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February, 2010 - Microsoft UK Schools blog - Site Home - MSDN Blogs
The UK Schools Blog
News and views from the Microsoft UK Education Team
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February, 2010

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    Virtually saving money

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    Virtualisation again. Just to remind you if you’re still not up with it, virtualisation is shorthand for replacing your bank of network servers with just a few, more powerful ones, each housing a number of virtual servers. And why has it suddenly become a talking point? Because although the principle’s been around for a while, it’s become both easier and cheaper with the advent of Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V.

    I’ve already mentioned the Lodge Park College Hyper-V virtualisation project, and also the £90,000 that Wootton Basset school will save with virtualisation – big money saving, and much more efficient. Now I’m hearing about other schools going down the same route. One is our old friend West Hatch School in Essex, one of the Windows 7 early adopters, last Summer Holidays (in fact, the first in Europe to deploy the released version of Windows 7)

    Leading the West Hatch virtualisation project is Information Systems Manager Alan Richards. Everything Alan’s done since he arrived in May 2008 has been meticulously thought out, and it’s not surprising that before he considered virtualisation, he decided to get the network itself right.

     

    We’ve rebuilt the whole network, wired and wireless, from scratch with new fibre-optic and network cabling and a managed wireless solution. The school wants to move forward, but with the network as it was it was never going to happen. It would have been like running a Formula 1 car on a gravel track. You’ve got to have basic infrastructure.

    Then, that work done over the Summer term 2009, Alan turned his attention to the servers.

    As at Lodge Park, Alan will reduce the number of servers in the server room, in his case from 24 to 9, five of which will run the Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V virtualised environment (that’s a mouthful!). Each server is more powerful and so more expensive than the ones it replaces, but there are still clear savings by reducing by 15 servers, not only on capital expenditure but on maintenance and electricity – the electricity bill alone should come down by £4,000 a year.

    Savings are important, but Alan’s also interested in the gains in reliability and efficiency.

    At the moment if a server has a fault, that service it provides ceases to function for the whole school

     

    A virtualised server system, though, has a clever way of dealing with breakdowns. If a virtual server, or even a whole physical server fails, it instantly hands over its work to another part of the system. The rest of the school doesn’t even notice.

    But to get these benefits, you have to do the installation properly. First, you need to know how many new servers you’ll need, and that’s not straightforward because you want built-in redundancy – and expandability because even in the short term, the demands on a school’s network are always going to increase.

    “You can’t just pluck the answer out of the air,” says Alan. “You have to sit down and work it out.”

    Then, you have to work out how the virtual servers are going to be distributed among the new physical servers so none has more than its fair share of work.

    “ You could take a wild guess, or do a *** packet estimate,” says Alan. But somehow you know he’s not the *** packet type.

    “I’ve got performance logs running on the network that will give me the definite answers,” he says.

    At the moment, the new hardware’s arriving, and installation and testing will begin. It’ll take some time – two or three months – but you can put money on it being right, providing a better working environment for staff and students.

    I’m going to follow Alan’s progress, and I’ve asked him if he’ll share some of his experiences – peaks and troughs – and any advice that will help other schools to learn from his journey.

    imageYou can read Alan’s posts on the learninggateway.net blog that he shares with Alex Pearce






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    Free anti-virus protection for staff and student owned computers

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    I was suprised to discover I hadn’t blogged this before. So if you’ve renewed an anti-virus subscription for your home computer since last October, when this was launched, then I’m sorry!

    We have launched a free anti-virus programme, Microsoft Security Essentials, which is for Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7, and comes with lifetime updates. It’s simple to install and very easy to use. And free.

    The “free” bit is restricted to home users, because we don’t believe that this is the right solution for a school-wide anti-virus. For school, you need a centrally managed anti-virus solution, where you can force settings so that all of your machines are updated automatically all the time, and that your users can’t switch off updates. For school use, there’s Microsoft Forefront, which is a cost-effective managed protection system (free trial here)

    Here’s the official blurb:

    Microsoft Security Essentials provides real-time protection for your home PC that guards against viruses, spyware, and other malicious software.

    Microsoft Security Essentials is a free* download from Microsoft that is simple to install, easy to use, and always kept up to date so you can be assured your PC is protected by the latest technology. It’s easy to tell if your PC is secure — when you’re green, you’re good. It’s that simple.

    Microsoft Security Essentials runs quietly and efficiently in the background so that you are free to use your Windows-based PC the way you want—without interruptions or long computer wait times.

    You can download Microsoft Security Essentials free from http://www.microsoft.com/security_essentials

    If you’ve got students in your school who are bringing in files on a memory stick, or uploading things to your Learning Platform, then it’s in your interest to help them get protected, to reduce the risk of virus infections on your school computers.

    Here’s a banner and link that you could put onto your school website or learning platform:

    And there’s also an image that you could use for your noticeboards in school for staff or students.



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    Kodu Game Lab – using gaming to interest students in programming

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    I know it’s half-term, and therefore most teachers aren’t in school. But then, there’s more time to play with new stuff in half-term! So I thought I’d blog it anyway.

