A Minecraft world that lets students simulate the life of pioneers and a tool that measures video and photo views on social media are just two of the innovative projects to emerge from Alberta's not-for-profit cloud resource. In the year-and-a-half since its official launch, the Rapid Access Cloud has helped over 200 local users develop their ideas into products and services.
The program was developed by Alberta's not-for-profit advanced technology agency, Cybera. The Rapid Access Cloud provides innovators with instant access to online resources to build their own cloud computing environment. Its users have included academics and professionals testing out video game and network monitoring ideas, as well as a group of students in Calgary who developed and sold a cloud-hosted vending machine payment service.
Aaron Tuckwood, an innovation consultant for Elk Island Public Schools, used the Rapid Access Cloud to build a Minecraft environment for a grade two class learning about life in the pioneering days. "It was hard for them to identify with the struggles of people who were trying to make a new start in the Canadian wilderness," says Tuckwood. "We set up a Minecraft world set in 19th century Western Canada and gave the students different tasks: clear their land for farming, build a home with the materials available, and plant crops. The students explored this world for four days and really seemed to enjoy themselves. They also gained a new appreciation of the hardships suffered by early Canadians."
Tuckwood needed a cloud environment with enough power to run the Minecraft server effectively, and a colleague suggested the Rapid Access Cloud. He created an account and was able to get the server set up in a single morning, before working with teachers to create individual environments for their classes. By the end of 2014, five classes had used the Minecraft pioneering environment, and another 10 teachers have asked for it to be set up in their classes in 2015.
At the University of Calgary, Professor Mea Wang and her MSc student, Brad Rougeau, used the pre-commercial cloud to develop Viewcount, a Facebook application that offers an interface for analyzing views of photos and videos shared on Facebook. Viewcount will be launched this week on the Facebook app suite. Wang's group will use the data drawn from it to study the behaviour and influence of users who share multimedia, and to identify sharing patterns of multimedia content on social media.
"We began developing Viewcount on our department's server, but we had no control over whether it went down or not," says Wang. "With the Rapid Access Cloud, we have full control, and have enough computing power and the proper infrastructure to keep it online all the time."
The Alberta-based Rapid Access Cloud is funded by the Government of Alberta to:
- Help researchers utilize cloud computing environments for testing, analysis and data storage
- Give Albertans a competitive advantage by offering a staging ground to test their ideas for cloud-based services, before moving to a commercial cloud platform
- Provide a learning environment for people to explore the possibilities and benefits of cloud computing
Who is eligible?
The Rapid Access Cloud program is open to Albertans who would like to use cloud computing for research, experimentation, or testing purposes.
The goal of this cloud program is to introduce Alberta inventors and researchers to the benefits of cloud resources for testing and prototyping of products and services. Successful users may then transition to another research or commercial cloud platform, depending on their project goals.
What is cloud computing?
Cloud computing describes the model for providing users with access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources. These resources could include networking components, digital servers, data storage, and applications and services. This elastic, scalable compute infrastructure can be utilized as needed, with minimal set-up time or service provider interaction.
The Rapid Access Cloud is an example of Infrastructure-as-a-Service, which means it provides the online equipment on which users can build and support their digital operations. The Cloud is run on servers housed at the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary, and Cybera is responsible for running and maintaining it.