As part of Textkit’s new 2011 “Tools Channel” which is where we build, feature and discuss how educators can leverage Internet technologies in order to develop Classical education tools, we’re announcing that Textkit is shifting its PDF and raw source image library to a Content Delivery Network (CDN). Textkit has chosen Rackspace’s Cloud Files product to provide world-wide content delivery of our library. This post is about our migration to the cloud and how cloud based technologies will drive new projects here at Textkit.
The Cost Decline
It’s worth discussing is this post how new technologies and drops in technology pricing can stimulate new tools and services for education communities like Textkit. As best I can see it, and I am not an IT professional, price drops are due largely to:
- Innovations in server virtualization and server management tools
- Drops in server and component costs
- Expansion of data centers
- Expansion of networks and connectivity
- Expansion of IT management staff
The drop in storage and transfer costs over the the past eight years is nothing less than astonishing. Storage costs are the costs of hosting a file on a web server while transfer or bandwidth costs are the costs associated with downloading a file. All websites you visit and the content you load in your browser and download to your computer has storage and bandwidth costs which are paid for upstream by the site owner.
Textkit began serving files over ten years ago. At that time we provided large (at the time) PDF files free of charge and we operated in a cost environment that required us to seek hosting assistance through Miami University’s Montgomery Web Server. In 2003, Textkit moved to a dedicated web server at the cost of $3,160.00 per year.
With advancements in technology and the rapid expansion of data center availability across the United States and throughout the world, in 2011 Textkit will see its storage and bandwidth costs under $4.00. Yes, 4 bucks. Our utilization by today’s standards is quite small. Our library is slightly under 1 gigabyte and our monthly transfer is about 1 gigabyte as well. The donut chart below visualizes this drastic drop in cost. The thin red slice in the chart below represents Textkit’s 2011 storage and bandwidth costs as compared with the large blue donut slice representing what we paid in 2003.
Content Delivery Network = Speed = Happy Visitors
We mentioned that our file library will have a new home on Rackspace’s Content Delivery Network under their Cloud Files product. CDN is perhaps an esoteric term to you, but you certainly use it everyday on the Internet. Between the file you want to download and your computer there is a network. If they file is on a server in North America and you are in Asia, your network route is much longer and therefore you must wait longer as your packet requests route across the network.
CDNs simply cache content on server nodes positioned throughout the world. This way, your computer has a physically shorter network path to the file you are trying to download; shorter path, greater speed, happier experience.
I have taken the liberty to borrow a few illustrations of this concept from the Rackspace documentation page where they show the example of a user in Tokyo downloading content from a server in Texas across the CDN. You may see the entire document and learn more about Rackspace’s CDN here.
The above two images illustrate how content that is delivered will be cached world wide to servers closer to users in that location. This is the power of cloud based technologies and we’re making use of this at the low cost of $4 a year to have our content cached across a multitude of servers world wide.
Experimenting On The Cloud – Why All This Matters To Social Educators
Cost savings aside, these price drops illustrate a larger change that’s currently unfolding in how we use the Internet today. We’ve all certainly heard of the concept of “Web 2.0” which is the emergence of the Social Layer of the Internet. The best examples of Web 2.0 are certainly Facebook and Twitter. Before Web 2.0 we saw Web 1.0 which was the rise of websites, documents and content both static and database driven.
Cloud Computing providers like Rackspace are incredibly important for us social educators to pay attention to because they offer an entirely new set of tools and products which we can leverage and build upon. It’s so important to state clearly now that the most imporant benefit that I see is the benefit of experimentation with scale. I can experiment with new cloud-based tools and service models for literally less than 100 bucks while having in place the instant scaling ability. Without the means to scale and distribute a project as it grows, it’s almost impossible to get started because the financial cost of failing are so high. Eight to ten year ago having scale meant up-front cash expenditures in the form of colocation contracts, hardware and personnel. We’re talking hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars. We’re talking big money, venture funding, and high risk. Today, the cloud provides service experimentation that is small, countless and creative.
The Cloud & Web 3.0 – The Semantic Web
I see cloud infrastructure and products interwoven with Web 3.0 Web 3.0 which is aptly known as the Semantic Web is an emerging force which Textkit seeks to be a part of. Web 3.0 is for me where I’m most excited and why I’m returning to the Textkit project with great focus and energy.
If you haven’t heard of the Semantic Web, while not new, it’s very much still an emerging trend as this Google Trends graph points out. What is new is how Cloud Computing will nitro-boost its use and popularity. I believe there are the signs now of a coming explosion in Web 3.0 projects and products where massive data-sets interact with consumers across a variety of platforms.
We’re language people here at Textkit so we know that ‘semantics’ is the discussion of meaning. For Semantic Web, it’s best describe as the movement to place meaning on content. It’s the building of vast data-sets of structured data through social, crowd sourcing, harvesting and other methods. A common theme found in Semantic Web projects feature the exchange an interaction of data-sets, through API mashings, so that web products and services build upon each other. The notion of walled data-sets is rejected by many Semantic Web projects and it’s fading away as API sharing, metering and licensing of data become more common place. While Facebook and Twitter are best seen as Web 2.0 examples, they both actually have many Web 3.0 elements that include the sharing of data through their API and the opening up and interaction with other tools, and their contributions to big-data open source platforms and tools. With new and large data-sets there can be new tools. This has critical meaning for educators because the low cost storage and use of large data-sets allows for new education innovations.
Our Forthcoming Experiments with Semantic Web Projects
Cloud based services have allowed us to experiment in ways that were not possible in the not too distance past. We’ll be innovating in the Semantic Web arena by mapping relationship data-sets of Latin and Ancient Greek vocabulary. It will draw in the external data of Greek and Latin morphology provided by the Perseus Project, it will make use of digitized readers and grammars provided by ourselves and the Gutenberg Project, and through this combination we will crowd source new vocabulary data-sets where it is the relationship that is the data. Specifically, the relationship between reader + grammar book + word + morphology + quiz questions + quiz answers is mapped. This mapped data will then be opened up through an API which the Vocabulary Wars project will use.
Our first Vocabulary Tool project which has now been sunsetted was a very simply mySQL framework and it’s quizzing and progress tracking engine stored slightly under 1 million data points across 30K user accounts. Our new tool will have a quiz engine making use of adaptive analytics and it can very easily see over 100K data points per user account. Impossible then, but possible now with the cloud.
This is one example of how cloud computing is rushing in the new Web 3.0 and the rise of big data and how we’ll make use of this here at Textkit. As always, I welcome you to share your comments.