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The cloud is coming

Friday, September 26th, 2014

Within the next few months Matie students will be able to send e-mail like never before.

If you’re a regular Twitter user or sometimes wander around in the Neelsie or Library, you’ve probably seen notices referring to the “cloud”. Don’t worry, we’re not talking about the unpredictable Cape weather. On the contrary, this cloud brings good news.

Student numbers have been increasing rapidly over the past few years and with it the need for more e-mail storage space. Up till now student mail has been hosted on the university’s mail servers, but we’re starting to run out of space.

Information Technology has been investigating all the possible solutions and came to the conclusion that Office 365 would be the best choice for student e-mail.

MS Office and Microsoft operating systems are already used in student computer user areas and would integrate seamlessly with this existing technology.

With the e-mail cloud project Stellenbosch University will be entering a new phase for e-mail and although staff e-mail will also eventually be migrated, the biggest need is currently moving student e-mails.

The target date for migration is October, but we will continuously keep students updated on developments through Twitter.

A website will be made available where students can do the migration themselves and start testing the cloud platform. Students can choose when they want to migrate. Those who haven’t migrated by December, will automatically be moved by IT to Office 365 before the end of the year.

But why struggle with limited space, when you can have a whole 50 GB space to your disposal. Office 365 also offers other advantages such as storage space on OneDrive and online access to Microsoft applications like Word, Excel, etc.

If you want to stay updated on the e-mail cloud project, follow us on Twitter at @ITStellenUni or #theitcloud.

The big drive in the sky

Friday, April 12th, 2013

Last year we told you more about cloud storage, what it is and the multitude of options available to you. (read the articles here) If you haven’t taken the virtual leap yet, we have even more information for you to digest. This time we have a closer look at one of those options, Microsoft’s OneDrive.

What is OneDrive?

OneDrive is a file hosting service that allows users to upload and sync files to a cloud storage and then access them from a Web browser or their local device.

What does OneDrive offer me?

The service offers 7 GB of free storage and additional storage is available for purchase. Files of up to 300 MB can be uploaded via drag and drop into the web browser, or up to 2 GB via the OneDrive desktop application for Microsoft Windows and OS X.

With the OneDrive desktop application for Windows or Mac, your files on OneDrive are available online or offline and update automatically across your devices. You can also access your OneDrive using a brand new app for Android v2.3 or the updated apps for Windows Phone, iPhone, and iPad.

The Office apps (Word, Excel, etc.) let you save your documents by default into your OneDrive directory on your local computer. With the help of OneDrive, those files are synchronized with the files in your OneDrive cloud storage, letting you access them from anywhere, or edit them using the online Web version of Microsoft Office.

Online collaboration is made easy with the new  Office Web apps, including Excel forms, co-authoring in PowerPoint and embedable Word documents. Microsoft added Office Web Apps support to OneDrive allowing users to upload, create, edit, and share Microsoft Office documents directly within a Web browser.

You can share documents with other people, which provides them with a link to access the documents from their own OneDrive account. From there, the other people can make changes to the documents at the same time that you’re changing them. As you’re working, you’ll see the areas you’re changing. Then when you save, your document will receive the updates from the other person before saving. If there are any conflicts, you’ll be notified of them and given a chance to fix them.

 

When users delete any files on OneDrive, the service will allow the user to undo the action and restore the deleted file from the recycle bin back to the original folder.  All items stored in the recycle bin are kept for a minimum of 3 days and a maximum of 30 days.

OneDrive integrates with social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to enable users to quickly share their files with their contacts on these social networks. It also supports geo-location data for photos uploaded onto the service, and will automatically display a map of the tagged location. OneDrive also allows users to tag people on the photos uploaded onto the service via the web interface or via Windows Photo Gallery.

Additionally you can sort files, change file views, view photo slide shows, and stream video.  All this functionality in one place, safe up in the clouds.

