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Virginia Tech

Global pandemic serving as catalyst for technology to change how society functions in the future

3-Apr-2020 3:30 PM EDT, by Virginia Tech

Social distancing surrounding COVID-19 has forced millions of people to work remotely, embrace virtual learning, and find new ways of connecting with friends online.

Virginia Tech computer scientist and cloud computing expert Ali R. Butt says that cloud infrastructure enables society to be technologically ready during this time and is creating new opportunities to improve work efficiency in the future.

Quoting Butt

“If COVID-19 happened five or ten years ago, people would not have been able to work remotely like so many are doing today. It would have been an almost complete shutdown or forced businesses and people to take risks to keep things going. Cloud services are really helpful in providing connectivity for people and businesses to continue operating at some level.”

“Cloud infrastructure allows us to deliver a type of service where people can interact with each other, such as getting crucial health updates, playing video games, watching movies, backing up our data, and interacting with friends. We as a society are driven by social sharing, so cloud services have been providing a mutually beneficial relationship. The cloud can connect more people and businesses, allowing them to work and play remotely, thus giving cloud providers more customers.”

“Modern society runs on the back of computer science. It is more evident now, as all of a sudden, as a global society, we are working from home. All of these are nice features of cloud computing – easily scaling from 10 to 10,000 people. But we have to be careful. There are many security issues that will arise if we do not understand technology. I am sure more weaknesses and vulnerabilities will be identified, and computer scientists and practitioners will be at the forefront to take on these challenges.” 

“This global pandemic will show the effectiveness of remote work. For one, it is a huge opportunity for achieving better gender equality, as remote work can allow more women to enter the workforce. The ability of the cloud to support remote work is also a good indication that companies in urban communities can have a hybrid program to account for face-to-face interactions, while also easing the burden of commuting.”

“We are also seeing a lot of ingenuity from small businesses, such as small local bakeries taking online ordering, gyms and dance studios offering online classes, many clinics jumping ahead to provide telemedicine. All of these are moving to a cloud-enabled business model, which is enabling them to at least create a buffer and make the most of a very bad situation. I believe these lessons and experiences with technology will create new opportunities in the future.” 

“The cloud computing talent has changed the role of the community hero. Our IT folks who are holding down the fort are just as important as the doctors in hospitals. Similarly, computer scientists apply their knowledge to solve crucial and timely issues such as new algorithms to match supply and demand of life-saving resources. By putting these elements together, critical life-saving items such as masks can be secured.”   

About Butt

Ali Butt is a professor and associate department head for faculty development with Virginia Tech’s Department of Computer Science. His research interests are in large scale distributed computing systems such as cloud computing and high performance computing. At Virginia Tech, he also leads the Distributed Systems & Storage Laboratory (DSSL).


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