A server does exactly what the name would suggest: it serves. A server is a piece of hardware, very similar to a standard computer, assigned with the specific task of solving other computers “problems”, such as storing data, executing operations and complex math, moving information and much more. The first one was built in 1981 by IBM and since then the technology has advanced so much that we hit the Cloud (more about the history of servers here). You’ve always wanted to ask this question. You know it, I know it. Everybody talks about the Cloud, but what the hell does it mean?
The word Cloud was appropriately chosen as a metaphor for the new intangible way of approaching computing. Let me introduce two concepts: Virtual Machines and Cloud Computing.
Some 15 years ago, people were trying to figure out a way to use the unexploited processing power of their servers, as these were not used efficiently. Companies like VMWare created softwares that basically allowed server architects to create multiple independent virtual servers that could be based on a single piece of hardware, optimizing the employment of the machine. This had a huge impact on the size of Data centers and energy consumption associated with servers as it allowed us to have multiple virtual servers on a single machine, instead of having the equivalent number of physical servers.
Cloud Computing was the second big breakthrough in the way we use computing power. In fact instead of relying on a physical server or your computer hardware to execute applications or store data, it became possible to access a virtual server through the internet. The main advantage of Cloud Computing is that applications and data became “hardware agnostic”, as you can access programs and documents from any computer or device, provided that you have internet and your access data. Great examples of Cloud technologies are Google Drive, Spotify and Dropbox.
Taking the LMS to the Clouds
Now that the concepts of Cloud computing and virtual servers are clear, I would like to talk about the Cloud LMS, what kind of benefits it brings to an organization trying to implement a learning strategy, and why so many organizations are moving towards this technology.
As we said, Cloud Computing allows you to store data and execute programs through a Virtual Server accessible through any internet connection. Moreover this kind of infrastructure allows a certain degree of flexibility, as data, users and operations can be easily switched from one machine to another one. But what does it mean for the LMS administrator and the end users?
The two main advantages of Cloud technologies applied to Learning Management Systems are accessibility and scalability.
The first benefit is strictly related to the user experience. As we stated precedently, Cloud technology allows users to access programs and data from any device and location, provided that they have an internet connection and their credentials. In the era of mobile learning, the ability to access your learning material via your smartphone, tablet or laptop without losing your progress and data is extremely important and will definitely improve the learner experience.From the managing point of view, having a flexible infrastructure is always a benefit. Unless you are working for a project of mastodontic dimensions, where a difference of a 100 users doesn’t really affect the overall management structure of your program, you might need to change the number of users associated with your platform according to the number of learners you are expecting to have. With legacy technologies this required physically buying a different server and replacing the old one; with Cloud computing it is sufficient to click a button or to ask your software provider to apply changes as it is as simple as moving documents from one folder to a different one in your computer.
Other benefits that come from using a Cloud LMS are improved security, faster deployment and maintenance.
- It has been proven that Cloud systems are more secure than standard IT infrastructures (you can read Google’s opinion on this matter here);
- To use a Cloud server it’s as easy as pressing a button (usually the purchase button on a cloud-based service provider’s website)
- Maintenance is easier when associated with Cloud technologies; by separating the virtual machine from the hardware, downtimes and failures are memories of the past.