Reviewing cloud computing for LoCloud

During the first five months of the LoCloud project a review of cloud computing has been conducted by a working group consisting of The Danish Agency for Culture, Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed in the Netherlands, The Spanish Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte, Vilniaus Universitas in Lithuania, Universitaet Duisburg-Essen in Germany and Univerzita Komenskeho v Bratislave in Slovakia.

On the basis of the review, an analytical report has been produced as the first deliverable of the project, which will be made available from the project web site, after approval by the European Commission.

The purpose of this report is to monitor the state-of-the art of cloud computing and make an assessment of aspects of the cloud relevant to the needs of the project and to small and medium sized institutions. The report is supposed to inform content providers in their further action planning. The methodology for writing the report is primarily desktop research and analysis of the available literature.

The first section of the report offers a general description of cloud computing, the different kinds of infrastructure and models of service available, and the advantages and potential risks associated with the technology.

The second section offers an introduction to the uptake of cloud computing by small and medium-sized enterprises in the EU and the barriers that exist. It also presents a brief overview of European policy regarding cloud computing, and an analysis of the potential for cloud computing in the heritage sector.

In the third and final section, special attention is paid to the needs of the LoCloud project and to small and medium sized cultural institutions.

The findings of the review are summarised below.

Cloud computing has become ubiquitous, but the concept has no strict definition. Ideally, cloud computing is meant to turn computing into a utility like water or power. Elasticity, availability, improved resource utilisation and support for multiple tenants are key features of the concept. There are three main models of service: Infrastructure as a service (Iaas), Platform as a service (Paas) and Software as a service (Saas).

Cloud computing may aid heritage institutions with its oft-cited benefits such as cost effectiveness, quick deployment and access to resources beyond the abilities of individual small institutions. Developers of cloud-based services in the heritage sector should distinguish between the three user groups: content providers & aggregators, the general public, and scholars.

Though cloud computing is still emerging, a stamp of approval is that The European Commission has adopted a cloud computing strategy based on the reports from expert working groups and open consultations. It was adopted in September 2012 and is part of the ‘Digital Agenda for Europe’.

There is high awareness and willingness to participate in cloud-based development from the heritage institutions and agencies voicing their opinion in this report. The barriers to participating cited are mainly lack of knowledge and skills, trust and legal issues. The main legal obstacle is the fact that many institutions are charged with the governance of their data and there will often be restrictions as to where that data may be placed and whom it may be given to. It lies at the heart of cloud computing that the customer may not know exactly where the data resides.

There are a number of Saas providers providing services for the cultural sector. Some of the commercial vendors of collections management systems offer cloud based versions of their software, and in the library domain the OCLC offers a number of relevant services. However, none of these come with plug-in aggregation tools for Europeana.

There is probably still a need for online tools with a very low barrier to entry which are suited to the needs (and budgets) of smaller local and community museums. This is the window of opportunity for the LoCloud project. The LoCloud project builds on past successful projects such as Europeana Local and CARARE and aims to bring the benefits of cloud computing to especially small- and medium-sized cultural institutions to aid them in aggregating their data to Europeana.

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