Library Gazette

Finding ways to combine cloud computing and open source software

Thursday, November 4, 2010 6:13 am

A few days ago Omeka, an open source digital content publishing system, introduced a cloud-based hosting solution for users. The solution features a tiered service level (from Free to $999 per year) and provides users with a point and click solution for launching digital collections.

This model has been used by other organizations such as to provide users with options for using open source software in a Software-as-a-service (SAAS) environment. The introduction of the service by Omeka is not even the first in the library world but is notable in that it provides free and low cost options for individuals seeking digital publishing services.

The work being done by Omeka addresses a key challenge to implementing open source software in cloud environments. Often, open source platforms require administration skills that are not typically held by people who need the services. As a result, projects are often faced with choosing proprietary or vendor provided systems to support their needs.

The Omeka model is one of a number of options. For example, the tech team recently published a publicly-available server image running Vufind on Amazon EC2. The image is accompanied by documentation and a quick tutorial for launching the server and running vufind. While more technically complex than the Omeka solution, this approach enables libraries to try Vufind in a near-production environment with minimal technical knowledge or configuration overhead.

(Video tutorial on launching vufind in Amazon EC2)

There are also projects such as Archivists Toolkit that are positioned to leverage community-supported cloud platforms. AT uses a java client connecting to a remote MySQL database. This means that the only network or server-level IT resources required is a MySQL database connection. While perhaps prohibitively complex for many smaller organizations, this sort of service is being offered by a number of cloud providers including Amazon via RDS (Relational Database Service). With minimal overhead, an organization could launch and administer a dedicated MySQL instance with automatic replication, backups and a service level agreement.

At the Vufind 2.0 Conference, Joe Lucia commented on the challenge facing open source software communities as cloud computing becomes an important part of institutional computing. This can be a significant issue as open source software often comes with the caveat of ‘free as a free kitten.’ By finding ways to use cloud computing to make implementing and managing open source software easier, organizations like Omeka are helping bridge this gap. Kudos need to go to Omeka for finding a way to turn this challenge into an opportunity to help the library community build on the work done in the open source community!

ZSR Library running pilot project for thin clients

Thursday, May 27, 2010 9:25 am

We all know how central cloud computing is to ZSR Library. Now that we are completing our migration at the server level we are beginning to think about what cloud computing could mean for our public and staff library computers.

As a first step in examining this question we are participating in a thin client pilot project with our friends in Computer Science. The pilot project includes three public access machines which are located across from the circulation desk. The machines do not run any software (or operating system) locally – they are in essence network access points to virtual machines running on a server in Computer Science.

So if you are curious to see a thin client in action – check out the public terminals across from circulation. The initial term of the pilot project is the Summer I semester. In the coming weeks we will be doing some testing on staff-focused thin clients at Circulation and Resource services.

If you want to know all about the pilot – hit the staff wiki and search for ‘thin client pilot’

Emerging Tech Talk: Cloud Computing

Thursday, April 16, 2009 12:22 pm

With “Cloud Computing” popping up all over the place, I figured we could use an emerging tech talk on the topic. Today, 13 of us got together to discuss the topic. We started with a brief overview of what cloud computing is, talking about some services we’re all familiar with that fall into the category. We discussed some emerging uses of cloud computing and strategies for choosing services to use. We talked a bit about the privacy issues and other concerns that arise around the topic. I feel like we had a really good discussion.

I chose to highlight two services as exemplary examples of cloud computing that make life a bit easier. One is DropBox. This site allows you to store files “in the cloud” and access them from your computers or mobile devices. Your computer syncs to the DropBox server, giving you a local copy (and an automatic backup “in the cloud”). This service has been a lifesaver for me when I need access to a handout I’m making at home or when I would like to see a conference proposal that I submitted (and saved on my home computer) at work.

I also talked about Evernote. This site stores the notes you take on their server, and lets you sync to have local copies on your computer. You can organize text notes, scanned images, and photos into notebooks (aka folders). You can then do a keyword search and find any time the topic is mentioned in your notes… even if the word was just included in a photograph. I’ve had friends take pictures of the business cards they get at conferences and use Evernote to find contact information rather than an address book. This has been useful to me, for example, when I worried about a project deadline at home and could check all my project notes in my Evernote system to see the deadline was further in the future. It’s been useful at work when I’ve remembered something I need to get at the store and can just add it to the list really quickly without having to worry about remembering it for later.

If you’re interested in the rest of the topics we addressed, you can see the presentation website. If you were there and heard about Kevin Kelly’s talk (or if you’re interested in the topic in general), here it is:

Next month we’ll talk about Net Neutrality. I think of this as one of the biggest information issues of the day, so I’m really looking forward to it! Let me know if you have any specific aspects you’d like to make sure we address!

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