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August, 2011 - Education - Site Home - MSDN Blogs
The Australian Education Blog
Ray Fleming's take on what's interesting in Education IT in Australia

August, 2011

  • Education

    Building a more efficient research datacentre


    The Microsoft team that run our internal IT systems have to manage a complex and very fluid IT environment - just like you. And the It team are often at the leading/bleeding edge of technology (especially if you consider our habit of ‘eating our own dog food’). So they have some hard-won lessons on technology implementation.

    Icons_gears_blueThe latest addition to the IT Showcase, a huge library of published case studies on their work, is a technical case study on how they developed a Private Cloud infrastructure. I’m sure there are universities across Australia who have exactly the same kind of challenge today, and will find their case study useful.

    Developing a Private Cloud infrastructure for research

    Microsoft IT wanted to reduce lab space server sprawl and introduce a new level of management and support efficiency. The facility needed to be both efficient and flexible enough to support the research and development needs of the different product groups. The solution was to build an energy-efficient, flexible, high-density facility that meets the needs of the research and development community at Microsoft and is able to host private clouds that provide Infrastructure as a Service.

    It meant changing the research culture, as well as the IT infrastructure, and replacing a 180,000 square feet facility with something nearly 80% smaller. And designing a local datacentre that could run with a PUE (power usage effectiveness) of 1.3 or lower.

    What that meant was:

    • Reduced the footprint of on-campus lab space
    • Efficiencies in scale and facility design provide power-consumption savings
    • Virtualisation reduced the number of required physical systems and the amount of resources required to manage them
    • Offering Infrastructure as a Service through the private cloud shortened the time it takes to deploy systems and reduced variations in the deployment of systems

    The full case study talks through details such as designing the network fabric and the process of picking the host requirements (eg memory, storage and processors)

    Learn MoreYou can read the full case study online (and download a Word version)

  • Education

    Have you seen the Live@edu blog


    Icons_monitor_blueMy colleague, James Marshall, writes the UK Live@edu blog. There isn’t an Australian equivalent, but almost everything that he writes is relevant to Australia too. If you’re a Live@edu user in Australia, or you’re interested in learning more about the service (which is the Microsoft free hosted email and collaboration service for schools, TAFEs and universities), then it’s worth keeping an eye on it, or adding it to your RSS feeds.

    Some of the recent posts that have caught my eye include:

    • Live@edu deployment webcasts
      Download links for his two recent Live@edu deployment webcasts, covering domain ownership; user provisioning in Live@edu; migrating data and automating Live@edu management
    • Configuring regional settings and setting UK English dictionaries in Live@edu
      Contains the answer to the golden question: “How do I set the dictionary for all of my Live@edu mail users”
    • Why and how to delete and de-provision users in Live@edu
      After explaining why you may or may not want to delete users once they’ve left your institution (ease user management, remove the risk of abuse of your email domain versus continuing contact with alumni and giving students a continuing email address they can use for university/employment applications), James then lets you know how you can delete mailboxes and still keep the Live ID going (so that students don’t lose their SkyDrive, Xbox ID etc)

    There are lots of other good blog posts there too, so keep an eye on it.

    Learn MoreRead the UK Live@edu blog

  • Education

    Ten of the best - Australian education websites built on SharePoint


    Following on from my previous blog posts, ‘Ten of the best SharePoint School websites’ and ‘Ten of the best SharePoint University websites’, then it’s time to get closer to home with Ten of the best Australian school websites built on SharePoint (or best TAFE websites or best University websites).

    The reason I’m focusing on ‘built on SharePoint’ is because most Australian education institutions have SharePoint, and have it integrated into their identity management system and their security model. So extending that same system to run your public-facing website means that you can easily create a website that allows students to access their course materials from home, and staff to be able to use the document storage and workflow, without having to setup yet-another login or user list on yet-another system. Anyway, back to the best school websites list…

    I’ve had help from colleagues tracking some of these down, and recommendations from customers and partners. But ultimately I take total responsibility for the completely subjective Top Ten list and their rankings!

