Steven Villarreal

When I tell people in town I work at Rackspace, the response I get is an even split between people who think I sell shoes and those who think I work for a hosting company with cloud offerings.

Turns out that I am not a shoe salesman (though I was one in college), but rather a person working in the exciting cloud computing industry.

While San Antonians may have seen Rackspace in the news as one of the top places to work, or have heard some of the community initiatives involving many of our Rackers (our name for Rackspace employees), there is still some ambiguity as to what exactly this company housed in the former Windsor Park Mall actually does.

The famous Rackspace slide at the "Castle" headquarters. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
The Rackspace slide at “The Castle,” the open cloud company’s headquarters. Photo by Iris Dimmick. Credit: Iris Dimmick / San Antonio Report

As Instructional Strategist for the CloudU program, it is my goal to help business people and non-techies have a clearer understanding of cloud hosting. In fact, if you spend any time on the Internet or have downloaded an app on your smartphone, you are probably using the cloud in some form or fashion.

When the web was experiencing its first major growth in the late 90s, it was based on what is called a client-server model. This means that there was a particular server out in the world (a server is nothing more than a suped-up computer with more RAM and processing power than a traditional PC you’d have on your desk) that would interact with clients (or users) requesting information. This is the model that powered much of the Internet through the 90s and into the 2000s.

While the exact date is hard to pinpoint, in the latter half of the first decade of the new millennium, cloud computing was born. Technically speaking, the cloud is a distributed network of virtualized servers that can run more than one application at a given time.

Is your head spinning yet? Let me explain further.

One of the often-used analogies to explain the cloud comes from “The Big Switch by Nicholas Carr who compared the cloud to the way that our society has consumed electricity.

the big switch

In the distant past, each particular business or house had a generator that would create enough electricity to power the building—this was the only way to get power. However, purchasing a generator was expensive and it was also costly to maintain. This is similar to having a physical server in the client-server model of doing business.

But the world evolved and technology changed. We now get our electricity from a highly specialized utility, such as CPS Energy, that supplies power to the grid. The power grid is distributed across our city and if you want electricity, you simply plug a light, television or smartphone into the wall and – voilà! – you have electricity.

It’s power available on-demand, and you only pay for what you use. This is what the cloud attempts to do; provide compute power or file storage on-demand for users as they need it.

One by-product of the cloud is that it democratized technology, making it more accessible to hobbyists, tinkerers and entrepreneurs. By decreasing the cost of computing power it has become more accessible, unleashing a wave of creativity and creation. This is what the cloud is at a very high level.

If you’re interested in learning more about the cloud, I invite you to check out the CloudU program. If you are involved in the business or marketing side of the house and want to know what your IT peers mean when they talk about load balancing traffic or moving to a virtualized environment, or if you are simply curious to learn more about the cloud, CloudU is for you. There is even a certification that you can receive at the end of the course.

The CloudU program has always been free and open to the public. Internally, all Rackers are highly encouraged to complete the CloudU certification program. Our recruiters also advise potential job candidates to complete before interviewing with anyone from Rackspace.

A new addition to the CloudU program is the massive open online course (MOOC) formatted series along with the new, social learning management system (LMS). The certification MOOC’s are also free and open to the public and users who complete the final exam with an 80 percent or above will receive a CloudU certificate and web badge. The first MOOC titled “Evolution of a Solution” starts on Feb. 17, 2014.

If you are tech savvy enough to know what a text editor is and what a command line is used for, or your know that python is not just a type of snake and that a ruby isn’t always a precious stone, then some of the CloudU content might not be for you. However, I would encourage tech savvy professionals to come check it out anyway and participate in the program by contributing to forums and Q&A threaded discussions.

I guarantee you that by the end of CloudU you’ll know a little more about this major technological shift, and how a homegrown company right here in San Antonio is helping to make this possible.

As Instructional Strategist for CloudU, Steven Villarreal collaborates with content contributors inside and outside of Rackspace to develop vendor-neutral content for the CloudU program. When he’s not developing content, he’s am researching the latest adult learning trends and technology to integrate into the CloudU social learning platform.

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