There’s recently been a lot of discussion within education about different models of ICT services. Individual universities have tended to use a mix of services provided on-premise and cloud-based services . And newer models of teaching and learning have accelerated the trend towards cloud-based services – and at the very least, services which absolutely rely on a 100% reliable Internet connection. And this hybrid model, relying on both on-premise and cloud-based ICT infrastructure, looks like it is going to become more common across education. (For example, Becta say that education can’t meet it’s carbon targets unless they dramatically reduce the numbers of servers in schools and colleges, so there will be non-IT pressures to make change too.

But this doesn’t just affect education – the integration of on-premise and cloud-based services is a hot topic for all IT Directors across business and the public sector, from small local businesses to global enterprises, and for all levels of government agencies and departments.

How do all of the dots join up in this new IT services picture? Well, thinking about it has prompted me to write a summary of what’s going on with cloud-based services at Microsoft, to fill in some of the picture from an education viewpoint.

Microsoft Online Services and Education

imageWe’ve recently made a public big shift in our emphasis towards cloud-based services; but behind the scenes there have been very big changes going on for years to get ready for the day that cloud takes off right across the world.

I’m going to use ‘Cloud’ to represent all of the Internet services that users and institutions might be using. It might be a mix of desktop and web-based software, or an entirely web-based service. Either way, it’s something that involves a web-service as part of the IT delivery.

imageSo here’s my summary of the cloud-based services that Microsoft do that may be directly relevant to education, and the essential differences.

The first service, Live@edu is education-specific, and not available outside of education. The other services are designed for a wide range of business and public sector customers, so you’ll see some overlap between the different services. Although that can feel like duplication, it also means that you’re able to select your online services rather like an a la carte menu – choosing the combination of options to match your exact needs.


imageLive@edu

Live@edu is a free hosted service, designed specifically for education, which allows you to outsource some of your IT infrastructure to the cloud. The starting point for many is email, where you keep your existing email domain (institution.ac.uk) and point it over to our email servers – and we then run an Exchange 2010 mail service from our data centres for you, with each student getting a 10GB email inbox. As part of the service, each student gets their own Windows Live ID, which also means that they can use the hosted SkyDrive service too – with 25GB of file storage hosted on the web for each student. In the future, we’ll also be integrating SharePoint into Live@edu, giving you more options for collaboration between users.

How do you buy it?

As it’s free, you can simply sign up directly at the Live@edu site

Where to find out more

http://www.microsoft.com/uk/education/further-education/products/live-at-edu.aspx


imageWindows Azure

Windows Azure is Microsoft’s cloud computing operating system. This is essentially a set of services that developers, software vendors and systems integrators can use to develop applications and new business models. We host the servers in the cloud, running cloud versions of the same platforms that would normally run in-house – things like web servers or highly-available SQL servers. The developers use exactly the same tools as today to develop their applications (eg Visual Studio) on their own desktop/in-house machines, and then they can choose to deploy locally or onto Windows Azure in the cloud.

Because our job is to run an agile, efficient, secure and trustworthy central service through our worldwide datacentres, it means that the developers don’t need to worry about building and managing virtual machines, patching operating systems, and designing their own redundancy system. That’s the Azure team’s job.

The Windows Azure Platform also includes AppFabric, which is an add-on to allow you to integrate your on-premise and cloud infrastructure, with access control and service interoperability

How do you buy it?

It is based on a pay-as-you-go subscription, calculated on the volume of data/workload that’s used. In a sense it is very similar to a normal utility, like gas and electricity – you use as much as you want, and pay for what you use. And just like the electricity company, it’s our job to make sure the capacity is there when you want to use it. It also allows you to convert capital expenditure into resource expenditure – because you aren’t buying big fixed capital infrastructure – just simply renting the capacity you need, when you need it.

Where to find out more

http://www.microsoft.com/windowsazure/


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Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS)

This provides hosted versions of applications – like Exchange, SharePoint, Live Meeting (for web conferencing) and Office Communications (for instant collaboration) . So instead of installing your own infrastructure, you subscribe to the BPOS services you need, either as standard configurations, or as a dedicated services with your own dedicated architecture. It’s especially good for education, as it means that users can access information from virtually anywhere, whether on our off campus.

One of the benefits of using a cloud service for something like SharePoint is that you can then focus your IT resources on adding value to business-critical projects, rather than on running utility services.

By making it a cloud-based, subscription service, it is easier for you to provide the right subset of resources for the right users – choosing both the users and the services, and then not having to worry about the deployment and maintenance costs.

How do you buy it?