    So here’s my top ten of the best education websites built on SharePoint in Australia

    It’s my take on 10 School/TAFE/University websites, built on SharePoint, that are worth looking at for design ideas and inspiration for functional ideas - or simply because you want to nudge another colleague towards seeing that SharePoint can deliver a beautiful experience for staff, students and prospective students.

    Click on any of them to link to the live website

    1. Gordon Institute of TAFE, Victoria

      This was easy for me to pick as Australia’s best education website built on SharePoint. I’m sure this website must inspire potential students - it gives off the impression of a vibrant learning community, with a fun attitude to the serious subject of learning. And the design makes it easier to navigate to the key information - and encourages you to explore more.

       Gordon Institute of TAFE

    2. Victoria Department of Education - FUSE

      An amazing interactive experience which puts access to learning materials right at the front of the site. And let’s be honest, it breaks the mould for ‘policy-type’ websites, because it’s putting the ‘fun’ into ‘functional’.

      Victoria Department of Education - FUSE

    3. Abbotsleigh School, New South Wales

      You can tell from the very first page that this is a school that takes learning seriously - and the strong photography shows how it puts students at the centre of the experience. With many private and Catholic schools, you can see the increased importance of needing to ‘sell’ the school to prospective students and parents, as well as keeping in touch with the parents of existing students.

      Abbotsleigh School

    4. Trinity Grammar School, New South Wales

      Another design-centric site, but with a clear navigation structure that means students & parents can easily find the section that’s relevant for them. (Pipped by Abbotsleigh for #3 position because it didn’t have Search on the home page)

      Trinity Grammar School

    5. The Learning Place, Queensland

      Another government site, which are often some of the trickiest to design and run, because they are trying to meet the needs of so many stakeholders. Although the SharePoint portion of the website sits behind the login screens, there’s an excellent video here that shows what Stage 2 is delivering.

      The Learning Place

    6. Brisbane Catholic Education, Queensland

      Although this doesn’t have the high graphic design of some of the previous sites, the navigation here is clear - with the tabs at the top helping users find their way quickly to the section that is right for them - students & parents; schools & curriculum; employment etc.

      Brisbane Catholic Education

    7. Bendigo Tafe, Victoria

      Another great TAFE site in Victoria (is there a secret recipe they have there?). I particularly liked the 3D box design, which was very simply to create, and added to, rather than confused, the navigation.

      Bendigo Tafe, Victoria

    8. John Paul College, Queensland

      A nice looking site that crams a lot of information onto the home page - but without making it too busy. A slow rotation of the main picture adds interest, but without detracting from the content and links.

      John Paul College, Queensland

    9. Hale School, Western Australia

      A slightly more traditional design, which puts details on the front page, rather than just short links. As with the others, it’s often the photography that makes the first impression.

      Hale School, Western Australia

    10. Australian School of Business, New South Wales

      Okay, this may be 10th out of my list of 10 - but there’s hundreds of sites that didn’t make it to the Top Ten, so it’s still good going. I like the way this page is easy to read, and has all the vital components - news, events and search - right there.
      What would have given it a higher rating? Less ‘stock’ images and more good photos from the School of Business itself would have helped me, as a parent, to imagine my daughter going to study there.

      Australian School of Business, New South Wales

    Learn MoreDownload the PowerPoint Top 10 Australian Education websites on SharePoint

  • Education

    Windows 7 to reach four out of 10 computers by end of year


    Last month, I wrote that two-thirds of PCs are still running Windows XP, and wrote about some of the things that hadn’t been created when Windows XP was launched (Feeling nostalgic? Your students may not be). It surprised me to hear that there are so many out of date PCs (as Windows XP is a decade old now).

    However, I’ve just read on ZDNet, reporting on a Gartner analysis, where they are predicting that by the end of the year, 42% of PCs worldwide will be running Windows 7. Which means there’s a massive wave of upgrades and deployments going on right now…

    Learn MoreRead the full story on ZD Net - 42% of PCs will be running Windows 7 by year-end

  • Education

    Emerging trends in Learning Management Systems


    Icons_globeAsia_blueI’ve been keeping an eye on trends in Learning Management Systems for the last few years, and especially in the last few months as potentially big changes have been happening - such as the sale of Blackboard.

