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A newbie's guide to cloud computing at Penn

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What is cloud computing?

Cloud Computing refers to services that are performed away from your own computer and out on the Internet. The Internet is “the cloud” because when you use these services, you don’t really know where your data is and you (usually) don’t care, as long as it gets delivered to your computer or tablet or phone when you ask for it.

cloudFor example, if you have an email account with Yahoo, you don't really know where your actual data, i.e., your mail, resides. It could be in any one of hundreds of servers that Yahoo runs all over the world. In this way, computing in the cloud is very different from the way we have traditionally used personal computers, where most of your data was stored and processed either right on your desk, or in a server hosted by Penn, whose physical location was known.

Ok, so why do I care where my data is?

Since the physical location of the data is not under your (or Penn’s) control, cloud computing introduces some information security risks. The level of security in the cloud is often uncertain, and the data could be exposed either by accident or by malicious attack. Cloud vendors can’t be counted on to treat your information with as much care as you would treat it.

In addition, when you sign up for the services, usually you have to agree to clouda “click-through” agreement with terms that favor the vendor, not the user. For example, if a cloud vendor goes out of business without warning, you might not have any way to get your data back. Usually they reserve the right to change their terms of service at any time. It’s also common for free cloud services to make their money on advertising, so they may examine all of your data for the purpose of making more money off of advertising to you.

Then why does anyone use these services?

Cloud services are often quite useful and convenient. In fact you probably already use some cloud services, like Google Calendar, Gmail or Hotmail/Outlook, Facebook, or Dropbox.

cloudBecause cloud services have become so important to end-users, Penn is forming partnerships with several cloud vendors so that people can take advantage of the convenience and increase productivity without taking risks with their personal data, or with Penn's institutional data. Below are several broad categories of cloud services that have seen widespread adoption by end-users in recent years. In many cases, Penn has formed an agreement with a partner that gets better protections for the data. So whenever you can, choose a Penn partner in the cloud.

Document Sharing

GoogleDocs/Google Drive Penn partner: Contact your LSP
Box+Penn Penn partner:
Dropbox not a Penn partner


Qualtrics Penn partner:
SurveyMonkey not a Penn partner

Hosted Servers

Amazon Web Services Penn partner: Contact your LSP

For more information, check out the documents below:

pros and cons of cloud.pdf86.17 KB
use-pennbox.pdf63.94 KB