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  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    150 applications and 2,000 workstations. And only 24 hours in a day.


    Around 80 IT Managers of colleges and universities attended last year's IT Forum - a conference dedicated to looking at how Microsoft technologies can be implemented to support business critical IT services.

    One of the technologies that most grabbed people's attention was the SoftGrid applications, which allow you to deliver a virtualised application to a desktop, without having to install on every machine. By using application streaming, it means you can avoid having to install on every single machine, and even run incompatible applications at the same time on a single PC. Some education institutions have piloted, and then deployed it during this year (there's even one local authority using it to handle school deployments).

    We've now repackaged it as part of the Microsoft Desktop Optimisation Pack (MDOP for short), which is available to Campus and School Agreement customers at pretty low cost.

    You may wonder why people are deploying it? Well, this research from IDC, from 132 IT Managers using the package, point out the results that they have seen:

    • 52% agreed that it simplifies desktop administration, automating processes for deploying, patching, updating and terminating applications.
    • 56% agreed that it allows them to rapidly deliver applications to a broad user community whilst reducing installation and testing work.
    • 52% report that is has accelerated application lifecycle management.
    • 65% reported that it had reduced the volume of help desk calls and the length of calls.
    • And..(whisper this carefully)..43% reported that they will be able to reduce the IT resources dedicated to desktop administration.


    When asked to describe the savings, almost half described them as 20%+ a year (one in 10 described them as 60%+). The diagram on the right shows the breakdown.

    There's a lot more in the report about the other aspects of MDOP, including Asset Inventory Management and Advanced Group Policy Management, and a nice summary of the different MDOP components. In a nutshell:

    • Microsoft SoftGrid (formerly Softricity SoftGrid)
    • Microsoft Asset Inventory Service (formerly AssetMetrix)
    • Microsoft Diagnostics and Recovery Toolset (formerly Winternals Administrator’s Pak)
    • Microsoft Advanced Group Policy Management (formerly Desktop Standard GPOVault)
    • Microsoft System Center Desktop Error Monitoring (formerly Agentless Exception Monitoring from Ops Manager 2007)

    The particular problem it resolves in universities and colleges is how to manage hundreds of incompatible applications, and deploy them to shared computers, IT labs and specific departments. But judging by the report, you'll solve your problems at the same time as those of your service users!

    Read the full IDC report and then read more about MDOP

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    IT FORUM: Windows Server 2008 in education


    I'm at the IT Forum event this week - it's a week long tech-fest about current and future technologies from Microsoft. This year's event has 5,200 delegates and we're all sitting in a conference centre on the shores of Mediterranean in Barcelona (not quite as wonderful as it sounds - it was 10-degrees when we got here, and I didn't even think I needed a coat...brrrr). We're joined this year by around 80 IT support staff from universities around the UK, all here for the same thing - to get a behind-the-scenes, and in-depth look at the software that runs their services, and to see how new releases can help to improve your service delivery. 

    I'm going to do my best to bring you some of the headlines of the event, and their relevance to education.

    Windows Server 2008

    The opening keynote focused on Windows Server 2008 - the first of a launch wave of products due to be launched on 27th February. It will bring a wide range of new features and functionality which will be useful for education, such as:

    • Network Access Protection - allowing you to build policy based protection for devices connected via wired connections, wireless or VPN to your network. With this, you can set a quarantine mechanism, where newly connected devices are automatically quarantined until they have run through a security policy check, and that allows you to enforce your policies (eg, all Windows devices must have the latest security updates installed and up-to-date anti-virus definitions). The ability to differentiate between policies for wired and wireless is useful - for example, it could help you to minimise inconvenience to wired staff, whilst maximising security for wireless student users.
    • Security by design - the core idea of Windows Server 2008 is that you only install the components you need, and not the reverse (today's model installs virtually everything on the server, and expects you to switch things off). This will provide better base-line security, and mean you will need to spend less time patching your servers with the latest updates. The outcome? Improved up-time, and less time spent fire-fighting.
    • PHP applications will run in Native mode on Windows Server 2008.  So what does this mean for your learning applications like Moodle?  Well, a while ago we announced database neutrality for Moodle, which is the M part of the LAMP stack. You can already run Moodle on MS SQL Server 2005.  Now it seems organisations will be able to run their entire Moodle Learning Environment on a Microsoft platform - clearly this is something that you might want to investigate further, especially if your VLE environment sits alongside your core systems.

