Higher education needs a national computing cloud

Cloud computing is vital to the future of higher education in America, so I beseech President Obama to take action

January 26, 2009

The Honorable Barack Obama

The White House

Washington, DC 20500-0001

Dear Mr. President:

My sincerest congratulations, sir, on your recent inauguration as the 44th President of these United States of America. Your victory is testament not only to the greatness of our democracy but to the transformative power of democracy itself. Along with millions of my fellow human beings worldwide, I watched with pride as you took the oath and became a living example of the impact of a single American citizen.

You said, "The world has changed, and we must change with it." I couldn’t agree more, Mr. President, and I believe the policies of your administration will be a wellspring of innovation. I know that both you and the vice president strongly support expanding research initiatives at institutions of higher education -- the heart of American innovation. For those institutions, the future is here. But, as William Gibson said, "It's just not evenly distributed yet."

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We've allowed the cost of technology to hamstring our ability to innovate. Researchers are no longer limited by ideas or knowledge, but rather by access to the computing resources needed to execute experiments and analyze the results.

I propose you create a government-funded computing cloud for use by all colleges and universities. Such a resource would level the academic playing field. Researchers toiling at thousands of smaller institutions would have access to computing power currently available only to a handful. We cannot predict from where the next great innovation will come, but public cloud computing would dramatically improve our collaboration and innovation as a nation.

Great leaps in technological and social progress can occur almost simultaneously. In September 1962, a young researcher published the seed of one of the greatest technological developments of our time, while another young man from Kosciusko, Miss., started his journey toward a pivotal moment in the struggle for civil rights. Where some see random chance, I see providence. Paul Baran's recommendation of a national public utility to transport computer data and James Meredith's admittance to the University of Mississippi changed America's technological and social cores forever.

Your technologically savvy administration has an opportunity to realize another great leap. My letter cannot be compared to Baran's paper, but I hope it is a timely idea. An idea proposed too far ahead of its time has as little value as one proposed after a commitment has already been made. So I hope to catch you now, before your plans for educational reform are etched, while there is still time to add a provision for a computing cloud that has the potential to transform disparate, isolated researchers into the world's most powerful innovation engine.

Again, Mr. President, I congratulate you and your staff on your brilliant victory with the help of technology, and your improbable, inspiring, triumphant inauguration.

Respectfully,

whurley (William Hurley)

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