    There aren’t enough students studying computing subjects – this PC Pro article’s chart shows just how bad it is expect to get – and at least part of that is that their is a disjoint between computing and real-world ICT. However, there’s also the issue that it has become increasingly difficult to engage students in programming, especially when they are younger – leading them to want to study computing at A-level or for a degree.

    imageThis explains just two of the reasons that we’ve been working on a visual programming language for a few years now. In January, we announced Kodu for PC, which is designed specifically for children to be able to create games. And made it available as a free Technical Preview. It’s described as “an end-to-end creative environment for designing, building, and playing your own new games”. Originally, Kodu was just for the Xbox, but now there’s a PC version, you can run on it on a standard classroom PC. And then your students can share it on your school network, so that other students can play (and learn).

    As the Kodu team describe it, it’s all about using programming as a creative medium:

    The core of the Kodu project is the programming user interface. The language is simple and entirely icon-based. Programs are composed of pages, which are broken down into rules, which are further divided into conditions and actions. Conditions are evaluated simultaneously.

    The Kodu language is designed specifically for game development and provides specialised primitives derived from gaming scenarios. Programs are expressed in physical terms, using concepts like vision, hearing, and time to control character behavior. While not as general-purpose as classical programming languages, Kodu can express advanced game design concepts in a simple, direct, and intuitive manner.

    It’s already being tried out by some schools in the UK, and there are a number of projects in education worldwide:


    • In the USA, in Detroit, the Explorer Elementary school has been running the Explorer Kodu Club.  Children are showing up early for school to work on their Kodu projects while learning about programming, design, and narrative development. 

     

    imageYou can find out all about Kodu, and download the free Technical Preview version for PC at the Kodu Game Lab







  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    Upgrading and virtualising to save money

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    imageThe Microsoft worldwide case studies site always throws up some interesting things to read. But a couple of weeks ago I noticed that a new case study of a UK school had been published by our services team, in partnership with Dell. It’s from Lodge Park Technology College, in Northants, and tells the story of their adoption of Windows 7 and the virtualisation of their servers – and how that saved them money.

    You’ll probably want to read the full case study for the details, but here’s the highlights I picked up on.

    Virtualising Servers saves money

    They are saving £6,000-£10,000 every year on hardware by virtualising their servers. As Stephen Peverett, the Network Manager, says:

    I used to work on a four-year lifecycle for servers alone. With 20 servers, we were replacing six servers a year at approximately £2,000 per server. If I can reduce those 20 servers with six machines running virtual servers I’m cutting my costs by more than half.

    I think the savings are actually greater than Stephen quotes – because it will have saved them around £20,000 a year on electricity – because it’s reduced the need for air-conditioning, and moved to six physical servers from 20.

    And the virtualisation also adds a new capability to update and repair servers with no downtime. This issue has become more and more critical in schools, when students and staff are accessing learning platforms and other systems 24-hours a day. There’s not even a mid-summer break when systems can be shutdown for maintenance.

    Upgrading to Windows 7 extends the life of hardware

    The ability to run Windows 7 on older computers will further increase savings.

    We don’t have to upgrade our hardware to run Windows 7. And it works well with both existing and new hardware. The ICT suites equipped with Windows 7 are extremely popular with students. Windows 7 will be a catalyst for collaboration and help our students work faster

    imageRead the full Lodge Park case study on the Microsoft.com website




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    Creating school websites – guidelines on usability

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    When I wrote the Good Blogging Guide last year, I concentrated on audience, purpose, search and writing like a real person (I hear voices saying “Look at yourself Ray, you’ve forgotten it all already!”). What I spent little time on was the technical side of blogging and the web – navigation, usability, content such as images, and other areas.

    But the COI (Central Office of Information) for the Government have produced an excellent, and easy-to-read, set of usability guidelines for creating usable website in the public sector. It includes technical and design advice, as well as some very good pointers towards writing effective web content.

    image

    If you’re involved in a school website project – whether that’s external for parents, or internal for students and staff, it is a very worthwhile read. Useful too if you’re planning a new SharePoint 2010 project.

    Downloads

    You can download the PDF’s of both guides too:




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    Finding good practice with ICT around the world

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    One of the easiest ways to see what is possible is to look at what other schools have done. We publish lots of 'case studies' on our worldwide website, and I had a quick look to see how many examples are there for UK Education institutions.

    image

    The Microsoft Worldwide Case Studies database is where all of our written case studies are stored - they are available to view online, or download. Currently, there are 35 UK Education case studies in the database, and 14 of them have been produced in the last 12 months. It is pretty easy to search - here's some subsets of the total base of case studies

    And worldwide:

    My favourite case studies of the last year?

