The Community Cloud Computing project is seeking federal stimulus dollars to establish a potent local digital network. Cloud computing involves aggregating — and massively increasing — computer power over an extended network.
"Most people don't have access to this kind of computing power," project coordinator Wally Bowen explains. "This is a step toward treating it as a utility, like gas or power, that everyone can use."
To date, cloud computing has mostly been the prerogative of big companies and government agencies, but Bowen, whose Mountain Area Information Network is one of the groups participating in the project, believes that making such capabilities more widely available could open up business and educational opportunities.
"Creating a really computer-savvy Web site for a business can cost upward of $900 to get all the programs, licenses and everything," notes Bowen. "However, with cloud computing, they wouldn't have to: There could be a copy of the programs in the network already, and an aggregation of computing power that could enable them to get their business off the ground.
Alternatively, he says, students in a rural school could access programs and enhanced computing capabilities to test a scientific hypothesis.
"There are a number of tools that you could apply without having to purchase them," Bowen points out. "They could instead be accessed through a community pool. The area's ideal to host this, and we've got a federal facility in the middle of downtown."
Participating groups include the Asheville Housing Authority, the Asheville City Schools, the Asheville-Buncombe Library System, Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry, Children First, Pathways for Independent Living, the Burton Street Center, URTV and MAIN.
The project is being mapped out in cooperation with Red Hat, a Raleigh-based open-source software company. Current plans call for MAIN to provide broadband infrastructure, with public computing centers at the Burton Street Center and other local sites.
Before any of that can happen, however, the project must secure federal stimulus dollars. Applying for and obtaining that funding could take six months or more.
"We don't know yet," says Bowen, when asked how much money will be needed to turn the theoretical cloud into a storm of local computing power. "But this is a really good fit with WNC."