[SOURCE: Wikipedia]

 

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Every cloud has a silver lining

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Make no mistake, the movement towards cloud computing is a very real one, but before you get overly excited and send all your sensitive and academic information to a cloud, it’s important that you know the pros and cons, as well as the risks involved with this growing phenomenon.

ADVANTAGES

Probably the biggest advantage of cloud storage is the possibility of having access to your data or software from anywhere at any time from any appliance. You no longer have to carry around your laptop, flashdisk or external hard drive to ensure you have your data on hand at all times.

Thanks to data stored in a central location and being accessible via the internet, you can easily share documents and colleagues can collaborate on the same document without having to coordinate changes by email. All your documents will ideally be in one place, making it easier to find your documents. Google Docs for example, stores your documents in chronological order and also allows you to store them in folders.

For companies there are no upfront capital costs and fewer overhead expenses. The organization pays only for using the services; it saves on maintenance, user licenses, and expenses such as electricity and rack space. With cloud storage you needn’t worry about natural disasters – your data will be safe and sound, even if your office burns down or the geyser floods your study.

DISADVANTAGES

As we’ve seen, cloud storage has quite a few advantages, but unfortunately there’s one big disadvantage. It only works if you have internet access. The cloud is dependent on the internet and if the Telkom or Mweb experience problems, the cloud and your data is inaccessible.

Performance is also dependent on internet speed and the number of users accessing the cloud. Even though cloud computing may save companies costs on overheads, the costs of usage can become a nightmare if it’s not monitored and managed. Be very careful when using multiple devices, especially if you share folders with other people. If you share a 500MB file with three other people it will sync three times, in other words a total of 1500MB at your cost. If you sync the file to your pc, iPad and iPhone you pay each time and if you use 3G (which costs between 15c and R1-00 per MB)  this could amount to quite an expense if done regularly. Closely monitor your internet account if you use cloud storage otherwise you might be in for a surprise at the end of the month.

Privacy and security are important concerns when it comes to cloud computing. Safety measures to protect users are in place, but the level of security and privacy provided is still a grey area. There is not enough information to prove or disprove the credibility of the cloud for privacy and security overall. In effect the cloud service provider would be able to access information between the user and company at any time and change or delete data.  

Physical control of the Private Cloud equipment is more secure than having the equipment off site and under someone else’s control. Customer data may also not remain in the same data centre or on the same provider’s cloud. This causes legal concerns regarding jurisdiction. Other issues such as trademark infringement and security concerns regarding the sharing of data resources can also arise.

Unfortunately cloud computing is also vulnerable to threats and more criminals will try to find new ways to exploit vulnerabilities in the system. There are many underlying challenges and risks in cloud computing that increase the threat of data being compromised. So choose wisely when picking a service to use with your important data and make sure it can be downloaded if needed, but also enjoy the flexibility those services provide.

(SOURCES: Regan Januarie (IT User Services), http://www.ahimajournal-digital.com), www.wikipedia.org)

<< What is the cloud?

>>  Which one to choose?

What is the “cloud”?

Friday, August 31st, 2012

This isn’t a philosophical musing or the start of a poem. We’re referring to the type of cloud containing data, not water. The latest buzzword the past few months is “cloud computing”, but what is “the cloud”?

Cloud computing is the use of computing resources (hardware and software) delivered as a service over a network (typically the Internet). In other words, it’s a grid of computers set up in such a way that it can host a service to deliver software and data. Websites and server-based applications run on specific computers or servers.

The difference with a cloud, however is that the cloud uses a collective virtual computer, which runs independently from another computer or specific server configurations. To quote T. Grance and W. Jansen (Guidelines on Security and Privacy in Public Cloud Computing) – “The common characteristics most (clouds) share are on-demand scalability of highly available and reliable pooled computing resources, secure access to metered services from nearly anywhere, and dislocation of data and services from inside to outside the organization.”

With broadband internet, the need to have the software run on your computer or on a company’s site is becoming less and less essential. A lot of the software that people use nowadays is completely web-based. The cloud takes advantage of that to bring it to the next level. Proponents claim that cloud computing allows enterprises to get their applications up and running faster, with improved manageability and less maintenance, and enables IT to more rapidly adjust resources to meet fluctuating and unpredictable business demand.

