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The Australian Education Blog
Ray Fleming's take on what's interesting in Education IT in Australia

  • Education

    What does a cloud data centre look like?


    Cloud data centreSometimes it is difficult to imagine what the ‘Cloud’ looks like. We know it means that the data is somewhere out there in ‘the Cloud’, and that means a data centre somewhere is looking after it. And we use those Cloud services all the time - whether that’s to check our email, search the web, use a social networking site, or even just a plain web site. And they run services like Windows Live, Windows Azure, Xbox Live, Office 365, etc. Somewhere, up ‘in the Cloud’, there’s a data centre running all of this…

    So what does a Cloud data centre look like?

    The Microsoft Global Foundation Services team have just released a video which looks at today’s data centres, and the construction model behind them - for example, how they are cooled, and their physical configuration works. These cloud data centres support over 200 online services, and serve more than a billion customers and 20m businesses in over 70 countries every year - and you’ve definitely used them today. But very few people actually get to see inside our data centres, so the video is a chance to see it for yourself.

    The Microsoft Datacentre tour video

    Building these Cloud data centres isn’t just about the conventional ‘IT’ aspect - there’s a also a huge amount of work that goes into the efficiency of the building, and especially the power usage. Data centres can be huge power-hogs, with as much data used for cooling and lighting as for running the servers. The video talks about PUE (Power User Efficiency - the measure of data centre efficiency), and how they are now building data centres which are made from recyclable materials, with a low PUE of 1.15 (about 85% more efficient than today’s ‘average’ data centre). So, although I’ve focused on what a cloud data centre looks like, what is more important is the design features that have been built in to improve energy usage, and maximise flexibility (and as you can see, to my uninformed eye, the answer to ‘What does a Cloud data centre look like’ is ‘Quite ugly’).

    So, hopefully, the next time you login to Xbox live, or a student completes an online assessment, you have a better idea what’s going in the ‘Cloud’.

    Learn More

    You can read more about the story behind the video in this commentary, and the MS Datacenter blog has a lot more detail on the whole journey from the first data centre to today’s massive, highly efficient Cloud data centres.

  • Education

    The value of the Microsoft Australia Partner Conference for education partners


    APC Logo

    I’ve mentioned the Australian Partner Conference before, but it’s now less than a month away (it runs for three days in the Gold Coast from 23 - 25 August 2011). If you haven’t yet booked your place (or if you have and want to make the best of it), then here are some additional thoughts on specific opportunities for our partners in the Education market.

    Meet key members of the Microsoft Australia team

    During the three days, you’ll be able to meet up with some of the key individuals that work in our Education business, including our brand new Microsoft Australia Education Director. It will be possible to arrange meetings with them - just drop me an email to let me know you’d like to schedule a time

    imageGeorge Stavrakakis is the Microsoft Australia Education Director, having replaced Craig Foster at the beginning of July (Craig moved up to become Microsoft Australia’s Enterprise and Partner Director). George has overall responsibility for all of our education business and programmes, including both our sales team and our educational programmes such as the Partners in Learning initiative.
    imageMark Kenny is our National Sales manager for our large education customers - including all of our state education business (with each of the 8 key states) for 6,752 schools and 60 TAFEs within the government sector, and the university sector. Of course, Mark doesn’t do this all himself - his team covers individual states, plus a team that cover the 42 universities nationally.
    Ken RankinsKen Rankins is our National Sales manager for all 2,815 private and Catholic schools. His team work with the larger schools individually, as well as with the peak bodies for the Catholic schools.

    Sessions in the 2011 APC Agenda for Education partners

    As well as the general sessions, there are two specific sessions covering the education market in depth, on Thursday 25 August.

    Quick Wins in the $3BN Education IT market in Australia

    Education is a deep user of technology, with a huge installed base, and a large investment plan for technology-supported learning. In this session, we will hear from education customers about their investment priorities. We’ll also map Microsoft’s products and solutions into this, to see where the revenue, profitability and services effectiveness potential is. We’ll also look at case studies to forecast future market opportunities within the Australian market.
    11AM - Thursday 25 August

    From desktop to Cloud – the changing face of your future education business

    Analysts highlight education as one of the early adopters of Cloud services, and the Australian market is leading the changes worldwide. We’ll look at the changes of ICT use in education – at the desktop, on students’ devices and in the infrastructure. What does that mean for you? And what is the impact upon your revenue, profitability and sales model? This session will help you to understand how it affects your business, and what opportunities it opens.
    12PM - Thursday 25 August

    When you book your APC places on the registration site, you’ll be able to reserve these sessions, so that you can plan the rest of your schedule around them. For the full APC agenda, download the full detail of the APC 2011 Track Sessions here.

