What is cloud 2.0?

Cloud developments are revolutionising the way educators manage schools and conduct lessons. James Higgins finds out why it's not just blue-sky thinking

What is the cloud and what is cloud 2.0?



Cloud computing is a catch-all term for anything that delivers services over the internet, rendering the permanent storage of apps, files and programs (and much, much more) on a hard drive or server redundant. Some everyday examples include G Suite and iCloud Music Library.

Cloud services are available publicly and privately. Public clouds are provided by a third party that offers on-demand services over the internet. Private clouds are provided in-house by a company or organisation for staff to access anywhere. With the anticipated benefits of 5G, cloud 2.0 will facilitate new ways of flexible working. Defining cloud 2.0 is not as straightforward. There is no standardised upgrade and no universal cross sector development that divides the two cloud eras. It is, therefore, not like comparing 5G to 4G. Instead, it is better to view Cloud 2.0 as a term that loosely describes today’s more sophisticated cloud computing programs.

What are IAAS, PAAS AND SAAS?

There are three models for cloud computing services:
– Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) describes virtual storage made available over the internet. A provider offers physical infrastructure – like a data centre – but no applications or operating systems, so, in those terms, it is the most simple and straightforward version of cloud computing.
– Platform as a Service (PaaS) describes a cloud that offers some operating systems and applications services – such as Windows. It also allows users to install their own applications and programs.
– Software as a Service (SaaS) is the most comprehensive and offers subscribers access to an entire suite of software they do not need to store. Users can log in and use those applications on the provider’s infrastructure.

Where is the sector currently with cloud technology?

The department for education’s (DfE) edtech strategy was released in April 2019 and cloud computing was thrust front and centre. In the ‘key commitments’ section of the strategy, tucked away on page 42, were an exhaustive 19 suggestions for the education sector to chew over. The third suggestion read: “Encourage and support schools, colleges and other providers to consider moving to a cloud-based approach for their IT systems and storage.”

However, there are obstacles blocking the national uptake of the cloud in schools. The report noted a 2018 Building Engineering Services Association poll that found “Fifty per cent of primary and 39% of secondary schools cite security concerns as a major barrier to adopting cloud-based storage.” Jose Kingsley, consultant at London Grid for Learning (LGfL), says these security concerns are misplaced: “LGfL schools are provided with the latest security software to ensure their digital footprint and school data is safe and secure online. Cloud computing security offers security benefits in the areas we worry are threatened.”

Richard Eltham, chief technical officer at Namos Solutions, points to features like sophisticated whitelisting, roll-based access and the invisibility of data even to Oracle engineers, as some of the most notable cybersecurity advances. As with most elements of digital security, users are the main chink in the armour. Ofcom data suggests at least 500 schools in rural areas in England are struggling with slow internet connections. Around a fifth of these schools have an average download speed as low as 1-2Mbps, which prohibits moving storage solutions to the cloud. Higher education, though, is ahead of the curve.

A recent report produced by Eduserv found that 36% of universities are using cloud platforms, compared to only 29% of public sector bodies. In Eltharn’s experience, the tide has turned: “Some customers are looking at a decision – the tin is running out of date on laaS cloud platforms and the applications are going out of date. Universities are asking do they upgrade to SaaS? I’d reckon about 70% are.”

Josh Fry, director of cloud at Jisc, wrote in his biog for Education Technology: “We have seen a trend among some early adopters to ‘lift and shift’ existing applications and data without sufficiently repurposing for cloud, which means forgoing many of the benefits. Whereas, what we are seeing from a second phase of adopters is a more refined approach centred on outcomes.” The sophistication of cloud computing is such that, in Fry’s view, it will offer platforms for complex artificial intelligence and automation to be deployed. “Take the example of Leeds Beckett University, which uses AI in clearing,” Fry wrote, “it started in 2017 with a chatbot called Becky and expanded in 2018 to use Alexa.

Not only did this help lighten the administrative load during clearing, the university also discovered that offers made through the chatbot increased the propensity for students to accept to almost double that of the people who applied through the traditional phone method.”

Cloud 2.0 can support digital assistance, chatbots and AI applications that can start to learn how you work. For example, if you receive regular invoicing, the cloud can start to work this out for you – Richard Eltham

What could cloud 2.0 unlock for education?

The requirement for institutions to gather, analyse and publish vast amounts of data (on everything from student progress to environmental measures) for a range of watchdogs, ombudsmen and government departments means infrastructure that creates an operating environment for these systems is key. The potential for data analysis might unnerve some. In an era of league tables and statistics, education can all too often be a numbers game. But in the deployment of cloud, educators can start to consider the data in a more useful way. Kinsley says: “Although national agencies like the DfE and Ofsted provide schools with an aim of raising standards, not all schools find policies accessible. Many schools have long amassed data through assessment in various forms to enhance students’ learning, but often it is not built for personalised progression.

With the adoption of technology in more schools, enhanced data collation ameliorates school analysis.”

With more on line teaching and assessment, teachers can use the cloud to crunch ever more data, such as the homework topics students spent longer answering, or the most common grammatical mistakes students make. This sort of data can give teachers a laser-focused approach to tackling issues that might not immediately be apparent from the front of the classroom. “Capturing how students interact with content forms new ways of capturing enriched data to provide teachers with an enhanced insight into their understanding,” Kingsley says.

One of the primary benefits of Cloud 2.0 is the potential it gives schools to utilise more complicated programs and applications that internal servers or budgets could never have supported. Eltham agrees: “Cloud 2.0 can support digital assistance, chatbots and Al applications that can start to learn how you work. For example, if you receive regular invoicing, the cloud can start to work this out for you. It frees up staff time for other things. Oracle invests $7bn a year into enterprise applications so users do not have to.” As more schools embrace cloud solutions, the greater potential it has to influence learning styles. Many young people turn towards the internet to help them with their homework, but a school with student cloud could share secure access to teachers, peers and learning resources. A school that harnesses the cloud harnesses the digital infrastructure that exists in every student’s home. Exning Primary in Suffolk has done just that and won the cloud transformation award from LGfL in the process. In computing lessons, teachers use Google Classroom to set assignments using the Micro:bit.

Children are beginning to purchase Micro:bits which allow them to download their files and work at home. The cloud has also allowed them to share their coding files and give each other instant advice and feedback online on debugging programs and making their code better.

Kelly Scott, account director for education at VIRTUS Data centres, says of the education market: “It’s a strange market because there is a lot of combined purchasing power. The new edtech strategy does provide options for providers to offer economies of scale and treat everyone equally, based on their requirements and budget.” If initial costs can be overcome, there are greater savings to be made as schools outsource high-tech developments to the private sector. Cloud, then, is a nuanced issue; though there are start-up costs, the analysis and collaboration possibilities are many. If education is to continue to rely on data – both secure storage and analysis – cloud could be an inevitability.

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