    To be honest, I often find myself first reading these because of where they are. And, well, there’s been a pile of case studies of education institutions switching to Live@edu from a wide range of climates, from hot to cold – India to Siberia:

    And then I get drawn to ones in places I’ve been to in my backpacking days, like:

    • Waikato in New Zealand (beautiful town, and also now running Windows 7)
    • Mississauga in Ontario (now solving critical data-centre cooling issues too!)
    • Pune in India (was quite hippy when I was there, but now they are collaborating in the cloud apparently)
    • Melbourne in Australia (which is a very lovely city, and presumably better because of their CRM system)
    • Cairo in Egypt (where the Nile University are not only doing clever things with clusters, but also seem to have a magic phone number “1NILE”)

    I’m sure you’ll find your own favourites on the worldwide case studies site.

    imageQuickly find all the other Case Study posts on this blog





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    Internet Safety – how to get support in school

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    imageLast week I wrote about some of the resources available if you’re running any kind of Internet safety teaching your school. And I mentioned that on we had 100 volunteers out in schools on European Safer Internet Day, delivering training for pupils, parents and staff. And that over the last year the volunteers had trained 12,000 young people and 2,000 teachers on online safety.

    What I forgot to say was how you can get a free-of-charge volunteer to come along to an event for pupils or parents at your school.

    The first choice would be to book through the Think U Know website, where schools can register to receive a “Protect” volunteer. They will put you together with a CEOP trained and CRB-vetted volunteer from Microsoft, Visa or O2.

    If you specifically want a Microsoft volunteer, then the best thing to do is to email my colleague Karina Gibson, who manages all of our Internet Safety Volunteer programmes. She’ll do her best to find a local Microsoft volunteer, and if she can’t she’ll help you connect with a volunteer from the main programme.

    imageQuickly find all the other Internet Safety posts on this blog






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    Windows 7 in Welsh

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    We’ve just released the Language Interface Pack for Windows 7 in Welsh. It’s free as a result of the collaboration between Microsoft and Welsh Language Board. As the press release makes clear, we pay for the work, and the Welsh Language Board provide the translators through the Cymen translation company of Caernarfon. They then get busy translating big swathes of Windows 7 into Welsh for us.

    You can read the announcement from the Welsh Language Board for more details.

    Download the Welsh Language Pack for Windows 7

    I’m told that this page contains the download (well, it certainly looks Welsh, doesn’t it!)

    image

    There's a complete How to Install with Welsh Language pack here

    imageWe have plenty of other things in Welsh too – like Office 2007, Office 2003, Digital Literacy Curriculum and SharePoint ar gael in Gymraeg. And there are 48 other languages for Office here

    Things you didn’t know about Welsh?

    • The longest place name in the United Kingdom, and one of the longest in the world, is
      Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (St Mary's church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the rapid whirlpool and the church of St Tysilio of the red cave).
    • Welsh is spoken by about 25,000 people in the Chubut Valley, a colony of Welsh immigrants in the Patagonia region of Argentina.
    • To secure communications without using complicated cryptography, Welsh regiments serving on peace missions in Bosnia (now known as Bosnia and Herzegovina) simply used their native language.


  • Microsoft UK Schools blog

    TechNet webcasts

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    Each month the TechNet and MSDN teams over in the US host a wide range of webcasts on technical subjects. And, of course, next week’s half-term holiday might give you a chance to catch up on some professional development.

    As they are held on Pacific Coast time, they first one of the day is normally timed perfectly for the school day – at 4pm, after the stamping of tiny feet has left the corridors.There are others, later on in the evening, which are also good, but I know that you’re going to need a burning interest in something to turn up for a 9pm webcast.

    You can find this month’s webcasts on this page (all UK times), and also look at the future ones.

    Key February Webcasts

    Here’s the ones I think might be useful for network managers in UK schools. Unfortunately the appropriate February ones all look like 7pm ones. Mind you, maybe you need an excuse to skip out of Corrie.

    Office and Outlook – helping you delegate effectively
    Wednesday 17th, 7pm Microsoft Office System Webcast: Effective Delegation (Level 100)
    This one’s all about managers delegating tasks to their teams. Probably should watch this before your head teacher does!

    SharePoint 2010 and social networking
    Thursday 18th, 7pm Momentum Webcast: Social Computing with SharePoint 2010 (Level 100)
    Ideal to understand how the new social networking features of SharePoint work, to help you plan for their use within your school.

    Exchange 2010 scalability
    Thursday 18th, 7pm TechNet Webcast: Getting the Most Out of Exchange Server 2010: Performance and Scalability (Level 300)
    This looks at the product team’s guidelines on scalability and performance, and what tools are there to help in Exchange 2010.

    Windows 7 deployment
    Monday 22nd, 7pm TechNet Webcast: Everything You Wanted to Know About Windows 7 Deployment in 90 Minutes (Level 200)
    Described as a “whirlwind tour of the tools and methods used to deploy Windows 7”, from manual, to automated light-touch and zero-touch installations.

    What does Level 100/200/300 mean?

    I can’t find an ‘official’ definition, so here’s my scale:

    • Level 100: If you can logon to a webcast, then the content won’t go over your head
    • Level 200: There’ll be some technical content, but the majority will be in plain English
    • Level 300: Propeller-Heads only. Personally, I only get about 30% of the Level 300 session
    • Level 400: As Steve Ballmer would say, “Developers, Developers, Developers”


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