Will colleges contribute to coming cloud computing explosion?

One zettabyte is equivalent to 1 trillion gigabytes

Cloud computing traffic will increase by the equivalent of 1.6 trillion hours of online high-definition video streaming in the next three years.

Higher education, with its growing acceptance of cloud computing services as the technology improves and campus budgets tighten, is hardly the only sector storing mass amounts of information on the internet, according to a new report from Cisco.

The Cisco Global Cloud Index, released in November, predicted that data traffic will see a twelve-fold increase over the next three years, reaching 4.8 zettabytes by 2015. Cloud computing is expected to be the fastest growing piece of the web’s data explosion.

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In 2010, 11 percent of the web’s data involved cloud computing. By 2015, according to the index, cloud traffic will account for one-third of all data center traffic.

The Cisco report warned that the world’s cloud networks might not be ready for the predicted jump in web data. With a spike in video consumer options on the internet, data peaks are expected to rise 2.5 times the current peak numbers, posing a threat to cloud networks’ storage capacity.

“Cloud and data center traffic is exploding, driven by user demand to access volumes of content on the devices of their choice,” said Suraj Shetty, Cisco’s vice president of product and solutions marketing. “The result: greater data center virtualization and relevance of the network for cloud applications and the need to make sense of a dynamically evolving situation.”

One zettabyte is equivalent to 1 trillion gigabytes. There will be almost 8 zettabytes of digital data in 2015, the same amount of information contained in 18 million Libraries of Congress.

Thirty-four percent of colleges and universities are implementing or maintaining cloud computing, according to a 2011 survey from CDW-G that tracked cloud adoption nationwide.

The survey questioned respondents from eight business and government sectors—and only large businesses adopted cloud computing more than higher education.

Colleges have gravitated toward cloud services—helping rid campuses of rooms filled with server racks that require costly and constant cooling—even as disturbing reports have surfaced this year.

Nearly half of 1,200 IT decision makers polled by Trend Micro in June said they had encountered a cloud-based security incident within the past year.

The Trend Micro research didn’t focus on higher education, but its results show that cloud-computing concerns are pervasive: half of respondents said security was their organization’s main barrier to cloud adoption.

Seven in 10 cloud users who responded to the CDW-G survey said they started their migration to the cloud with a single application, such as eMail in higher education—a service that has been farmed out by many of the most prominent campuses, such as Yale and Brown University.

A future of exponential data increases has long been discussed in higher education circles. At an education technology conference in 2009, renowned futurist George Gilder predicted a new kind of network that could boost universities’ computing power.

Gilder, a best-selling author and long-time advocate of technology and free-market capitalism, discussed “storm computing” with campus technologists, calling the ultra-high-speed networks as a “bigger development than is often understood.”

The potential for such a massive increase in web data demand and network speed, Gilder said, might force colleges and businesses alike to adopt cloud options.

“When networks became faster than computers,” he said, the only logical solution was to switch to offsite cloud-computing data centers.

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