Learning in the cloud with Amazon

Amazon announced its AWS in Education program yesterday, opening up cloud-based services to students, faculty, and researchers at accredited universities via grants and/or free access to its services. AWS, or Amazon Web Services, is used by everyone from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to Twitter to host applications and is highly scalable and flexible.

Amazon announced its AWS in Education program yesterday, opening up cloud-based services to students, faculty, and researchers at accredited universities via grants and/or free access to its services. AWS, or Amazon Web Services, is used by everyone from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to Twitter to host applications and is highly scalable and flexible.

According to Amazon's press release,

With AWS in Education, educators, academic researchers, and students worldwide can obtain free usage credits to tap into the on-demand infrastructure of Amazon Web Services to teach advanced courses, tackle research endeavors and explore new projects – tasks that previously would have required expensive investments in infrastructure. AWS in Education also provides self-directed learning resources on cloud computing for students.

Harvard, along with several other schools, has already begun moving coursework to the cloud:

"In Fall 2008, we moved Harvard's 300-student introductory Computer Science course into the cloud via Amazon EC2,” said David J. Malan, Lecturer on Computer Science, Harvard University. “Our goals were both technical and pedagogical. As Computer Scientists, we wanted full control over our course's infrastructure so that we could install software at will and respond to problems at any hour. As teachers, we wanted easier access to our students' work as well as the ability to grow and shrink our infrastructure as problem sets' computational requirements demanded. Moreover, because of AWS we were able to integrate into the course's own syllabus discussion of scalability, virtualization, multi-core processing, and cloud computing itself. What better way to teach topics like those than to have students actually experience them."

The University of Maryland, the University of California, and the University of Texas, among others, have all taken advantage of this resource. Researchers are also turning to the cloud for massive data storage and processing capabilities. Malaria researchers at the University of Oxford, for example, will be mapping the disease using AWS:

“Current knowledge is surprisingly patchy and this hampers efforts to target funds and resources to the people that need them most. Our research grant from Amazon Web Services means we now have access to the kind of serious parallel processing that we need to implement our work in feasible timescales and the storage to deal with the massive output of that work.”

Finally, students interested in cloud computing can make use of AWS in Education to support their own applications and initiatives, as well as learn about the next generation of computing first hand:

Amazon has made a number of tutorials available online to help students begin exploring cloud computing concepts in a self-directed manner. These tutorials include advanced computing topics such as asynchronous messaging, consensus algorithms, priority queues, and more.