End users access cloud-based applications through a web browser or a light-weight desktop or mobile app while the business software and user’s data are stored on servers at a remote location.Cloud computing relies on sharing of resources to achieve coherence and economies of scale similar to a utility (like the electricity grid) over a network. At the foundation of cloud computing is the broader concept of converged infrastructure and shared services.

Please keep in mind that cloud storage is NOT recommended for institutional and academic information (see definitions below). If you do decide to make use of cloud storage, rather use it for your personal information or non-critical information.

In terms of the draft Information Management Policy, the following information categories and sensitivity categories are defined:

1.1.1.      Two overarching information categories are defined:

a)      Academic information is information that comprises academic content (including library, learning materials, research output, etc.).

b)     Institutional information is information that the University as organisation, including its staff, students and other stakeholders, owns, or is the custodian of, as well as any information that is not classified as academic information.

1.1.2.      Four categories of information sensitivity, in descending order of sensitivity, are defined:

a)      Confidential information is information that was provided or is used in confidence and that may only be accessed by or shared with authorised persons on a need-to-know basis.

b)     Personal information is a specific type of Confidential Information and is defined as information that can be used to identify an individual or information about an identifiable individual and information that is defined by relevant legislation as personal information.

c)      Operationally sensitive information (default sensitivity) is information that is used in the day-to-day operations of the University and is classified as sensitive to very sensitive depending on the extent to which its divulgence will adversely affect the University’s image or operations.

d)     Public information is published for public or general.

<< What are the advantages and disadvantages of cloud storage?

 

SOURCES: http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/cloud-computing-work-technology-explained/ & http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_computing

A guide to backing up your data

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Or maybe the title of this article should rather read “How to beat procrastination in 5 easy steps”. Because, and let’s be honest here, there are a multitude of more interesting things I’d rather be doing than backing up my data. So rather than just schedule backups each week, I procrastinate and do something else.

Unless you enjoy to redoing all your hard work from scratch and losing  precious data in the process, it might be a good idea to get into the habit of data backup. Choose one day a week when things are a little less chaotic than usual, maybe a Friday and make an appointment in your diary to do a weekly backup. Soon enough you’ll be backing up like a pro without any effort.

Try not to overwrite your previous backup. Rather make consecutive copies in various folders on your external hard drive or on your network space and name each with the particular day’s date. If any of the documents become corrupt for some reason, you can always fall back on a previous version.

Regularly check that the medium on which you made your backup is still in working order and you’re able to access your documents. For the same reason use more than one backup medium, for example your network space AND an external harddrive.

In a previous newsletter we told you about the new Sharepoint version implemented on campus. Sharepoint is an effective and powerful information management and collaboration tool, where team members can share data and work together. However, SharePoint is not intended to be used as a platform where users can backup their data.

SharePoint 2010 is currently mostly utilised for Teamsites, which are mainly used by groups (faculties or departments) and one member of this group is then assigned the responsibility to manage documents and permissions on the group’s site.

Each staff member has access to his/her own network space where you can save an allocated amount of data for free. If you choose to have your data closer at hand, get yourself an external harddrive or even dvd’s (although the amount of data you can save on dvd is a bit limited) Never save important data on a flashdrive – it’s sole function is for transporting data from one device to another and is not a dependable medium for backup.

Your last option for data storage, is the “cloud”. By now you know everything there is to know about clouds, the various services and their advantages and disadvantages. Just remember two important facts about clouds. Use cloud storage only for your personal information, not for any academic information or sensitive data.

Also, if you use various devices, remember your cloud service will sync between each of them every time. If you have 500MB data and three devices, you will pay for 1500MB data. This might not sound like much, but if you use a 3G modem, the cost will be very high.

Read more on the various cloud options here.

(INFORMATION SUPPLIED BY NEELS BLOM, IT USER SERVICES)
 

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