    APC Logo

    Find out more on the rest of the APC 2011 agenda, and how to register

    Don’t forget if you’re a Gold or Silver Competency Partner, then you get your first ticket free, saving you up to $1,496.

  • Education

    Energy efficient university data centres in Australia


    Reading last week’s Campus Review, there’s an article about the cost of energy, the impact on Australian universities and the fact that computing is a large element of their university electricity usage:


    Power bills to force an IT re-think

    If electricity prices surge post-carbon tax, universities could face huge extra cost burdens because computing is a prime suspect when it comes to sucking up power.


    The article quoted some statistics - like 7.1% of electricity consumption in Australia is by computers - and then went on to say that up to half of universities’ power bills might be for IT. This is because of the large fleets of computers on campus, and their associated datacentres. The other statistic that caught my eye was that the average Australian university data centre has a PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness) rating of 1.9 - which means that for nearly every $1 spent on running the servers, there’s another $1 spent on electricity that’s ‘lost’ - in cooling, inefficient energy design, lighting etc.

    The lower the PUE, the more effective data centre is (a PUE of 1.5 means you’re only ‘wasting’ an additional 50 cents for every $1 of computer power). So, if we’re building data centres in the Cloud to run services like Windows Azure, how can anybody afford to keep them running?

    Inside a datacenter

    We have a team, called Microsoft Global Foundation Services, who have the job of building clouds. Or at least, building ‘the Cloud’ – they design, build, run and support our global data centres which are at the hub of all of our cloud services. Our nearest datacentre to Australia is in Singapore. I don’t know about the Singapore one, but the Chicago one is 65,000 square metres - about 10 football fields.

    Obviously, at the rate we’re building these data centres, and the huge cost involved, there’s a constant journey to work out how to make the data centres increasingly efficient – especially because of their energy usage, which is a huge part of the cost of running a data centre.

    Now, some of the lessons we’ve learnt aren’t things you can apply in your university server rooms easily (like cleaning the roof and painting it white, which reduces cooling cost), and playing around with the wall positioning to improve air flow. Having said they aren’t things you could easily do, that’s probably wrong - you could paint the roof white if you could cost justify it?

    However, some of the things that have been learnt could be of use to you, and help you to reduce your carbon emissions and running costs – like making a trade-off in processor performance to achieve the most efficient Performance per Watt per dollar (which is one reflection of the true cost of providing a server service). We’ve also made adjustments to the temperature servers are cooled to – and switching to using more free air cooling to replace air conditioning. And we’ve even experimented by operating servers outside under a tent. The Microsoft data centres were quoted as already hitting a PUE of 1.22 in 2008.

    Front Cover - Download the Energy efficient datacentres reportThe good news is that as we do this work, we publish it in a consumable format. If you’re interested in how to help reduce your server running costs, or in what we’re doing when we’re building massive data centres, then I can recommend “A Holistic Approach to Energy Efficiency in Datacentres” from the Microsoft Global Foundation Services team.

    There is also a lot of detail about different projects going on to look at energy efficient computing, within data centres and elsewhere, on our website. Some of the research up there is around Cloud Computing futures, data centre monitoring and optimisation, reducing disk energy consumption, universal parallel computing and power aware developer tools.

    And finally, if your interest knows no boundaries, then you might be interested in the MS Datacenters blog, which tells the story of how we’ve grown our data centres around the world over the last few years, and shares some more of the lessons we’ve learnt.

    Hopefully, there are some lessons which will help you to deliver more energy efficiency - and save money - in an Australian university data centre.

  • Education

    Updating the Ten of the Best University websites build on SharePoint


    I had to update the Top Ten University websites build on SharePoint over the weekend, as one of the websites I’d listed wasn’t actually built on SharePoint

    (Whoops - turned out their internal sites run on SharePoint but they’d used something else for their external site Sad smile. And because I’d chosen to only look at external websites, that ruled it out).

    Anyway, there’s now a new entrant in the list of the Top Ten University SharePoint sites, which is the Olin Business School, at the Washington University in St Louis - with a nice website that puts all of the key information in the right place - making it easy for prospective students and their parents to get a good idea of the Business School’s offerings:


    Learn MoreRead the original blog post - Ten of the best - University SharePoint websites'

  • Education

    The 5 factors which affect school performance


    imageAs I mentioned on Friday, I’m currently reading “School performance in Australia: results from analyses of school effectiveness”, a research report published in 2004.

    When the report starts to take a look at the comparisons between secondary schools, using the main data sets that they have available for school-level analysis, there are five factors which they isolate as being key ones. In the statistical analysis, they call these the ‘control variables’, but they key message is that these are the five things external which have a big impact on the attainment of students. If you remove the influence of these from school-level analysis, you can then analyse the difference in performance between secondary schools more effectively.