    If you’re interested in the LMS marketplace, and views on the future direction, then there’s a brilliant and very insightful blog post on Michael Feldstein’s e-Literate blog, from Phil Hill. Whilst the first half of the article focuses on today’s marketplace for LMS systems in North America, and how it got here, the second half is fascinating for the thoughtful commentary on ‘Trends for the Future’, especially on:

    • LMS solutions are trending strongly towards Software as a Service, removing the big up-front capital costs
    • Usability improvements are continuing to arrive
    • There’s a blurring between big (monolithic?) LMS systems and content delivery systems
    • Analytics and data reporting need to be much more than ‘aspirational goals’

    Learn MoreRead the full blog post about the Emerging Trends in LMS on the e-Literate blog

  • Education

    Weekly technical webcasts - 10-12 August 2011


    Webinar iconThis year we’re offering a series of live webcasts, led by a Microsoft subject matter expert, on a range of core Microsoft products. They are not specifically designed to focus on education - and attendees will be from a wide range of industries - but I wanted to highlight the opportunity for you to take part to get up to speed with leading edge technology changes.

    By running them as webcasts, our aim is to allow you to get the latest news, without travel costs, or event fees. And with all of the advantages of being able to watch an online webcast whilst also being able to do other things if necessary.

    All of the free webcasts are two-hour long sessions, and combine technical presentations and live demonstrations. The level of the content is suitable for IT teams in schools, TAFEs and universities, as well as for pre-sales consultants and technical consultants working within Microsoft’s education partners. There are some which are much more specifically tailored for developers, and I’ll highlight those below.

    You’ll need to register in advance, and you’ll then receive a Calendar note as well as info on how to join the Live Meeting online. All of the webcasts are scheduled for 2-4PM AEST (Australia East Coast time)

    Each week I’ll highlight the webcasts coming up soon, and provide a more detailed overview, and give a list of future sessions that you can book into your diary.

    This week’s webcasts

    Building Business Applications with Microsoft Visual Studio LightSwitch

    Visual Studio LightSwitch is the simplest way to build business applications for the desktop and cloud. LightSwitch simplifies the development process by letting you concentrate on the business logic, while LightSwitch handles the common tasks for you. In this demo-heavy session, see end-to-end how to build and deploy a data-centric business application using LightSwitch. Finally, see how to take advantage of the underlying LightSwitch application architecture to implement your application’s custom business logic. This webinar is mainly focused on software developers.

    10th August - Find out more, and register 

    Introducing the Windows Azure Platform

    Cloud computing looks like the biggest change to hit our industry in many years. But taking advantage of the shift requires understanding this new approach and how to exploit it. In this presentation, we at the Windows Azure platform and what it means for organizations that create, use or sell software. The topics he covers include an overview of the Windows Azure platform, covering both technology and business model, and typical application scenarios for using it. The goal is to provide a foundation for thinking about the Windows Azure platform, then offer guidance on how to make good decisions for using it.

    10th August - Find out more, and register

    What Are the Bridges between Private and Public Cloud?

    In this session we look at the core Hybrid Cloud topologies capable with Windows Azure and Windows Server Private Cloud Architecture. We showcase bridging the two environments together and how you can leverage private and public cloud to scale your enterprise needs.

    12th August - Find out more, and register

    Future webcasts

    Register Here

    16 August

    Microsoft SQL Server Code-Named "Denali" AlwaysOn Series, Part 1: Introducing the Next Generation High Availability Solution

    Find out more, and register

    16 August

    Microsoft SharePoint Online Overview

    Find out more, and register

    19 August

    Sneak Peek at Microsoft System Center Service Manager 2012 Concepts

    Find out more, and register

    2 September

    Best Practices for Private Cloud Implementation

    Find out more, and register

    6 September

    Microsoft Exchange Online: Unified Messaging in Microsoft Office 365

    Find out more, and register

    7 September

    Inside Windows Azure, the Cloud Operating System

    Find out more, and register

    20 September

    Microsoft SQL Server Code-Named "Denali" AlwaysOn Series, Part 2: Building a Mission-Critical High Availability Solution Using AlwaysOn

