Greetings from the opening of CeBit Sydney. I arrived a little late, towards the end of the opening plenary session. David Gonski, from Investec was answering a question on education for innovation. He was arguing against closed book examinations: it is not about the memorisation of facts, but what you can do with the information. He was also arguing against short term-ism. This stuck a cord with me, as I am have told my colleagues at ANU I will no longer set closed book paper based examinations. and am talking on this nxt month at the Moodle conference in Melbourne: "Using Moodle for Postgraduate Professional Education with eBooks and Smartphones".
Dr. Werner Vogels, from Amazon Web Services was the next speaker and was a disappointment. In his own words Dr. Vogels was doing a self serving sales pitch for Amazon's cloud computing services (he was intending to be ironic, but it was an accurate description of the presentation). He claimed cloud computing is a new and disruptive technology. These claims are, of course, nonsense.
Cloud computing is a reworking of the idea of computer bureaus, which are decades old. This concept is so old than many now in IT and business are not aware of it, as computer bureaus died out long before they were borne. Cloud computing is different in that it provides higher levels of standardisation and has a standard network technology (The Internet). But otherwise cloud computing is just 21st. century computer bureaus. The same business and technical issues apply as were investigated extensively decades ago.
Before accepting any of the claims Dr. Vogels made in his extended sales pitch today it would be useful to look back at the literature and see what experience showed about the benefits and problems of this, one of the oldest concepts in computing. Professor Roger Clarke will be doing that 28 May 2010 at the ANU in Canberra with a seminar on "User Requirements for Cloud Computing Architecture".
CeBit Sydney are running seven parallel conferences over several days as well as a trade exhibition. The plenary session I am in seems to be about half full. I am speaking tomorrow in the enterprise conference on mobile web (at last I think that is what I am speaking in, as it was changed and I find the parallel conference streams bewildering).
In contrast to CeBit, the Moodle Moot in Melbourne in July is a good example of this new approach. The Moot is doing the obvious and using Moodle to help with the organising. Each speaker gets a Moodle "Course" on the conference web site to provide materials about their presentation (mine is: "Using Moodle for Postgraduate Professional Education with eBooks and Smartphones". The course is pre-filled with the abstract for the presentation, but the speaker can add other materials and use Moodle's interactive features to contact the delegates, before, during and after the event.
The CeBit event has partners including the Department of Defence (DSTO), NICTA and CSIRO. It is not clear why these organisations are spending funds on such an event. These organisations are not in the business of selling products and there does not seem to be a good reason to spend public money on such promotion.
However, these are minor quibbles over what is the least important part of a conference. Unless I am speaking, I usually avoid attending the formal presentations of a conference. What is important for me are the informal contacts outside the sessions and the trade exhibition. By these criteria CeBit has already been a success. As I was queuing to get my badge I saw two people I needed to talk to. I have not been to the exhibition floor, but expect it to be as good as usual.