Our campus is planning to implement two new cloud-based e-mail and calendaring services: Google Apps for Higher Education and Microsoft Office 365. Sounds great, but what are cloud-based services (aka cloud computing) and why are we moving our e-mail services to them?
In the simplest of terms, cloud computing is the delivery of computing services, such as storage or software, over the Internet as opposed to those services being hosted on a user’s computer or provided within a local network. Because the Internet is sometimes referred to as The Cloud, services provided over the Internet became known as cloud-based services. You may hear some people use the term Software as a Service, or SaaS, interchangeably with cloud computing.
One benefit of utilizing cloud-based services is the reduced need to purchase, install and support software on local machines. Generally all it takes to access a service in the cloud is a web browser like Internet Explorer or Google Chrome or a light-weight desktop or mobile app like Microsoft Outlook. Gmail is a good example of a cloud-based service; all the infrastructure, software and storage is hosted remotely and you only need a web browser to access the service.
Another example of a cloud-based service is our campus online learning environment, Desire2Learn. Although we are able to make customizations to our campus instance of Desire2Learn, the servers that host D2L, the databases, storage and software are all hosted remotely. As you might imagine, through cloud computing large service providers are able to achieve economies of scale. So typically it costs less for a customer to purchase these cloud-based services than to host, maintain and support them locally.
Microsoft Office 365 will replace our campus-hosted Exchange service with an Exchange service that is hosted by Microsoft and that we will access over the Internet. In addition to having the most up-to-date e-mail and calendaring service provided by Microsoft, we will also be able to take advantage of Lync (for instant messaging and video conferencing), SharePoint (for easy website creation and management) and Office Web Applications (for web-based access to word processing, spreadsheet and presentation documents). Because the Office Web Apps are cloud-based, you will be able to take advantage of the word processing power of Microsoft Word, the spreadsheet capabilities of Microsoft Excel and the presentation power of Microsoft PowerPoint without the requirement of having those programs on your computer.
Here are guidelines and policies that apply to cloud services: