Leap Into the Clouds

About 15 years ago, I jumped out of a plane. Luckily, I had a parachute. The choice of leaping into dangerous situations (rather than just staying put on the safe, solid ground) has always held sway over my life choices (solo-kayaking in Alaska was perhaps my most extreme such choice). Life’s just more interesting if you’re hanging by a thread.

Recently, I’ve had to start making decisions at the library that will be much less safe, but far more interesting. A current example is moving the library off the home-grown resource database we use for tracking/organizing our journal subscriptions, and re-locating it in the cloud, on LibGuides.

There are plenty of sane reasons not to do this:

  1. We’ve been using the home-grown database for years…it’s home.
  2. It’s the backbone of our database driven web site (linking our staff directory, FAQs and database subscriptions)
  3. It’s always easier to keep doing what you’ve been doing

But, jumping into the clouds is so much more fun, even though there’s the potential of ruining everything and ending up as a small crater on the landscape. And the payoff can be so worth it if everything works out. With just a small amount of effort in contingency planning, we can take our resource database out of its silo and suddenly link it to an entire, cloud-based WYSIWYG CMS…read: we can open up the content-creation, resource-building-on-the-fly to all our staff regardless of their web skills. And if this doesn’t pan out, we’ll just unsubscribe and try something else. That’s just how it goes in the clouds.

Libraries, like all tech-oriented entities, are all a-buzz over cloud computing. Recently, I was impressed to find that library conferences are actually right in sync with the cloud computing conversations going on at tech industry conferences. Situations like Del.icio.us going down be damned, this is the future.

The cloud just makes so much sense. It costs less. It’s more flexible. It’s just as stable as a self-maintained server operation and definitely less of a headache. And, I would concur with Roy Tennant’s colorful promotion of the cloud at the LITA National Forum 2010, in which he emphasized it’s strength as an innovation engine: [paraphrasing] “You can turn it on and off at will!”

That last point is a pretty compelling argument from my view (looking though an airplane’s door from 16,000 feet). Suddenly, the risks are greatly reduced when your investment (your life, your work project) did not require a painstakingly built, expensive, locally-based infrastructure. With the cloud, it’s just a simulation that can be replicated cheaply. Just turn it off and recreate the experiment if the chute doesn’t open.

Yup, you got it. You’re no longer falling to your death. You’re playing a hosted video game.

Consider how Amazon describes the benefits of their EC2 infrastructure-as-a-service product:

Amazon EC2 provides developers the tools to build failure resilient applications and isolate themselves from common failure scenarios.

Failure resiliency…you gotta love that!

The LibGuides project is really just a little mist over the ground, compared to the fantastic cumulus that the cloud can generate. But the model is similar: recreate your  database in the cloud. Try it out. Turn it off if you don’t like the results. Fail, fail, Win!

Run wild, experiment, innovate. You have nothing to lose but your chains! Hmm…If only Marx, Stalin and Mao had been able to prototype in the cloud first.


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