    Find out more, and register

    20 September

    Microsoft Lync 2010: In the Cloud

    Find out more, and register

    23 September

    Understanding How Microsoft Virtualization Compares to VMware

    Find out more, and register

    27 September

    Microsoft Visual Studio Tips and Tricks

    Find out more, and register

    27 September

    Ten Must-Have Tools for Windows Azure

    Find out more, and register

    30 September

    Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2012: Deployment and Infrastructure Technical Overview

    Find out more, and register

    4 October

    Microsoft Lync 2010: Setup, Deployment, Upgrade and Coexistence Scenarios

    Find out more, and register

    14 October

    Virtualization: State of the Union

    Find out more, and register

    18 October

    What's New in Manageability for Microsoft SQL Server Code-Named "Denali"

    Find out more, and register

    18 October

    Microsoft Exchange Server and Microsoft Office 365: How to Set Up a Hybrid Deployment

    Find out more, and register

    21 October

    Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2012: Overview

    Find out more, and register

    25 October

    An IT Pro View of Windows Azure

    Find out more, and register

    28 October

    What Are the Bridges between Private and Public Cloud?

    Find out more, and register

    1 November

    Microsoft Office 365: Deployment Overview

    Find out more, and register

    8 November

    Upgrading to Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 and SQL Server Code-Named "Denali": A Comprehensive Look

    Find out more, and register

    11 November

    Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012: What’s in It, and How It Enables the Building of Private Clouds and Federation to the Public Cloud

    Find out more, and register

    15 November

    Taking Office to the Cloud: Integrating Microsoft Office 2010 and Windows Azure

    Find out more, and register

    22 November

    Managing Windows Azure Applications

    Find out more, and register

    22 November

    Integrating Microsoft SharePoint 2010 and Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online

    Find out more, and register

    25 November

    Integrating the Microsoft System Center Stack for Process Compliance and Automation

    Find out more, and register

    29 November

    What’s New in Microsoft SQL Server Code-Named “Denali” for SQL Server Integration Services

    Find out more, and register

    6 December

    Microsoft Lync 2010: Audio, Video and Web Conferencing Architecture and Experience

    Find out more, and register

  • Education

    Thinking about BI in Education? Want to know more about Business Intelligence programming in Microsoft SQL Server?


    If you’d describe yourself as an ‘end user’ of data, then this isn’t for you. But if you’re the kind of person that is wondering how to bring your different sets of data together to get real insight into some aspect of your school/TAFE/university, then read on. Especially if you’re job title includes the word ‘data’ or ‘developer’, or you think of yourself as a ‘power user’.

    The case for using Business Intelligence (BI) in education is growing stronger all the time, as massive amounts of data that could enable individual students to achieve of their potential is being collected and made available from external sources. As it’s in its infancy here in Australia, then the leading edge users are going to need to understand more about the technical intricacies, so that they know what’s possible so that they can become demanding users & buyers.

    Book coverThe free ebook ‘Introducing Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2’ (wow, mouthful) is aimed at database administrators, data analysts and data programmers - and I think they are the kind of people that are going to start on page 1 and work their way through to page 213.

    However, the whole of the second part of the book is specifically about the Business Intelligence -BI - capabilities that are built into the system (really important point here: You get Business Intelligence as part of your Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 - you don’t have to buy an additional BI system from us).

    I’ve read across these BI sections to understand what’s valuable reading if you are thinking about BI in education contexts - such as performing complex mixing of school data and learning analysis reports. And I’m wondering if the book is the wrong way around for people like you and I - because the most useful, and technically least challenging, part is Chapter 10.

    Where to start from a “BI in Education” point of view

    My recommendation is that you take a look at Chapter 10 - about PowerPivot - to understand how you can give self-service BI for principals, senior leaders and teachers/lecturers. And instead of producing reams of reports that tell them things they may want to know, you see if it could help you produce simple spreadsheets that they can manipulate easily, so that they can answer their own questions - and be inspired by being able to dig into their data.