You simply license the users for the applications you want – on a per-user, per-month basis. There’s no additional device licences required, or any usage costs. It’s just a flat-fee monthly subscription. To reduce the monthly cost, you can roll this under your existing Volume Licence agreement

Where to find out more

http://www.microsoft.com/online/en-gb/default.mspx

And yes, there’s a free trial (available on the link above)


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Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online

This is a cloud-based customer relationship management service that can be accessed through Outlook or an Internet browser, and has rich integration with Office applications – Word, Excel and Communicator. It’s a comprehensive service which includes marketing automation, sales force automation, and customer service and support capabilities, as well as integrated workflow and business intelligence. In education, this is most likely to be valuable to independent schools, colleges and universities.

The beauty of this cloud service is that you can start a deployment in a small way, without having to build your own infrastructure, and then grow it as you need to. The cloud system is built on the same code as the on-premise system, so you can move between deployment options in the future.

How do you buy it?

It will be a per-user, per-month subscription, but unfortunately the online version of Dynamics isn’t available in the UK yet – currently it’s only in North America. But it should be crossing the Atlantic this autumn.

Where to find out more

http://www.microsoft.com/online/dynamics-crm-online.mspx

And yes, there’s a free trial (available on the link above)


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Microsoft Private Cloud Infrastructure

This is a set of resources, products, and management tools that allows you to run your own private cloud (or contract another organisation to do it for you), using the best practice techniques that we have developed for our cloud infrastructure. It enables you to dynamically pool, allocate, and manage resources to deliver flexible/agile Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Capabilities like self-service portals let your end-users rapidly consume IT services by self-provisioning (and decommissioning) infrastructure on a shared server fabric, virtualised by Windows Server Hyper-V and managed by System Center. Departments are thus able to deploy their applications with a lot more speed and agility. This allows your own IT team to focus their time on solving business problems rather than worrying about keeping the basic infrastructure running. It provides a less complex, more agile and more efficient infrastructure, in-house. And there’s also a hybrid model, where you contract a service hoster to provider a ‘virtual private cloud’, perhaps as a top-up to your in-house infrastructure.

How do you buy it?

Well, because it is based on a set of best practice advice, you’ll find that the key components are being built into the products you already have – like Windows Server 2008 and Hyper-V – and the Systems Management Server products. And in addition, we’re releasing free toolkits – like the Dynamic Infrastructure Toolkit for System Center and the Dynamic Data Centre Toolkit for Hosters.

Where to find out more

http://www.microsoft.com/virtualization/en/us/private-cloud.aspx


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Office Web Apps

The Office Web Apps are online companions for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. Office Web Apps provide quick viewing of Office documents and basic editing capabilities. There are two methods of accessing Office Web Apps.

  • Individuals (eg your students off campus) can use the Web Apps in Windows Live, and the files are stored online in their webspace on their SkyDrive.
  • For institutional use, they can be hosted on premise on your SharePoint 2010 or they can be hosted with Microsoft Online. In this mode, files are stored within your infrastructure. It is mainly intended as a companion to the full Office suite, but available over the web when you don’t have Office installed, or when it speeds up sharing and collaboration.

How do you buy it?

Individuals can access it on Windows Live using their Windows Live ID. For institutional use, every licence for Office 2010 under a volume licence scheme (such as a Select licence) includes an additional licence for Office Web Apps.

Where to find out more

http://www.microsoft.com/office/2010/en/office-web-apps/default.aspx


imageForefront Online Protection for Exchange

 
This is a fully hosted service for managing the inbound and outbound flow of e-mail, through e-mail gateways with multiple filters that provide organizations with a defence against e-mail-borne malware, including spam, viruses, phishing scams, and e-mail policy violations. In addition, the service has a Web-based administrative console for writing rules to help enforce your organisation policies governing e-mail usage (eg limiting which domains users can send/receive email from etc)

How do you buy it?

You would normally buy it through your existing volume licence agreement, on a per-user or per-device basis.

Where to find out more

http://www.microsoft.com/online/exchange-hosted-services/filtering.mspx


imageWindows InTune


This is a new future cloud service for managing Windows PCs over the web, announced on 19th April with a limited beta programme. It allows you to use a single web-based console, with tools for updates, malware protection, troubleshooting, remote assistance, security policy configuration and desktop virtualisation. The aim is to simplify PC management and improve the end-user experience. It also includes the upgrade licences for Windows 7 Enterprise, anti-virus and other management tools for the workstations that are covered.

At the moment this isn’t available in the UK, but we have confirmed that the service will be available within a year of the beta programme. It is mainly designed for smaller networks, so may only have limited use within universities on the main campus, but it may be an option for remote ad-hoc infrastructure.

How do you buy it?

You will pay per-device, per-month, and it can be purchased individually, or as part of your existing volume licence agreement.

Where to find out more

www.windowsintune.com