditional computing becomes as quaint as the electricity generator. Go out and learn about it.”
To learn more about how to apply for admission to the UW’s Certificate in Cloud Computing, visit the program online at www.pce.uw.edu/certificates/cloud-computing.html or call 206-685-8936 or, toll free, 888-469-6499.
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