I’ve been getting a great deal of questions lately from people who are interested in how to use the cloud at their institutions but aren’t sure what sort of things they could be doing there. I’ve been thinking about this and here are a few thoughts I’ve had about ways you can integrate Amazon’s S3 or Rackspace’s CloudFiles product into your web workflow.

1. Videos and Podcasts

Putting your videos and podcast audio in the cloud is a no-brainer. In fact, it’s the first thing we did in S3 a few years ago. Not every video we produce is meant for YouTube, or perhaps you want to have a really nice, high definition embed on your site, that’s what sites like Amazon’s S3 were made for.

Why? If you’ve got a large number of video files and audio files living on the same server as your college’s website, you could be potentially taking away cycles and bandwidth from your site. What happens when one of your videos goes viral? It has the potential to slow down your site and negatively impact the experience of your site’s visitors who are there to find out more about you.

Here’s an example of a video we produced that we hosted in S3. The HD video downloads quickly and it put no strain on my campus server.

2. WordPress Media

I’m a huge fan of WordPress. We’re rolling it out departments across our campus. They will want to upload PDF files, images, and lots of other content to go along with their blog posts and pages. That content can pile up pretty quickly, so why not put that uploaded content into the cloud? You can do it manually or use the Amazon S3 Plugin for WordPress, which will allow you to upload media to S3 and have it be displayed in your blog. It will also create thumbnails of your images and upload them as well.

I’ve been using this plugin on this blog for a while and it’s worked really well.

3. PDF Files

PDF files can get big and if your site is like mine, they are spread out all over the place. Our PDF files range in size from 50k for forms generated from Word to 11 or 12 MB for our athletics media guides.

I’ve been trying to put all our PDF files in a central spot in our S3 account so they are easy to find and update when needed, and during peak times of use, such as right now when students are downloading and completing forms before coming back to campus in a few weeks.

4. CSS and Javascript

Since your site’s CSS and javascripts will get cached after the first visit, why not serve them from S3? It’s fast, seamless to the end user, and since they are cached, you’ll barely notice they aren’t coming from your web server.

5. Images

Maybe S3 isn’t the perfect spot form which to host every image on your website, but it’s a great spot to host galleries, large hi-res version of your photos or serve as a backup spot for your image collection. I keep a bunch of critical PSD files in S3 so that they’re save if my hard drives and other backups fail. Obsessive? Maybe, but having lost critical data in a hard drive crash a few years ago, I’m much more obsessive about backups and having redundant copies of things.

So there you go – five easy, quick things you can start to do in the cloud file storage platform of your choice, be it Amazon or Rackspace.