    The 5 factors which affect school performance

    1. Previous student attainment (through GAT scores)
    2. Socio Economic Status of the student intake
    3. School size, based on number of students
    4. Rural/Urban location
    5. School sector - Public, Private or Catholic

    Why are these the key underlying 5 factors which affect school performance?

    1. Previous student attainment (in Victoria they use GAT scores to measure this)
      This is used to ensure that you are measuring the ‘value added’ to students’ performance, not just their final achievement
    2. Socio Economic Status of the student intake
      This is used to remove bias from a school being in a particular area which may affect it’s student intake. For example, if a school is located in an area with a higher proportion of social housing, statistically the students are likely to be less engaged with education (eg higher absence rates), with less well educated parents.
    3. School size, based on number of students
      OECD research quoted in the report shows that as school size falls below 1,000 students, average student attainment falls too
    4. Rural/Urban location
      Research shows that this is an important influencer of school performance within Australia
    5. School sector - Public, Private or Catholic
      When you don’t take this factor into account, then the analysis of school performance tends to show schools grouping into three bands, representing the different sectors.

    By taking these factors into account when looking at school performance, you are able to get a better idea of how each school is performing compared to other schools, and a better idea of the ‘value added’ to individual students. (You can read much more about this from page 28 of the report. You’ll also see on Page 29, that they used a different set of factors for primary schools, which included density of indigenous students and transient families).

    The question I have in my mind now is:

    If you are a school leader in Australia, do you have the right performance data available, in your analysis systems, to allow for these 5 key factors? Do the reports that you receive help you to allow for these factors?

    Learn MoreRead the full 'School Performance in Australia' report


    NB I know that there will be readers who will see this as an over-simplification of the analysis. My aim isn’t to reinterpret it, but simply to share what I’m understanding as I’m reading it. And I’m sure you’ll correct me if I’m wrong - either by adding a comment below or hitting the ‘Email Blog Author’ link at the top right.

  • Education

    What factors influence school performance in Australia?


    imageI am halfway through reading “School performance in Australia: results from analyses of school effectiveness”, a research report published in 2004. It looked at the performance of Victorian schools, as part of the Shared Future project. Although the report dates from 2004, almost all of the data and findings are still absolutely relevant today.

    As I’ve been reading it, I’ve been looking for snippets of information that would be relevant and useful for a leader/teacher in an individual school. Here’s some of those:

    • Teachers who are more satisfied with their jobs produce better results (Page x)
    • Where teachers rely more often on traditional teaching methods the results are lower (Page x)
    • High performing schools adopt policies facilitating student engagement…such as extra-curricular programmes and student support (Page xi)
    • There is no relationship between school expenditure and school performance - although there’s a note that later analysis showed there may be ‘some positive effect’ (Page 6)
    • Smaller schools perform worse in international reading tests (Page 12)

    So, if you want to raise standards in your school, the data says that having more satisfied teachers, with innovative teaching practice, and extra-curriculum programmes will make a difference. And that is even more critical to do if you are from a small school.

    The other thing that surprised me is that students’ socio-economic status has a direct link to school absence (Page 20), which is interesting, but perhaps something that individual school leaders can do much about directly?

    The Executive Summary has a list of key findings which are interesting at a system level, but probably less useful to an individual school seeking to improve learning (mainly because they are factors which they have little control over), but here they are, for completeness:

    • Performance in schools is strongly linked to student background
    • Australian students are highly segregated along social and academic lines
    • Segregation of students tends to intensify between-school differences in student outcomes
    • Schools differ in effectiveness
    • Effective schools are found in both the government and non-government sectors
    • Some schools consistently perform well
    • Effectiveness extends beyond cognitive outcomes
    • Some school factors help raise performance

    Learn MoreRead the full 'School Performance in Australia' report

  • Education

    Ten of the best - SharePoint University websites


    After the list of school websites built on SharePoint from earlier in the week, here’s another handy (and subjective!) list of Ten University SharePoint websites. These websites are all public facing, and by building them on SharePoint, it means the universities can manage the content in exactly the same way as they manage their other resources - and use SharePoint’s workflow to manage the publishing process. But enough of the SharePoint Content Management story - let’s get down to the pictures:

