Things are changing very rapidly in the way that ICT services can be delivered and used in education. Although most of the developments from major ICT providers aren’t specific to education, they are addressing the issues that education faces today.

Windows Azure logo blOne of the developments is the Windows Azure system, which is designed to allow you to run services and develop applications for a cloud-based system, instead of having a bigger pile of servers within your university.

The detail of how these services work, and how you can use them to build applications and services for your university is covered in tons of details on website, but what I’ve been missing is a simple overview.

The official summary blurb for Azure describes it thus:

The Windows Azure platform offers a flexible, familiar environment for developers to create cloud applications and services. With Windows Azure, you can shorten your time to market and adapt as demand for your service grows.

Windows Azure offers a platform that is easily implemented alongside your current environment.

- Windows Azure: operating system as an online service
- Microsoft SQL Azure: fully relational cloud database solution
- Windows Azure platform AppFabric: makes it simpler to connect cloud services and on-premises applications

And I’ve found a short video that provides an overview of Windows Azure in a much more digestible form. Having watched it, I can now describe it to other people much better (and now fully appreciate why it’s a good thing!).

The best simple introduction I’ve seen for Windows Azure

If you can’t see the video above, then here’s a direct link.

Interesting though: Steve Marx has blogged about how he made this video - using just PowerPoint & Community Clips. I’m envious of his talent.

The issue that is highlighted by the video is how you can use the Azure platform to build an application or service that grows over time. But in the world of universities, I imagine that it also has a critical capability to be able to provide 'bursts’ of services, to match the natural rhythm of the academic year. For example, providing application and server bandwidth for processing applications, or around setting up student residence services, which may be heavily used in some parts of the year, but only need a trickle of support the rest of the year. And also the ability to drop down to 5% of normal usage for the summer break. Unless you’ve got a highly virtualised and actively managed datacentre, it’s likely that today it’s difficult to scale for the troughs as well as the peaks.


If this is a bit lightweight for you, then you may prefer to read the Introducing Windows Azure whitepaper (PDF) – just one of many whitepapers on Windows Azure