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February, 2011 - Education - Site Home - MSDN Blogs
The Australian Education Blog
Ray Fleming's take on what's interesting in Education IT in Australia

February, 2011

  • Education

    The Lower Cost Cloud - Part Two


    imageYesterday I used an example of school examinations to show how IT has to cope with peaks and troughs (where the systems get intensive use for a few weeks each year, and then lie idle for much of the rest). Overnight I got an email from a colleague pointing me towards the video below - which illustrates  the exact scenario I gave.

    In New South Wales, Janison have delivered an examinations system for students , where Windows Azure Cloud services were used to deliver high capacity for a short burst - these exams run once a year, for half a day. In this case it delivered 300 virtual servers instead of having to build a data centre with 60 dedicated servers-  and it reduced the cost from hundreds of thousands of dollars to under $1,000. What Janison were able to do was switch on 300 Azure servers at 5am, run them for 12 hours, and then switch them off - and only pay for that time, at $40 an hour (NOT $40 per server per hour - $40 for 300 servers!).

    Which leads to a question: What's the business problem that you could now solve with the Cloud, that wasn't affordable to fix before?

  • Education

    The Lower Cost Cloud - Part Three (or should that be Part Free)


    After writing about the use of Cloud services in Education a couple of times this week, here's another bit of info - how to get yourself onto the Cloud for free.

    The story so far: Moving to the Cloud allows you to build more scalable and lower cost IT services for students, staff and parents. It's relevant whether you are a software developer wanting to develop a new application (or update an existing one), or you're an IT developer in a school/TAFE/university and you need to deploy a new application (like an online test, or a parental feedback system). The examples we're seeing, using Microsoft's Windows Azure allow developers to build, test and deploy an application in the Cloud very quickly, at very low cost. Basically, Windows Azure is a massive bank of servers, deployed in our data centres, that you rent to run your application, and which use .NET and SQL. You programme using the same techniques you use for apps for your own servers.

    There are some differences to running a Cloud service - for example, instead of ordering servers, licences and services, you simply sign up for a Windows Azure service using your credit card. Are you suddenly thinking: "Hold on, you want me to give you my credit card?". Yup, that's how it works. It's basically a service that you buy online, so like everything from eBay to Amazon, it's suddenly the land of the credit-card-consumer. In education and business, that can be tricky - we don't all wander around with a corporate credit card in our pockets. Your boss may not even have a way of repaying you for buying computing power on a credit card!

    So I was interested to see that the Windows Azure team have come up with a way of demonstrating the value to your boss, without first having to dip into your personal bank account. Phew Smile

    There's an introductory offer for Azure now which allows you to build and deploy apps, and get the computing power you need free until June. Basically, you can grab 750 free hours of an Azure 'Extra-Small Instance' - basically a virtual single processor Windows Server 2008 R2 server with 20GB of storage - without having to hand over any money (normally, you'd pay 5 cents an hour for this). Although you're only saving $37, what you're really getting is the chance to play with Windows Azure, and build something to wow your boss, without having to load the $37 on your own credit card. And hopefully, you can then demonstrate just how much money you'll save them. The table of Windows Azure costs makes interesting reading - if you wanted an 'Extra Large' server, with 8 processors, 14GB of RAM and 2 terabytes of disk, you'd pay less than a dollar an hour.

    (And a final bonus, if you want to read stories of other people moving to the Cloud with Windows Azure, take a look at this very fancy web page, where you can see a pile of case studies in very, very visual way)

  • Education

    DFEEST uses Live@edu


    I was browsing through the list of case studies on the Microsoft website today, and saw that we'd published a case study at the end of January on the adoption of Live@edu for colleges in South Australia.

    Image from Till Westermayer licensed under Creative CommonsI'm new to Australia, so the story reads a little bit like Alphabetti Spaghetti because of the acronyms like DFEEST (Department of Further Education Employment Science and Technology DFEEST), TAFE (Technical and Further Education) and SA (South Australia) - which then produces service delivery names like 'TAFE SA Connect'.

    Acronyms shouldn't surprise me really, as my own job role is as in the EPG PTU as Education IMDM - and that's not something that I've worked out how to say in a real-world friendly way.

    Anyway, back to DFEEST and Live@edu. They needed to build a new messaging platform for their 85,000 staff and students, either using their existing Novell Groupwise solution, or using an external email service. Once they'd decided to go to a Cloud service provider, they evaluated both the Microsoft and Google solutions, and chose the Microsoft Live@edu service. They used a Microsoft Gold Partner, Dimension Data, to deploy the service and migrate their existing email users to the cloud, and gave their users access to the full set of email, collaboration file sharing and instant messenger tools. And the whole shebang was implemented within 12 weeks.

    The big benefit for DFEEST is that they're saving money, at the same time as delivering a better services to their users. As Richard Rains (the ICT Services Manager at TAFE SA Adelaide North Institute) put it:

      If we had extended the existing hosted electronic messaging system to 85,000 students and staff in the TAFE SA network, it would have been cost-prohibitive. The total implementation and management costs for Live@edu were significantly less, so there has been quite a substantial cost saving.  

    You can read the full case study on the DFEEST Live@edu implementation here

  • Education

    Gathering clouds in education


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    It doesn't surprise me any more that what people perceive is happening is often different from what is actually happening.

    My example is the adoption of Cloud services in education, which is happening faster than people perceive - and it's also happening more frequently with Microsoft's Cloud services.

    Last week at the US Public Sector CIO Summit, we announced that another 16 government and education customers in the US had adopted Microsoft's Cloud services, including Portland Public Schools, the University of Albany, Fashion Institute of Technology, and Vanderbilt University. They join established customers including the states of California and Minnesota, California State University, the State University of New York, New York City Public Schools, the Kentucky Department of Education and the University of Georgia.

    These customers are moving onto the Live@edu email service (You can read the full press release here), and I guess that as Office 365 for education gets closer, there will be even more people planning to move to Cloud services - with two key drivers: reducing cost and improving the service levels for users.

    You can hear about the reasons that Portland Public Schools adopted Live@edu in this video.

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    Can't see the video above? Play the WMV version

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