Imagine being able to go into a library and load software of your choosing on a public access computer. And then when you access one of those computers at a future time, all of your preferences, files, and software would be available to you. That’s the concept behind the innovative myCloud service at the Cleveland Public Library (CPL).
Most libraries provide public access computers to their users, but they are generally locked down in a one-size-fits-all configuration. Software cannot be downloaded, and iPads, tablets, Macs, Chrome, Firefox, and other systems may not be supported.
myCloud is a virtual machine that mimics a computer allowing several copies of the operating system to run on a single computer. CPL’s TechCentral service wanted not only to virtualize their public computers, but to personalize them. The technology to do this is not new, but the approach to rolling it out to the user was. The user has the keys to the experience, data–and also the failures. They must maintain the software and do the updates. mycloud provides up to 5 gB of storage for each user and lets people know that they are responsible for the software and data. You can download your copy of the software. If you delete the work or crash the system, you lose it.
Running a virtual desktop is foreign for the average user. To create an account, each user must attend an hour long orientation, be 18 years old or more, and have a library account in good standing. Patrons are told that myCloud is still in beta. Once they change the password on their new account, they can check out a thin client, and use it anywhere in the library. So far, the system does not work away from the library premises, so it cannot be used at home.
Users must agree to respect copyright at all times and obey all laws. They are told that the library respects privacy but it will turn over information to authorities if required to. If a virtual machine gets infected by a virus, the library will disconnect it to protect the rest of the network.
Most of the patrons use myCloud for web surfing and email. A few have downloaded specialized software; for example, one user downloaded software to help him get his real estate license, which he could not have done otherwise. Only 75 accounts have been created so far, possibly because many people do not want to sit through an hour-long introductory session and come to the library to use it.
Staff have special passwords allowing them to troubleshoot accounts for users. myCloud is being piloted in some branches for training, scheduling, and account creation and management. Branches verify the user and call TechCentral to create the account.
Each user gets their own virtual copy of Windows 7, which is using too many resources on the central server. It soon gets filled up so that no new accounts can be created. The amount of storage for each user has had to be increased to 30 gB. The staff is therefore trying to reconfigure the system to allow several users to share a single virtual machine (as long as they are not using it at the same time).
Most users do not need the ability to install software. Those who do will use a Pro version (the current one), which is the full experience with no restrictions. A “light” version will mimic the public computers–updates will be offered automatically and have some security restrictions.
Virtual desktops open up many possibilities. One of the most urgent is enabling access to patron devices, such as netbooks running Linux? Data security is a major priority. 24/7 issues include security and bandwidth.
If you are a system administrator and want to make your own myCloud system, here is what you will need.
The system will support 120 simultaneous users and has nearly 1 terabyte of memory. Hypervisor allows many virtual machines to run on a single set of servers. The virtual machine software is available from Citrix; user management software is available from third parties. Software licenses are available that accommodate concurrent users. This is not a small undertaking. You will need an IT staff (1 person will suffice once the system is set up). And you will need a lot of patience!
CIL 2014 Blogger and Blog Coordinator
Editor, Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage