A pair of 'cloud computing' grants from NASA and Amazon will enable Fairfield University's School of Engineering students to work on challenging research



Image: Wook Sung Yoo'Cloud computing' has matured from buzzword to an essential alternative IT sourcing to schools and businesses.

A pair of grants from NASA and Amazon Web Services recently awarded to Fairfield University's School of Engineering will provide a 'cloud' for the School to access computing services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For Fairfield students, it will also mean an opportunity to learn using the new technology, which provides Internet-based information and technology service sharing software, resources, and information.  

"This is really the latest, cutting edge approach to large scale computing," said Jack Beal, Ph.D., dean of the School of Engineering. "It is a long way from the 'dumb terminals' with tape rolls and servers with lots of wires and cords we used to have in our basement."

At Fairfield, the enhanced capabilities afforded by cloud computing will enable Fairfield students to work on some impressive research projects, including a NASA's XDM database project. In addition, software and service will be accessible at any time and at any place and students will be able to work together with industry experts in real time anywhere.

To describe how cloud computing works, it helps to explain how it got its name. It entails computing service over the Internet, and it's been hailed as an affordable and easily accessible way of offering common computing services and applications online to customers - from universities to large corporations. Those customers don't need to rely on their own local servers for all their computing needs, such as storing data and running software. Instead, they can be pooled together to exist 'up in the clouds' on the mega servers of providers like Amazon, IBM, Google, Microsoft and HP. (Google's e-mail service, Gmail, works like a cloud, for instance.)

"It's where you 'rent' space and software at some big company so you don't have to have huge servers and software package codes," Beal said. "We basically connect to it via the Internet and pay by the connect minute. We don't need souped up PCs."

It will make life easier at the School of Engineering, where several computer labs with significant computing needs and various software are in operation to support classes and research. Fairfield students will especially benefit because cloud computing offers delivery of computer applications that can be hard to install on student computers.

"It will reduce our costs and headaches," said Wook-Sung Yoo, Ph.D., chair of Software Engineering and director of the M.S. in Software Engineering Program, who was awarded both grants.

Without a 'cloud computer' infrastructure, the School must update computer hardware and software each year and spend money for software licenses and maintenance that are vital to course work and student and faculty projects. The School will now only pay for the services it uses. That will translate into faculty and students having access to software any time they need it. "By using cloud computing, the School won't have to spend the money to maintain its own labs," said Yoo. "The lab doesn't always run smoothly. This will fix that problem."

The $4,500 NASA grant and $2,000 Amazon grant will enable students to work on some pilot programs in a cloud computing environment next semester under Yoo's direction.

The NASA grant will lead to students working on a new project involving a NASA Database system in a senior design course. In the course, seniors are asked to develop a standard protocol and prototype that are very much needed in the marketplace but have not been invented yet. The course puts the finishing touches to an engineering student's education, testing students to sharpen their competencies in problem solving, and in creativity and innovation.

Additional students in the senior design course will use the Amazon Web Service cloud computing grant for research projects. Amazon Web Service (AWS) could also come in handy for the students working on the NASA project.

"It is too early to evaluate our experience, but we are planning to expand cloud computing to other classes," Yoo said.

Image: Wook-Sung Yoo, Ph.D., chair of Software Engineering and director of the M.S. in Software Engineering Program, who was awarded two cloud computing grants.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on November 12, 2010

Vol. 43, No. 113