    More detail on the Windows Server 2008 and Hyper-V announcements


    This has been the buzzword of the afternoon. And what's available helps meet some of the the unique challenges of education IT systems - the expectation from users that they can run whatever applications they want, at the drop of the hat. Oh, and that you'll keep the IT Services up and running whenever they need access.

    We've got virtualization technologies coming out of our ears at the moment - Applications virtualization (through SoftGrid/Microsoft Desktop Optimisation Pack); Presentation virtualization (through Terminal Services); Desktop virtualization; and enhanced Server virtualization (through Windows Server 2008).

    • Server virtualization under Windows Server 2008 has been officially called "Hyper-V" - an enhanced way of running and managing virtual servers, with an enhanced set of services through System Centre (System Centre Virtual Machine Manager & Data Protection Manager were announced today), designed to better integrate the management of your physical and virtual IT services. On the stage here at IT Forum, Bryon Surace showed us a server hosting 4 flavours of Windows Server 2008 (including the 32-bit and 64-bit versions) running alongside a full Suse Linux server, in a single virtual environment. He also announced new tools to integrate Linux servers onto the Windows Server 2008 platform.
    • Application virtualization options seem to be expanding rapidly at the moment. Although there are not a wave of new product announcements (although Beta 1 of the Microsoft Application Virtualization was announced), it has become clearer how the different approaches can allow you to enhance your service delivery, and give your users a little more flexibility without having to compromise your core service delivery.

    More info on the System Center announcements

    * Which is it? Virtualisation or Virtualization? Normally, I go for UK spellings, but the latest versions of the Oxford dictionary seem to be shifting to a more agnostic approach on Americanised spellings - on this occasion, I'm going to go with it, because we've got product names in here too. Does it really matter? Do you care? I've know that some of the online training providers find they get a lower completion rate on versions using American spellings - sometimes 50% of the normal rate. Does that mean I've lost half of you half-way through this article? Discuss.

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    When data goes bad...a student study


    We've been doing a lot of work with students recently, and from that I've learnt quite a bit about their ICT habits. Two years ago universities reported that three-quarters of students turn up with their own PC, with some reporting that 99% of students do. Judging on the research panels we've held recently, that number appears to be pretty much 100% across the board now. And the mix has shifted towards laptops, although not completely.

    But the bizarre thing is how they are used. You a Fresher arriving at uni. You've got a laptop. What do you do with it? Well, it appears that you leave it in your room, and just carry your data around on a memory stick. Again, that's what virtually every student told us they did.

    So what happens if you lose your memory stick? Or it suddenly packs up (as my favourite one did this week, losing an important spreadsheet I hadn't copied elsewhere). Well, the data goes with it.

    In this world of web-enabled everything, there's got to be another way. That's where SkyDrive comes in. It's part of the Windows Live @ Edu mail service, or UK students can just sign up separately for it. It gives you a 500MB password-protect storage space on the internet, where you can store files, and if you want share them (I use it for most of the downloads I want to make available on this blog) you can just pop them onto the public folder in your SkyDrive. Or you can make it available only to specific people.

    It's the equivalent of giving all of your students a 500MB memory stick, and backing it up for them every minute of the day.

