Posted by Brian Kelly on April 28th, 2009
‘Clouds’ Workshop Session at the MW2009 Conference
Back in January Paul Walk and myself submitted a proposal for a paper on APIs and the Cloud to the Museums and the Web 2009 (MW2009) conference as we both felt that this was an area of increasing importance to the museum’s sector. The proposal was accepted, but in addition to the paper (which Paul Walk wrote) the conference organisers asked us to run the session as a interactive workshop session, rather than a formal presentation.
Unfortunately Paul was not able to attend the conference itself so I facilitated the workshop by myself. The workshop, entitled “SaaSy APIs (Openness in the Cloud)“, followed on from a workshop on “What is your museum good at and how do you build an API for it?” during which Richard Morgan, the Web Technical Manager at the Victoria and Albert Museum, described the APIs which have been provided at the V&A in order to open up access to the museum’s collections. Since Richard have addressed the issues associated with the provision of APIs from within an organisation, I decided (following discussions I’d had with Richard prior to the conference) to focus my session on use of cloud services by museums. And note, incidentally that Frankie Roberto has included a review of Richard’s session in his Museums and the Web 2009 roundup as has Sebastian Chan in his post on the Fresh and New(er) Powerhouse Museum blog on MW2009 Clouds, Switches, APIs, Geolocation and Galleries – a shoddy summary.
Paul’s paper “Software as a Service and Open APIs” provided a valuable primer on what SaaS (and related terms such as IaaS, PaaS and EaaS) means and what the Cloud is for policy makers and those new to this area. The wider issues, such as clarifying specific benefits which can be provided by Cloud services and the associated risks, formed the main points of discussion at the session and it was pleasing that the discussions appeared to be of interest to both policy makers and managers and the developers in the session.
Clouds and Museums
The workshop session which explored the policy issues and risks associated with use of Cloud services seemed to have been very timely. I attended the Technology Strategies session at the conference and was particularly interested in the talk on Museums and Cloud Computing: Ready for Primetime, or Just Vaporware? (and note that the paper and the accompanying slides are available on the MW 2009 Web site).
This presentation described how developers in the Indianapolis Museum of Art have been making use of Amazon S3 and EC2 cloud services in order to provide the ArtBabble video service. I have to admit that I have previously encountered developers (although perhaps in the HE rather than museum’s sector) who seem to insist that their IT infrastructure needs to be located locally (possibly under their desk). It was good to see developers who seemed to be comfortable with the notion of their storage and their computational cycles being provided by a commercial company. It was also reassuring to see a speaker who acknowledged that the costs of providing production services is a real issue today, and to hear how the costs of the disk storage, video processing and delivery of video content (at about $350 /month) was felt to be very reasonable.
Clouds and Libraries
OCLC have recently announced that they are entering the library system marketplace with a Web-based suite of library system modules. The press release describes:
OCLC’s vision [a]s similar to Software as a Service (SaaS) but … distinguished by the cooperative “network effect” of all libraries using the same, shared hardware, services and data, rather than the alternative model of hosting hardware and software on behalf of individual libraries. Libraries would subscribe to Web-scale management services that include modular management functionality.
And it should be noted that an article in the Library Journal described this move as “a bold move that could reshape the library automation landscape“.
Where To From Here?
It struck me that cloud computing and use of APIs were the major technical talking point at the Museums and the Web conference this year (and although it could be argued that this was only because I attended session on these topics it is also true that there were several informal sessions in which museum developers discussed these topics in more detail).
But we should also know that there is no silver bullet and that if organisations leap into Cloud computing without carefully considering the reasons why, the areas in which Cloud computing should be best applied and the non-technical aspects there will be an inevitable backlash as Cloud computing moves from its current rise up the Gartner hype curve until it reaches the peak of over-inflated expectations and then descends into the trough of despair?
To help avoid such dangers I feel we need to encourage open debate on this issue and to share experiences, not only of the successes but also of any difficulties experienced – and perhaps even the failures. Anyone like to start the ball rolling by describing plans to move services to the Cloud, or perhaps summarise services which have already moved there? Is this new to the UK’s cultural heritage sector (perhaps we are concerned that data protection legislation prohibits us from making use of services outside the UK)?. Or perhaps it is taking off in particular sectors – the smaller organisations who do not have significant levels of technical resources in-house? What are your views on CLoud services in the cultural heritage sector?