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December, 2008 - The UK Higher Education Blog - Site Home - MSDN Blogs
The HE Blog
News and views from the Microsoft UK Education Team
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December, 2008

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    UKHE - What next? 2009, road to recovery.


    What an interesting year for UK Higher Education 2008 has been.  I guess that 12 months ago few of us would have predicted how the turbulent economic climate would effect the HE sector and perhaps we have only yet to see the start of the troubled times ahead.  Thinking back on 2008, here are just a few milestones, in no particular order:

    • New Times Higher Education League Table
      • seems to spell woe to the UK but showed some winners too.
    • Salary increase to HE staff
      • normally a time to celebrate but many are commenting on the financial burden  this brings.
    • RAE results
      • Hot off the press and full of praise for UK research which perhaps seems at odds with the Times Higher Ranking.  Some great winners here such as Queen Mary and Leeds but some worries too.
    • Student Numbers
      • A healthy round of recruitment academic year 08/09 and congratulations to all for recruiting so many.  Question, how many are still there? What does the future hold?
    • Minister change
      • David Lammy is now well established in DIUS and farewell to Bill Rammell who’s now at the foreign office.
    • Shared Services
      • HEFCE and AHUA get behind the concept of Shared Services and supports a 2 day conference in Loughborough where Tony Hey provided the keynote.

    imageThis is just a selection of the events during 2008 but give a flavour of what possibly lies ahead, change, uncertainty and competition.  What is certain in 2009 is that universities will have two overriding objectives, these namely saving money and to innovate their way out of a global downturn.  Two opposite ends of a spectrum, one end pointing at efficiencies and productivity and the other looking at new opportunities for increasing revenue and enhancing reputation.  Both objectives are equally important to survival and require.  Reflecting on the key university priorities research excellence, student experience, employer engagement and business agility then the only sure way to meet these is by innovating now.  Failure to make efficiencies will lead to a lack of resources for innovation and failure to innovate will be disastrous.

    The smart thing to do is to combine efficiency with innovation.  Over the next few months I’ll be posting stories of how universities are making prudent investments in technology to maximise return, such as how Imperial College is using Live Meeting to increase student numbers without sacrificing their experience, how the University of Northampton uses cloud services to provide better tools to students and how Cambridge University uses Microsoft’s HPC to “make users more productive”.  My colleagues over in the US are also coming out with some great stories about how our technology is helping universities differentiate and prosper.

    Another certainty for 2009 is that Microsoft and its partners will deliver solutions that will help universities meet their efficiency requirements and provide the opportunity for innovation.

    The challenge will become how a university meets its corporate objectives whilst facing a global downturn and those that achieve this will be tomorrow’s stars.  Innovation is now more necessary than before and just as technology has created opportunities and successfully transformed numerous business now is time for Higher Education.

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Microsoft’s cloud computing infrastructure


    Ever wondered how cloud computing datacentres were built?  Here’s a short video animation, pretty impressive.

    I like the way the trucks for Europe are certainly more European, clearly the animators have done their homework.

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    University of Manchester wins inaugural Jim Gray eScience Award


    Microsoft’s external research hosts an annual conference which provides a platform for the emerging field of eScience.  The workshop draws hundreds of practitioners including scientists and academics many of which demonstrate their projects in areas including astronomy, medicine, ecology and social sciences.

    This year, the conference featured a new award for great work in eScience, the Jim Gray eScience Award.  The inaugural award was given to Professor Carole Goble of the University of Manchester and was presented by Microsoft’s Professor Tony Hey.  I’m really pleased to see this go to a UK University.

    More details here and in Manchester’s words

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    SharePoint in Education – putting students at the centre of learning


    My colleague Mark A’Bear and Microsoft’s DPE* group have put together a brochure which goes someway to explore how SharePoint can be used to expand opportunities for learning beyond the classroom.  Now that we’re well into the 21st century, it’s time to put 21st century learning into action and this brochure shows just how some institutions (schools and universities) are already doing it.

    You’ll find it here:

    There’s a mini write up for both Coventry University and Durham Business School included, thanks to Peter and Colin for that.

    * – just dropped this acronym in out of habit, it means Developer & Platform Evangelism group

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    The Fat Lady sings


    EdTheFed“Ed the Fed” has written to me again. For those who are new to the blog, Ed’s a legend around here as the Microsoft UK Chief Cyber-Security Advisor. We call him “Ed the Fed”, because of his career history at the FBI and other places – which obviously makes him an ideal person to ask about Information Security. (This cutout of Ed sits in our atrium!)

    Ed writes in a ‘unique’ style, and given that we’re approaching Christmas, I thought this might make an ideal email to pass on to colleagues around campus. And Ed really does mean it when he signs off with his email address – he’s always keen to respond to questions and offer advice.

    For more good advice from Ed, take a look at “Ed the Fed says Stay Safe out There” on the FE blog from earlier this year.

    Anyway, over to Ed:



    . .. .Yes, pigs can fly and the “X-Files” programs are true, but When Will the Fat Lady Sing?