    Click on any of the images to link to the live website

    1. Northern State University, USA
      Northern State University website

    2. Saïd Business School – University of Oxford, UK 
      Saïd Business School – University of Oxford

    3. Coventry University, UK 
      Coventry University

    4. University College London Hospitals, UK 
      University College London Hospitals

    5. Harvard Business School Executive Education, USA 
      Harvard Business School Executive Education

    6. Furman University, USA 
      Furman University

    7. University of Wales, Newport, UK
      University of Wales

    8. The University of Colorado Denver Business School, USA 
      University of Colorado

    9. Chalmers University, Sweden
      Chalmers University

    10. Washington University in St. Louis - Olin Business School, USA

    Learn MoreDownload the PowerPoint versions of Top 10 University SharePoint websites

  • Education

    Training resources for moving education to the Cloud - the Microsoft Partner Network



    There’s a new set of Cloud resources on the Microsoft Partner Network to help education partners plan their business strategy as they move to the Cloud. They include an overview of the strategic decisions that partners and customers face, along with customer case studies of early adopters.

    These resources focus on Windows Azure, which means it will be most useful to independent software developers considering strategies for application migrations, and systems integrators who provide infrastructure services for education establishments.

    Note, you’ll need your Live ID login to view these resources

    Migrating Education applications to the Cloud

    The Introduction Guide ‘Connect to the Cloud: Targeting Public Sector Applications for Windows Azure’ is the place to start, as it includes an analysis of the typical costs for migrating applications into the Cloud (whether this is your own, or customers’ applications), and also addresses some of the key data security, privacy and sovereignty issues (and strategies for managing these issues through private and public clouds), and then goes on to describe some of the likely priority scenarios that you might consider for using the Windows Azure cloud:

    • Custom application development
    • Database migration, to increase their availability
    • Extending SharePoint into the public Cloud
    • Building highly-scalable web sites
    • Developing applications for devices and mobile users
    • Scaling social media marketing campaigns

    Interactive Cloud training for Public Sector Partners

    There are four separate training modules available, or you can use the link at the bottom for the home page for all of the courses.

    • Getting Started with the Cloud for Public Sector Partners
      Appropriate for managers and sales roles, this course clarifies cloud computing terminology, provides a graphic structure of Microsoft Cloud Services offerings and key differentiators, and highlights how cloud services address Public Sector industry needs. It looks at Public Sector business opportunities available to partners, and also addresses the approach to data privacy, data security, and data sovereignty of particular interest to Public Sector customers.
    • Microsoft Software as a Service (SaaS) Solutions for Public Sector Partners
      This course introduces the key Microsoft SaaS solutions, including the Office 365, Windows Intune, and the partner-hosted Information Worker solutions. Sample solutions aligned to Microsoft’s industry solution areas are shown, as well as successful case studies along with steps and resources for building specific solution expertise.
    • Microsoft Platform as a Service (PaaS) Solutions for Public Sector Customers
      This course introduces the key Microsoft PaaS solutions, including the Windows Azure platform and CRM. It also looks at Windows Azure middleware solutions and successful deployment examples. The course also includes steps and resources for building specific solution expertise.
    • Microsoft Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) Solutions for Public Sector Customers
      This course introduces the Microsoft Hyper-V™ Cloud, including the unique features and competitive advantages; the advantages it provides related to data privacy, data security, and data sovereignty for Public Sector customers; and successful deployment examples for both customers and partners. This course also includes steps and resources for building private cloud expertise

    Learn MoreAccess the home page for Cloud Online Courses for Public Sector Partners

  • Education

    Desire2Learn talk about learning analytics and student mobility


    Microsoft WPC logo

    We’ve just finished the Microsoft World Partner Conference in Los Angeles, which included handing over the Worldwide Education Partner of the Year Award to Desire2Learn for their Learning Management System. The Desire2Learn solution covers a wide range of areas - including learning management, analytics, supporting mobile users and lecture capture.

    Anthony Salcito, the Vice President for Microsoft Education, recorded a short video interview with Jeremy Auger, Desire2Learn’s Chief Operating Officer, to talk a little about the more recent parts of their education learning management system.

    Desire2Learn’s Jeremy Auger talks with Anthony Salcito of Microsoft

    Learn MoreLearn more about Desire2Learn

  • Education

    Microsoft Australia University newsletter



    The Australian Education team at Microsoft includes a Higher Education Account team - a group that looks after all of our university customers across the country.

    Each quarter, they circulate a newsletter, Ozmosis, which contains relevant news on a range of subjects.

    The next edition is due to be coming up soon, so it’s timely to mention that you can email Lucy Segal to be added to the circulation list.

    The February  2011 newsletter contained a range of items, including: Kinect; special student deals of laptops, Microsoft certifications and Office software; information on the BizSpark programme for student entrepreneurs; case studies; and information on using the Microsoft Cloud services for university research.

    If you’re interested in seeing what’s gone out before, here are the links to the back issues:

    Email Lucy to subscribe

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