Over the years, education has evolved with the decades of change in software platforms and IT. The platform paradigms shifted from the mainframe/midrange, client-server, web/mobile, and services oriented infrastructure/architecture. Each designed to resolve the shortcomings of its predecessor. Today, students are digital natives proving once again that “Moore’s Law” holds true. They expect a seamless user experience across an ever growing variety of computers, mobile phones, embedded devices, and even TVs that are changing at an exponential rate. However, keeping up with the rate of change and providing adequate academic services have challenged the cash-strapped education industry, polarized further by the current economic recession.
The cloud has now emerged as the next wave innovative IT services that address the challenges of today. By providing a familiar Microsoft platform, database/storage, and computing environment across a fabric of virtual servers “as a service”, Microsoft’s cloud computing platform (Windows Azure) offers immediate and tangible returns of your investment. Instead of spending “months of money” per IT initiative on capacity planning, data center real-estate, hardware, staff, and related resources, the cloud provides a scale-on-demand infrastructure, pay-as-you-go subscription pricing model, an SLA with 99.9+% uptime, and 24/7 IT support.
Some have positioned the cloud as the “platform of choice”, while Microsoft sees it as a “choice of platform”. It’s not an “all or nothing” approach, but rather a choice to host your line of business applications, data, and/or services on-premise, in the cloud, or a hybrid of any combination, which we refer to as “Software plus Services”. Choice is especially beneficial to education institutions, which until now, have had little/no choice but to invest heavily into fragmented IT cost centers on-premise.
To help answer this question, let’s meet two education industry leaders.
First meet David. David is the superintendent for a large school district that is embarking upon a Student Lifecycle Management initiative. The goal of this initiative is to track a student’s academic performance, extra circular activities, college-prep projects, and progression from enrollment through graduation and beyond. David knows he can easily leverage information already stored in the districts existing systems, such as their Grade book application, Student Information System, and Learning Management System on-premise, but is challenged at how he will be able to aggregate it, security, and make it accessible post-graduation to the state Department of Education, the student or anyone the student wishes to grant access, such as an employer or higher education institution.
Our second education industry leader is Nancy. Nancy is the provost a local university in the same state as David’s school district. Nancy has collaborated with David in the past about ways to streamline the student admissions process, since David’s district represents the largest percentage of prospective student applying for admission at Nancy’s university.
As part of their discussions, it was clear that David’s “Student Lifecycle Management” initiative could help benefit Nancy as well. If only David could provide Nancy direct access to student transcripts and related academic assets, it would help automate the university’s student admissions process.
Instead of opening up firewall access, providing authentication rights to an FTP server, or creating an on-premise solution, they opted for a platform neutral cloud services solution. David published student transcripts and associated essays and research project to the cloud and provided claims-based authorization to Nancy’s university. The project required no hardware, no IT resources to manage IT environment, and no upfront capacity planning because the solution scaled up and down on-demand.
Nancy enabled her admissions office to more efficiently process student transcripts from David’s school district without having to formally request and wait for postal-services to deliver hard copies by mail and re-enter the data into the university systems.
This solutions could be further automated in a Software plus Services (S+S) scenario. by which on-premise integration and process management software such as Microsoft BizTalk Server and/or Microsoft SQL Server Integration Services work in conjunction with Windows Azure “services” off-premise, to allow scheduled or real-time message exchanges between the two education institutions.
For Education, the power of Microsoft’s cloud computing platform (Windows Azure) is about choice. The choice to determine what software platform model best meets your needs today and tomorrow while adapting to change.
Let's be clear: There is much we still do not know about the impact of investments in this area, and the related costs. We do not have a good handle on how to measure the types of impacts we hope to bring about through the introduction of '1-to-1 computing', which often go beyond what is measured through existing standardized assessments of learning. With very few exeptions, there are very limited data published to help us understand the costs of such initiatives, especially those related to the total cost of operation over time, and the way such costs are calculated are often not very transparent.
This post is more about Cloud Computing for the Business of Education/Administration and not so much related 1-to-1 computing with students.
While this post is a bit dated, Cloud Computing today has since matured and we've seen very real evidence that shows sizable cost savings (excessive of 400% many times). While most Cloud Computing vendors show a savings on capital expenses, Microsoft's cloud platform (Windows Azure) has demonstrated saving in both capital and operational expenses.
For education these cost reductions are too significant to ignore... especially with all the cost cutting these days. This blog uses a generic scenario to describe some procedural solutions possible with the cloud, but the BIG picture is cost.