    A few days ago we read about the £38billion ponzi or advance fee scheme run by the former Chairman of NASDAQ – Bernard Madoff. Investment Securities International Limited, in London, was one of his operations. We didn’t need to read any tea leaves to know that the age old questions will again be asked, “How could this happen?”, “Where were the regulators?”, “How could reputable companies and institutions have been suckered?” We do know he was not a William Shakespeare’s ‘shylock’; in fact, he was “a most beloved human being”. The character references we hear about this guy remind me of the interviews of neighbours living next to Jeffrey Dahmer following his arrest, “He was such a nice person. We would have dinners at his home.

    Let’s get real! We all know how this happened. White Collar Criminals are the best in the league. Having investigated scores of massive complex fraud schemes during my career as an FBI Agent, there was always one common thread. They gave what their victims wanted. Hope. A couple of them even wrote to me from their prison cells because I gave them what they craved. Attention. So, this begs the very question: “Has the fat lady sung?” And that’s why I am once again going to print my list of online things for you to stay away from no matter how good they might look.

    1) Banks will NEVER ask you to verify your account details – they already have your details.

    2) MySpace, Bebo, Facebook, and ALL other social network sites are OPEN by default. Unless you want everyone (including that bully at school, the nosey neighbour, your boss, your mother, or the paedophile in Thailand) looking at your site, NEVER use it until you make it PRIVATE. Go into settings and follow the instructions. See Same goes with Instant Messenger – if you don’t know the person, don’t add them as a contact.

    3) Microsoft has not and NEVER will hold a Lottery.

    4) You know if you have relatives in Nigeria or West Africa. NEVER ‘help’ someone you don’t know move money from a foreign country – that makes you a criminal too!

    5) NEVER click a hyperlink in an email from someone you don’t know. And be wise, unless you know who is sending you the online Birthday or Christmas card NEVER click on it – it’s loaded with malware or will redirect you to someplace you don’t want to be. Miscreants and criminals frequently abuse the ‘Hallmark’ name because it is so recognizable. If your name is not in the body of the email, do not click on it.

    6) Wireless Internet: Make sure your wireless internet is secure (WEP is okay, WPA is better – and if you don’t know what these terms mean, read the instructions that came with your wireless device. If that fails, do NOT use your wireless internet until you find a trusted advisor to fix it (generally your neighbour’s 8 or 9 year old kid).

    7) There is no free lunch. NEVER reply to email requests for charitable contributions. You call the charity yourself and know who you are talking to.

    8) If there is a free lunch it’s because you are going to pay for it. NEVER reply to pop up ads telling you to run free anti-spyware or anti-malware to get rid of spyware or viruses. You can be certain they will ‘find’ bad stuff on your computer requiring you to buy what they want to sell. OR they will load stealth software onto your computer to steal what’s important to you.

    9) NEVER think you are smarter than the criminal. You may be, but if you reply, you lose, you will always lose.

    10) Falling in love at first sight does happen – and it’s fabulous when it does – but falling in love online, whether in Second Life or another online virtual world, can be dangerous. Hey, if you are scoring a 4 or 5 in real life, you gotta wonder why a 9 or 10 is chatting you up online.

    Happy Holidays everyone!

    See you in 2009.


    Edward P Gibson

    Chief Security Advisor

    Microsoft Ltd UK

    PS As always, I look forward to hearing from you at

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Internet Explorer patch – time to roll it out


    I’m sure you’ve already got this covered, but just in case you have missed it, we released the update for Internet Explorer overnight to resolve the security glitch that the BBC et al have been getting all frothed up about.

    If you’ve got automatic updates set up on your own computer, or your network, then it’ll be heading straight down the Internet to you now, but if for some reason you haven’t then pop across to the Microsoft Security Response Centre blog at to read more about it, and actions to take.

    “…we released security update MS08-078, protecting customers from active attacks against Internet Explorer. This update will be applied automatically to hundreds of millions of customers through automatic updates over the next few days. And, for our enterprise customers - with multiple systems within their networks – this update can be deployed through all standard security update management systems including, SCCM, SMS, WSUS, and Windows Update.”

    You may also want to drop an email around staff to check they have Automatic Updates setup on their home computers – you’ll help them to keep themselves safe online. (A little more advice for staff at home later today)

    I know – it’s the end of term and you were looking forward to a quiet week before everybody leaves you alone for a month (do I mean staff or students?) to get on with your string of upgrades, changes and system backups. But if nothing else, making sure you’ve updated will mean you can shorten every corridor conversation with people who say “What about this thing I heard on the radio…”

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    TechNet goes on tour




    Once again, based on customer feedback TechNet is hitting the road/rails and web again to deliver hi quality content and updates to a UK audience.  Space is limited so please book up to make sure UK Higher Education gets the most seats.  As usual, they are delivered by Microsoft technical professionals at level 200 “how to”.  They are free to attend.