    Of course, it's not something that every student might want. But when you start to put together some of the new online services, you can see how they can be put together in a way that enhances service delivery to students:

    • Hosted web-based email with a 5GB mailbox, with Windows Live @ Edu
      • with mail forwarding, so that students can automatically forward their email address to their "every day" email address
    • 500MB file storage with Windows Live SkyDrive
    • Live Spaces for blogs, social networking and other places for students to publish, share and talk.
    • And next? Well, Office Live Workspaces take the SkyDrive idea into a context specifically for Office users (due for launch in 2008), so that you can save your Word, Excel and PowerPoint files directly from within the software
  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Getting students and staff started with Office 2007 - some handy help


    Even amongst those universities who are moving to Office 2007 this summer, one common fear is whether students/staff will be able to quickly transition to the new Fluent interface in Office 2007. If you want more help, then I've just come across these brilliant add-ins for Office 2007. Basically, it adds a new menu bar to your tab called "Getting Started".


    This is the tab for Word 2007, but there's also ones for Excel and PowerPoint 2007. And it adds on an interactive guide to find commands, links to online training, video demonstrations for overviews and getting started, and even links to the online discussion forums. If you're installing this summer, then perhaps this is another thing you can do to help your staff and students to get started quickly on the first day of term...

    Download the new tabs using the links below:

    Word 2007 Add-in: Get Started Tab

    Excel 2007 Add-in: Get Started Tab

    PowerPoint 2007 Add-in: Get Started Tab

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Online file storage - Windows Live SkyDrive


    500MB of free online storage that can be private, shared or public.

    This has been coming for a little while, and then when it arrived, it was initially only for users in the US. But now, it has been activated for customers in the UK. And this has some really useful applications in education. SkyDrive gives users 500MB of free online file storage - password protected by their Windows Live ID. And they can be stored in private, shared or public folders - allowing you to decide who has access to each folder.

    What could you do with it? Well, things like...

    • Backup up important files, using personal folders.
    • Access files from any PC with Internet access - making it easy to move files between a personal PC and a shared university PC - for you or your students.
    • Work on a project with colleagues or amongst students, using shared folders.
    • Publish files, so that students can read them, but control their access so that they cannot add files or delete them - useful for assignments?

    Some of the features added to this Beta version are:

    • An upgraded look and feel – new graphics to go along with your new features!
    • “Also on SkyDrive” – easily get back to the SkyDrives you’ve recently visited
    • You can see thumbnails of your image files
    • Drag and drop your files right onto your SkyDrive, using the handy applet
    • Embed your stuff anywhere – with just a few clicks, post your files and folders anywhere you can post html

    Sign up for your personal SkyDrive here

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    SharePoint Applications Showcase Event


    SharePoint Applications Showcase on 25th June, Microsoft Campus, Reading

    Following the success of the March Event we are running a second SharePoint Applications Showcase. This event will be a great opportunity to see education specific applications and web parts from our partners, designed for SharePoint. Approximately 20 partners will be there on the day, showing examples of:

    • Search
    • MIS
    • ePortfolio
    • VLE
    • Library Management

    The event will focus on 'show' rather than 'tell' and representatives from each of the partners will be available to talk to you in more detail. In addition representatives from the UK Education team will be available for discussions as well as other attendees from likeminded organisations.

    To register call us on 0870 166 6680 ref 1032338563 or register online

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    How prepared is your university for receiving Open XML documents?


    I've had a number of meetings in the last few weeks with Universities up and down the country discussing their plans to deploy Office 2007.  One of the questions I've asked all of them is "what will you set as the standard file format?"  So I was wondering what universities at large were thinking about how they might prepare for an expected rise in the amount of attachments received that their users might have difficulty working with.

    As you may know, the standard Office 2007 file format is the open standard based Open XML.  So, for example, if I was to send you a spreadsheet that I created in Excel 2007 would you be able to open it in Excel XP, 2000 or 2003?  More to the point, will your academic staff be able to open documents they receive from their students who have recently been out and bought a new laptop with Office 2007?

