Ubiquitous cloud computing by 2019?

George O. Strawn has seen higher-education technology grow exponentially since the late 1960s, so a future campus that operates entirely on cloud computing where students have access to PCs that execute a trillion instructions per second does not seem far-fetched to him.

Strawn, CIO for the National Science Foundation and a former computer science faculty member at Iowa State University, detailed his predictions for the future of campus computing during a Nov. 5 session at the annual EDUCAUSE conference in Denver, where thousands of campus IT administrators are scoping out the latest in education technology.

Strawn reminded conference goers of the Dark Ages in campus computing–a single computer once cost about $1 million–before describing the university of 2019 and 2049. Personal computing, he said, will be completely supplanted in 10 years by cloud computing, or using powerful off-campus servers to host computer applications that are currently run on rows of server racks in expansive IT buildings.

Since room-sized computers made their debut on college campuses in the 1960s, Strawn said, maximum computing capabilities have shifted from a thousand instructions per second to 1 billion instructions per second in 2009.

"That’s a million-time performance [increase] in 40 years–that’s not bad," said Strawn, who headed Iowa State’s computer science program when it became one of the first universities nationwide to be accredited by the Computer Science Accreditation Board. "Can we possibly conceive of what applications are going to be enabled by the continuing decrease in cost and the continuing increase in power of these beasts we’ve all come to know and love?"

The rapid advance in campus technology will continue in an unimagined arch, he said, until campus PCs eventually can execute 1 trillion instructions per second–a capability known as petaflop technology.

In 10 years, Strawn said, he expects all scholarly material to be available on the internet–a departure from today, when copyright laws prohibit online access to the vast majority of scholarly journals. Publishers’ blockades, he said, eventually will crumble under public pressure.

"Hell hath no fury like a vested interest masquerading as a moral principle," he said of opponents of free access to web-based articles.

The coming decades will see the elimination of the "e" in eLearning, Strawn said. In a decade, half of all high school courses will be conducted via the web, and technology will be used in every aspect of higher education.

"By then, [technology] will be as much a part of academia as blackboards were 40 years ago," he said. Electronic learning will "just be thought of as the way we do business."


2009 EDUCAUSE conference

National Science Foundation