    TechNet Live Events:

    10 February 2009. London: TechNet Event : Managing Windows Servers with PowerShell V2

    12 February 2009, Birmingham: TechNet Event: Microsoft Systems Management and understanding the role of System Center

    24 February 2009, Edinburgh: TechNet Event: Self Service Business Intelligence

    26 February 2009, Manchester: TechNet Events: “What’s New in Office Communications Server 2007 R2

    TechNet Live Webcasts:

    14 January 2009, Online TechNet Presents:  Protecting SharePoint with System Center Data Protection Manager 2007

    17 February 2009, Online: TechNet Presents:  Farewell old friend – how to say goodbye to SQL Server 2000

    4 March 2009, Online: TechNet Presents: Storage and Capacity Planning for Exchange 2007

    11 March 2009, Online: TechNet Presents: Office Communication Server 2007 R2 -  Voice Capabilities


    To keep up to date on all Technical events please subscribe to the TechNet newsletter


  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    The Cambridge super super-computers


    I’m not quite sure why I feel the headline above is a bit better than one my colleague wrote -  “Interoperable Supercomputer Attracts Wider User Base at Leading University” - but somehow I do feel that it’s a little easier on the eye. (Mind you, I thought about “What weighs 20 tons and uses the same power as 100 ice-cream machines?”)

    In a nutshell, Cambridge University have historically used a specialist Linux cluster computing system to do their advanced research calculations, but the people running the service recognised that it meant that it was used exclusively by very specialist researchers – because of the level of detailed technical knowledge needed.

    Now they’ve designed and implemented an interoperable HPC environment using Windows HPC Server 2008 and Linux, they’ve been able to open the system out to much wider use – as researchers who use Windows on their desktop computers are able to move their projects across to a Windows-based cluster easily, whilst still allowing the Linux users to run their projects too.

    Which means?

    Both groups of researchers happy and both have more choice.

    Paul Calleja, Director of High-Performance Computing at the university described what it will do when it goes into widespread use in January:

    FirstquotesUsers are more productive moving from desktop computers to a familiar HPC environment. With Microsoft we can evangelise HPC in more disciplines — lowering the barrier of entry for supercomputer use.Endquotes

    Why is this important? Well, as Paul puts it:

    FirstquotesCompetition is intense. Recognition depends on making a discovery first, and that comes down to how quickly you can perform complex computations.Endquotes

    GeekAlert: Only some of you will be interested to learn that the HPC cluster consists of 2,300 Intel core processors across 585 Dell servers, held within an 18-rack cabinet. It has 2,600 network connections, weighs 20 tons, and uses 230 kilowatts of power every week.

    The full case study is on the web

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Getting a new computer at Christmas


    Santa Claus is coming – and this year he’s going to have to cope with the credit crunch! There will still be loads of PCs bought this Christmas, and given the offers by retailers at the moment, there will be some great deals around.

    It might be a good time to remind your students & staff that they can buy Office 2007 Ultimate Edition at the bargain price of £38.95, through the Ultimate Steal offer. Not only will they get the top-end version (rather than the smaller Home & Student Edition), but they’ll pay less than the normal retail version.

    Of course, there’s some limits on who can buy:

    • They must have an email address than ends in “” to register & buy
    • HE Students must be in enrolled in an undergraduate or post-grad course
    • Staff must be employed for more than 8 hours per week (or 4, if teaching)

    Find out more at

    There are some downloadable banners and promotional materials available here

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Windows Live – the latest incarnation


    I’m considerably later than most of the pundits out there in writing about the latest release of Windows Live, but I’ve been busy exploring the new features in my new Live platform and wanted a better impression of what has been delivered before clicking the keys of my laptop.

    I guess many of you will already have seen some of the new features, but behind the massive headline of SkyDrive going from 5GB to 25GB of free online storage, there is plenty more to experience.  Perhaps one of the most significant is to take a look at what has happened to This is a complete redesign and re-engineering from the old page and seems to be the hub of a Live-based social networking tool.  It’s become the central place for all the Live services linking email, Messenger, Spaces, photos and many more.  One of the niceties of this is the personalised look and feel that is now consistent across all the Live services - from Hotmail to SkyDrive - with a wide range of choices to provide a design you want.

    Back to Social Networking for a minute. The homepage provides an overview of the people in your network and this seems to be a mixture of Messenger contacts, Spaces friends and Hotmail contacts – I'm still getting to grips with this but so far it’s helping me to connect to new people already.  An example is my colleague Remco - he is now one of my contacts in Live and I can now connect through to him and then his blog site which is in Dutch.  Not a problem because I can use the live translation to convert it to a more readable (for me) language.  There is also the possibility to link this with to draw contacts from there - not done this yet but perhaps soon.

    Many of the installed software components have changed too and I now have the beta software for:

    • Windows Live Writer (using it now)
    • Windows Live Messenger – much improved interface
    • Windows Live Photo Gallery – great integration with the live services
    • Windows Live Movie Maker – fairly basic method of being able to create simple movies and publish them to cloud based hosting sites – it’s still beta.

    As usual from me, my best advice is to try it out and see what it can do for you.  Naturally, all of this can be accessed from live@edu once your students have an active Live account.

    Interestingly, has picked up on my Office Live workspaces and integrated them straight into the home page, I find this a great way of keeping in the loop of activity in those workspaces.  It looks like Microsoft is increasing the visibility to Office Live Workspace so great to see this linked into my home page.

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