    So the answer to the question "what will you set as the standard file format?" that most have come back with is a resounding vote for Open XML, which is great news for increasing the use of Open Standards.

    The good news for universities who are not planning to migrate to Office 2007 is that file converters are available in the form of a Compatibility Pack and I know that many universities are already deploying this in preparation.  More information and access to the Compatibility Pack is here.

    I'm hoping that universities will start to think about deploying this conversion pack to enable staff to be ready for the start of term with new students and new file formats.

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    SkyDrive - 5GB of free storage


    I like SkyDrive. Before it was invented, I used to have to load any files I wanted to share onto an FTP site somewhere, and then write clunky links to them. Now, I just drag my files onto my SkyDrive, and then provide a nice graphical link to them, like this:

    But up until now, it's been called Windows Live SkyDrive Beta. I've just received an email telling me that it's been officially released, and the size has been increased to 5GB of free storage!

    Anybody can get a SkyDrive, as it's free - just sign up for it using your Windows Live/Passport ID, and you too can have 5GB of file storage online, with file storage areas for private, shared and public files. Gone are the days of moving files between home and work with a USB drive (which inevitably got lost somewhere between the two places).


    Imagine - all of your students currently carrying their data around on a USB memory stick (and busily plugging them into USB ports all around your campus), could be using this. What would it cost you to give every one of your students 5GB of Internet-accessible storage on your network?

    We include SkyDrive in our Live @ Edu service, which means that you could automatically provide accounts to all of your students, linked to their university email address.

    More info on SkyDrive


  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    The Ultimate Steal - 36 days until the end


    The countdown to the end of the Ultimate Steal student offer has started. The deal (Office 2007 Ultimate edition for £38.95) ends at the end of April. Lots of students have used the deal to get their own (legal) copy of Office (our earlier research says most students use MS Office, but few paid for their licence) - but there are still students who don't know of it. How do we know? Well, answers like these in the post-purchase survey:

    FirstquotesMore coverage. Here (******* University) the Ultimate Steal is the best-kept secret on campus, very few people know of it.Endquotes

    FirstquotesMy only suggestion is to advertise more, as I am shocked that I have only just discovered this incredible offer. If you keep this up, I will keep participating and telling my friends! - although tragically I graduate next year :( Endquotes

    FirstquotesMake it more widely known. The site of my university does not give a clue about this offer. Only the portal writes about the offer and this can lead to wrong purchases. Look at my case: I made a wrong purchase before I realised the Ultimate Steal offer!Endquotes

    FirstquotesI found out about the ultimate steal from a bulletin board that pops up when we login to the university system. The bulletins are rarely read. You might like to put up a few posters at universities and colleges. I do not know how many purchases you have already had from *, but you will now have a few more.Endquotes

    If you want your students on campus to hear about the offer before it closes, you can let them know about it by some of the other universities' techniques - put it on your portal, email students and pop up some posters etc. There's a mini-html flyer (for email) here, and some email/portal text here.


    I always like reading verbatim responses from surveys - there's always one or two that make you laugh. Here's one that made me laugh (and, it seems, casts doubt on my parentage and the spelling & grammar capabilities of today's undergraduates)...

    FirstquotesAt the university of ********* it is not widely known that we can get a cheap version of microsoft office although to be honest when it comes to writing essays i think microsoft should offer a much more standerd package for less money because lets face ti word should be part of any windows operating system as standard jesus christ the b*****ds earn enough as it is and i dont care if acording to the economy if a company doesnt increase its profits every year its seen as a failureEndquotes

  • The UK Higher Education Blog

    Ultimate Steal - Guernsey, Jersey and the IoM


    I forgot to blog this last month. If you're a student in a Jersey, Guernsey or Isle of Man college with an email address ending in ‘’, ‘’, ‘’ or ‘’ then you're now eligible for the Ultimate Steal offer (Office 2007 Ultimate edition for £38.95). You'll have to act quickly - the offer ends at the end of 30th April.

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