    If Chapter 10 is good for you, then perhaps work your way back through Chapter 9 and 7, looking at some of the other facilities added (and stop when it starts to get too complex).

    Here’s the full detail on Part 2 of the book - Business Intelligence Development

    I’ve listed the chapters in Part 2 in reverse order, because that’s the order you might want to read it.

    • Chapter 10
      Self-Service Analysis with PowerPivot
      PowerPivot is without doubt the unsung hero of the business intelligence system. The reason is that it keeps control of the data in a central place - where it can be secured, cleaned and managed - and it devolves analysis out to users, by giving them a toolset that means that they can dig into data, understanding reports, patterns, and performing ad-hoc analyses in Excel. It means that you can link together multiple data sources, and analyse them simply from one spreadsheet - through the PowerPivot Excel add-in. If you are used to working with any of the usual reporting tools, to create reports and datasets for other users, then PowerPivot will make things much easier - for both you and your users. And because it can bring together data from lots of different sources, it is ideal for the massively fragmented data challenge that exists in education. (For example, it can bring data together from SQL, Oracle, Access, Informix, Sybase and other ODBC databases, as well as from Excel spreadsheets, plain text files, SharePoint lists, and commercial datasets online.
      To the end user, it simply looks like you’ve created a friendly-spreadsheet, with the ability to filter and select different information. In some ways, a bit like a pivot table, but drawn from many sources.
    • Chapter 9
      Reporting Services Enhancements
      This chapter, with Chapter 10, are probably the two that are the most widely useful, as they look at the less technical services available - and help you to understand how you could link the multiple data sources within your institution together. Although these are still written for programmer/IT Services level readers, they do a good job of explaining the kinds of scenarios that the reporting systems in SQL Server 2008 R2 allow - such as having a single reporting system that can collect data from its own SQL database, as well as users’ Excel spreadsheets and SharePoint lists. And report them in tabular, chart or map format.
    • Chapter 8
      Complex Event Processing with StreamInsight
      This is all about aggregating and handling rapid streams of complex data, and acting upon triggers. Although this might be a feature that is used extensively already in university research projects, there are likely to be more scenarios where school education systems are coping with rapid streams of data, as we move to fully online, real-time assessment
    • Chapter 7
      Master Data Services
      This chapter is about the maintenance and organisation of ‘master data’ - the things which tend to be more static (eg students/academics/places) as opposed to transactional data (eg attendance records for each lesson/lecture; assessment marks). Master Data Services is all about creating a Single Point of Truth - the one student identity record or one authoritative source of a student’s address(es)and then sharing that across the applications that need it.
    • Chapter 6
      Scalable Data Warehousing
      Probably not the place to start, as this is principally about massive data appliances, which would only be used at the top-end projects for BI in education (such as university research, or massive scale analysis)

    How to get the free ebook

    The good news is that the ebook is free, and available in a number of different formats

    I guarantee, you’re either going to learn something that you can use yourself, or some important questions to ask potential BI suppliers.


    * Mike Henegan, at Calumo (one of our BI partners in education here in Australia), has weighed in with his thoughts on this too - take a look over on his blog.

  • Education

    The University of Sydney Tech Lounge



    I went along to the launch ceremony for the Student Tech Lounge at the University of Sydney yesterday. We’ve worked with the university to create a common room space for students, with plenty of social space for relaxation, and lots of new technology around to bring out their creative side.

    MS Lounge-4The technology is everywhere, but it didn’t seem particularly intrusive - in one corner students competing at dancing with Xbox 360’s with Kinect, whilst in another a small group using a Microsoft Surface for collaboration - and in between plenty of cool looking laptops and Windows Phones. There were some amazing laptops and touch screen computers which I’d never seen before - including an amazing Acer Iconia dual-screen laptop.

