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Cloud Computing Goes Back to College

My oldest son was writing papers on cloud computing years ago in college, before “cloud” was a marketing term

The University of Washington adds a cloud computing certificate program to its curriculum

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It’s not unusual to find cloud computing in a college environment. My oldest son was writing papers on cloud computing years ago in college, before “cloud” was a marketing term thrown about by any and everyone pushing imagesolutions and products hosted on the Internet. But what isn’t often seen is a focus on cloud computing on its own; as its own “area of study” within the larger context of computer science. That could be because when you get down to it, cloud computing is merely an amalgamation of computer science topics and is more about applying processes and technology to modern data center problems than it is a specific technology itself. But it is a topic of interest, and it is a complex subject (from the perspective of someone building out a cloud or even architecting solutions that take advantage of the cloud) so a program of study may in fact be appropriate to provide a firmer foundation in the concepts and technologies underpinning the nebulous “cloud” umbrella.

The University of Washington recently announced the addition of a cloud computing certificate program to its curriculum. This three-course program of study is intended to explore cloud computing across a broad spectrum of concerns, from IaaS to PaaS to SaaS, with what appears to be a focus on IaaS in later courses. The courses and instructors are approved by the UW Department of Computer Science, and are designed for college-level and career professionals. They are non-credit courses that will set you back approximately $859 per course. Those of us not in close proximity may want to explore the online option, if you’re interested in such a certificate to hang upon your wall. This is one of the first certificates available, so it will be interesting to see whether it’s something the market is seeking or whether it’s just a novelty.

In general, the winter course appears to really get into the meat and serves up a filling course. While I’m not dismissing the first course offered in the fall, it does appear light on the computer science and heavy on the market which, in general, seems more appropriate for an MBA-style program than one tied to computer science. The spring selection looks fascinating – but may be crossing too many IT concerns at one time. There’s very few folks who are as comfortable on a switch command line that are also able to deal with the programmatic intricacies of data-related topics like Hadoop, HIVE, MapReduce and NoSQL. My guess is that the network and storage network topics will be a light touch given the requirement for programming experience and the implicit focus on developer-related topics. The focus on databases and lack of a topic specifically addressing scalability models of applications is also interesting, though given the inherent difficulties and limitations on scaling “big data” in general, it may be necessary to focus more on the data tier and less on the application tiers.

Of course I’m also delighted beyond words to see the load testing component in the winter session, as it cannot be stressed enough that load testing is an imperative when building any highly scalable system and it’s rarely a topic discussed in computer science degree programs.

The program is broken down into a trimester style course of study, with offerings in the fall, winter and spring.

Fall: Introduction to Cloud Computing

  • Overview of cloud (IaaS/PaaS/Saas, major vendors, market overview)
  • Cloud Misconceptions
  • Cloud Economics
  • Fundamentals of distributed systems
  • Data center design
  • Cloud at startup
  • Cloud in the Enterprise
  • Future Trends

Winter: Cloud Computing in Action

  • Basic Cloud Application Building
  • Instances
  • Flexible persistent storage (aka EBS)
  • Hosted SQL
  • Load testing
  • Operations (Monitoring, version control, deployment, backup)
  • Small Scaling
  • Autoscaling
  • Continued Operations
  • Advanced Topics ( Query optimization, NoSQL solutions, memory caching, fault tolerance, disaster recovery)

Spring: Scalable and Data-Intensive Computing in the Cloud

  • Components of scalable computing
  • Cloud building topics (VLAN, NAS, SAN, Network switches, VMotion)
  • Consistency models for large-scale distributed systems
  • MapReduce/Big Data/NoSQL Systems
  • Programming Big Data (Hadoop, HIVE, Pig, etc)
  • Database-as-a- Service (SQL Azure, RDS, Database.com)

Apposite to the view that cloud computing is a computer science related topic, not necessarily a business-focused technology, are the requirements for the course: programming experience, a fundamental understanding of protocols and networking, and the ability to remotely connect to Linux instances via SSH are expected to be among the skill set of applicants. The requirement for programming experience is an interesting one, as it seems to assume the intended users are or will be developers, not operators. The question becomes is scripting as is often leveraged by operators and admins to manage infrastructure considered “programming experience?” Looking deeper into the courses it later appears to focus on operations and networking, diving into NAS, SAN, VLAN and switching concerns; a focus in IT which is unusual for developers.

That’s interesting because in general computer science as a field of study tends to be highly focused on system design and programming, with some degree programs across the country offering more tightly focused areas of expertise in security or networking. But primarily “computer science” degrees focus more on programmatic concerns and less on protocols, networking and storage. Cloud computing, however, appears poised to change that – with developers needing more operational and networking fu and vice-versa. A focus of devops has been on adopting programmatic methodologies such as agile and applying them to operations as a means to create repeatable deployment patterns within production environments. Thus, a broad overview of all the relevant technologies required for “cloud computing” seems appropriate, though it remains to be seen whether such an approach will provide the fundamentals really necessary for its attendees to successfully take advantage of cloud computing in the Real World™.

Regardless, it’s a step forward for cloud computing to be recognized as valuable enough to warrant a year of study, let alone a certificate, and it will be interesting to hear what students of the course think of it after earning a certificate.

You can learn more about the certificate program at the University of Washington’s web site.

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More Stories By Lori MacVittie

Lori MacVittie is responsible for education and evangelism of application services available across F5’s entire product suite. Her role includes authorship of technical materials and participation in a number of community-based forums and industry standards organizations, among other efforts. MacVittie has extensive programming experience as an application architect, as well as network and systems development and administration expertise. Prior to joining F5, MacVittie was an award-winning Senior Technology Editor at Network Computing Magazine, where she conducted product research and evaluation focused on integration with application and network architectures, and authored articles on a variety of topics aimed at IT professionals. Her most recent area of focus included SOA-related products and architectures. She holds a B.S. in Information and Computing Science from the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University.

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