Monday, October 11, 2010

LITA Conference Report Part 1

I attended the 2010 LITA (Library and Information Technology Association) National Forum in Atlanta last October 1-3, 2010. The theme for this year’s conference was using cloud computing and other cloud services to provide, enhance, and host library services. Cloud computing is an “Internet-based computing whereby shared resource, software, and information are provided to computers and other devises on demand.” Cloud computing and virtualization has been one of the top technology trends in the last two years and it is only now where we are seeing “maturity” and real-life implementation of libraries that decided to take this route.

Among the sessions I’ve attended is “Making your IT Skills Virtual: Tools for Learning How to Implement and Administer Cloud-based Systems” by the systems librarians at Wake Forest University (WFU). In this session, they talked about their experience in moving their library system and infrastructure to the cloud. Essentially, they’ve gotten rid of their university IT and in so doing freed their IT folks the responsibility of hosting their library server, software, and network configuration. They utilized Amazon EC2, a service by Amazon that provides elastic computing capacity in the cloud and allows you to run and configure server instances in a snap. They also used Amazon EBS for to create storage volumes for their servers from 1 GB to 1 TB. Essentially, what Amazon now does is to provide Infrastructure As a Service (IAaS) to libraries and other institutions looking to save money and technical staff time maintaining these servers and storage devises. There are a lot of advantages of going to this route and among them are:

· Lower initial costsà you only pay for what you own

· Flexible and scalable as needed

· Solutions are tailored to fit specific service needs

In addition, they also changed their search interface to VuFind which is an open-source discovery tool designed by Villanova University that allows users to browse and search through resources available in the library by replacing the traditional OPAC. It takes a lot of programming and customization to implement VuFind and I was amazed at how these 4 librarians managed to undertake the scale and complexity that this project entailed. I think that if there’s anybody that can do it, it is them since not only are they librarians but they are also IT experts as well.

One of the keynote speakers in the conference was Roy Tennant where he delivered his presentation “Using the Cloud to Please the Crowd.” He got me on his first slide when he said “Shift Happens!” which is really true because cloud computing has the potential to change the way we manage services and resources in the library. What is good about the cloud is that is is on demand much like electricity. You pay for what you use and if you don’t use it, you don’t pay anything. Cloud computing provides infinite immediately available computer power that is:

· Inexhaustible

· No more RFP for vendors (yehey!)

· No installation and configuration

· Infrastructure becomes somebody else’ headache

· No server support requirements (good riddance college IT!)

· No upgrades to worry about (again good riddance IT!)

· No more dealing with system downtime because vendors take care of this for you.

Essentially, computing power has become a commodity which is good because then we don’t have to get stuck with an annual bill and worry about all those budget drama.

I’d like to illustrate an example that Roy used. If you are a small library, you can put your server infrastructure in the cloud to host your data and it would only cost you about $300 a year to do so. I was shocked at how cheap it is considering that servers cost thousands of dollars and has a very limited life span (5 years and you have to replace it again).

Of course this service also has its drawbacks but you may be surprised that security is not one of them. All the presenters pointed out that since they’ve put their services in the cloud, they felt more secure than they had before when their data is hosted in physical servers. Security is one area that cloud-based vendors have perfected because it is the number one concern.

Another interesting session I attended was “Cloudy With a Chance for Cooperation: Cloud-based Library Management.” This presentation was an opportunity for libraries that have migrated to OCLC Web-Scale Management Services (WMS). If you haven’t heard it yet, WMS is a new service by OCLC wherein they essentially created an integrated library system (ILS) in the cloud. The libraries that have migrated all their services to the cloud were Pepperdine University, University of Tennessee, Idaho Commission for Libraries (representing all academic, public and school libraries in the Idaho state), and the ORBIS Cascade Alliance. The WMS from OCLC essentially puts these library’s cataloging, acquisitions, and circulation functions via the Web with an interface similar to what you would normally see by using Amazon or Google but only better and more “intelligent.” They showed a lot of cool features and I was blown away at how much better we can do our job both at the technical and public services levels. Also, the way in which users can now discover and interact with resources available in the library is revolutionary. I guess the main thing that summarizes all their experiences was “we want to manage information, not technology.”

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