by Jonathan Nalder
So what does mobile learning have to do with ‘cloud computing’? And just what is ‘cloud computing’?
Anyone who has been into tech for even 10 years will remember the big step it was to buy that first PC. Mine was via my parents in 1988 - the screen was CGA with wait for it - 3 colours! It cost over $2500 at the time. So did our next PC - a 386. So did the next, a Pentium IV. My latest machine, a Macbook Pro also cost just over this same $2500 line. What’s with that?
Doing the sums (and adding in a 2004 iBook - cheap at $1800) shows that just on PC hardware, thats more than $12000 - admittedly this has been over nearly 20 years. But something has been happening that might just end this cycle for ever. More on that shortly.
But first, just imagine I wasn’t just one guy, but a large organisation that needed 100 computers, like my school. Multiply the average PC costs by that many with a replacement every 3-4 years and the costs really start to add up. And we haven’t even added software and printers, routers etc. Now imagine that computing power and the software it runs could be available not from your own expensive and energy sucking tower, but from the air.
From the air you say? Well, ‘wirelessly’ might be a better way of putting it - because its the development of the wireless internet that is making this rather fanciful sounding idea a very real possibility as the tech industry goes forward. Its starting in small ways, from two different angles, but could soon just rise up and overturn the accepted computing model we have always lived with.
The first angle its coming from has nothing to do with mobile technology, but I’ll detail it briefly in this mLearning blog just for context. It stems very much from the money side of things we’ve already discussed. Keeping up to date with computing power is expensive! Not to mention the waste the industry generates (National Geographic article). So now that large amounts of networking and productivity software via the Web 2.0 have arrived, a machine capable of running a good browser is all that many people, including large business looking to save on hardware costs, may need.
With Yahoo!, Google, Amazon, .Mac etc online storage options reaching the many gigabytes now, many users may not even need much more now than a cheap usb drive and internet connection - all the rest is supplied as a service. Cloud computing then (also called utility computing) foresees that supplying this service will eventually look much like the other utility service providers we take for granted - such as power, electricity and water. Instead of $2500+ every few years, you’ll just have a bundled monthly fee.
The one problem with this model is that its only as good as where you can access it. 3G, wi-fi and wimax technologies however mean that staying in contact with ones online files and software can now be deployed anywhere. This is where mobile devices come in. One doesn’t have to lug a PC tower or even laptop around to still be able to perform desktop-class tasks - even Photoshop is being brought online by Adobe soon.
The next part of this article will examine just which mobile devices are leading this change, and what it means for mobile learning... until then, go here for further reading:
WIRED ‘The Information Factories’
MIT Review ‘Computer in the Cloud: Online desktop systems could bridge the digital divide’.