    As the press release described it:

    The collaboration between the University and Microsoft is an innovative addition to a wider University program, the Learning Networks Program. This program aims to extend and modernise on-campus learning and social spaces for students, based on student feedback that indicated the need for more places to work collaboratively in addition to independent study areas. Dr Michael Spence, the University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor, explained a bit about the wider goals:

      We’re working hard to create more informal learning spaces and expand access to technology for our students to support learning in its broadest sense – in and out of the classroom  

    MS Lounge-12The students weren’t the ones whole felt immediately at home - I did too, mainly because it was designed within the themes of old school common rooms and had retro, comfy furnishings (Retro to students = Memories for me). They’d even decorated one of the walls with old LP covers - bringing back some memories too. More photos on ZDNet’s report and the University’s facebook Tech Lounge Album.

    It even got featured on LifeHacker

    Oops - I thought I was being discrete there yesterday, but we obviously all got spotted according to the comment on facebook


  • Education

    A pile of Microsoft technical e-books now free for Kindle and iPad


    Book cover - Programming Windows Phone 7One of the most-read blog posts from the last six months was “Something for the weekend - free ebooks from Microsoft Press”, listing 9 free e-books available in PDF format. The bonus news is that the Microsoft Press team have now made five of them available free in two additional formats, DRM-free EPUB and MOBI.

    Which means you can now read them more easily on a wide range of ereaders, notably Kindles and iPads - as well as the Nook, Sony Reader and Kobo eReader. As the MS Press team point out on their blog:

      Of course these files can also be read with ereading apps for the various devices on netbooks, laptops, and desktop PCs. The key difference between these formats and the previously-offered PDF and XPS files is that the text is “reflowable,” meaning that it recomposes depending on the width of the screen (or as you resize a Window).  

    Hint: Choose MOBI format for Kindles, and ePUB for most others

    Here are the links to the free ebooks for Kindle and other readers

    • Charles Petzold’s Programming Windows Phone 7 is available here as EPUB and here as MOBI.
    • To get Moving to Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 by Patrice Pelland, Pascal Paré, and Ken Haines download here as EPUB and here as MOBI.
    • Introducing Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 by Ross Mistry and Stacia Misner is here as EPUB and here as MOBI.
    • Introducing Windows Server 2008 R2 by Charlie Russel and Craig Zacker with the Windows Server Team at Microsoft is here as EPUB and here as MOBI.
    • And finally, Katherine Murray’s Own Your Future, Update Your Skills with Resources and Career Ideas from Microsoft is here as EPUB and here as MOBI.

    Go get em…

  • Education

    How do you approach Cloud security?


    Jean-Phillippe Courtois, the President of Microsoft International, has written a guest post about Cloud security on the Viewpoints blog. You should read it if you’re at all interested in the framework for security and compliance of Cloud services - it delves into the Microsoft Cloud offerings, and the security framework we have had to build over the last 17 years.

    There were a couple of highlight points that I took away:

    There is no global standard for security of cloud services


    As there is no global standard for security of cloud services or security of cloud infrastructure, GFS’s approach is based on the widely used and understood ISO27001 and ISO27002 information security management standards. Microsoft added an additional 141 controls to the initial 150 in ISO27001. These arise from the unique challenges of cloud infrastructure and are based on our experience of mitigating the risks that arise in this environment.


    My reaction: What? There is no global international standard for cloud security! We’ve had to add141 controls to the existing 150 in an ISO standard in order to get to something that’s secure enough. So perhaps there is no wonder that as well as national differences, we’re seeing differences emerging in the ways that Cloud services are being approached between each State government in Australia.

    Our Cloud security commitments

    Jean-Phillippe sets out a summary of the commitments detailed in our Online Services Trust Centre which details our Cloud security model - and critically how we secure your data in our Cloud datacentres:

    • Data Use Limits: We use your data only to provide the services you want.
    • Administrative Access: We enable you to find out whether someone has accessed your non-public data.
    • Geographic Boundaries: We will share information about data location.
    • Security, Audits, and Certifications: We obtain third party audits and certifications so you can trust our services are designed and operated with stringent safeguards.
    • Regulatory Compliance: We are committed to transparency to help you comply with your regulatory needs.

    My reaction:  It’s the detail behind these five commitments that makes the interesting reading, and would be helpful in understanding the ways that different cloud services could collect and use information - and potentially help you to build your own list of acceptable Cloud practices within your organisations

    Learn MoreRead the original blog post 'A pragmatic approach to security in the Cloud'

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