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

  • Education

    Reducing IT costs in education


    There is continuing pressure to reduce IT costs in education, perhaps to find resources and budget for new projects - and that means cutting the cost of running an existing project. But when you start thinking about reducing IT costs, how often do you consider the impact on other budget centres? I ask the question because there are many occasions when a small increase in resource in IT will deliver a much bigger reduction in resource or budget outside of IT. For example, reducing energy costs instead of reducing IT costs.

    In terms of power management of desktop computers, there is often a significant saving possible, because of the large amounts of computers in a typical school, TAFE or university. But because the costs are not visible to IT, it can be missed.

    But there's a four figure saving possible, every year - so perhaps I can share some advice as four steps that could save you $15,000

    1. Go down to your local Bunnings and buy a power monitor plug. They cost $20-$30, and they'll let you monitor all kinds of devices.
    2. Plug it into one of your computers for a week, so that it can tell you how much it costs per week/day/hour.
    3. Walk around your school/campus at 5 o'clock and count the number of unused computers that are switched on.
    4. Work out what it's costing you per year for unused computers left switched on
    5. Go and see the principal with your back-of-the-envelope stats

    If you've not done something like this before, I guarantee that you're in for a surprise!

    Although there are lots of other case studies, you may be interested to read how we've rolled out power saving settings within Microsoft (and if you think your teachers are hard to please with technology, imagine what it's like providing IT services for 100,000+ IT geeks).

    Our IT team at Microsoft have recently implemented a worldwide power management strategy across 165,000 desktop and laptop computers used within our business right around the world, to contribute to our goal of reducing our carbon emissions by 30% over five years.

    The benefits that they've calculated are:

    • 27% drop in power used by managed desktop computers
    • 12.33 kilowatt hours saving per desktop per month
    • $12 to $15 saving per desktop computer per year

    imageIn the case study, the framework of power settings are discussed, along with the practical implications and the lessons learnt. For example, the first method used was a simple policy setting on setting up a new user/computer, but they found that 80% of users simply permanently overrode the setting within 30 days. The second method was to have an extended 60-minute time-to-sleep setting, which would be refreshed regularly, so that even if the user changed it temporarily (eg to stay on for a presentation) it would reset again later.

    The team relied very heavily on System Center Configuration Manager, which meant that they could apply policies and measure the impact of them over time. The chart on Power Environmental Impact is one of the examples from the pilot. Having data displayed in this way allows you to demonstrate the savings impact to your senior management team, and calculate reduction in your carbon footprint or energy bills.

    You may not need to use System Center - you can make a start simply for free by changing some of the default power settings when you deploy new computers . But if you've got hundreds of computers, it might be worth starting to calculate just how much money you might save with a much more comprehensive power management strategy.

    Learn MoreRead the full Microsoft IT case study on power savings with Windows

  • Education

    The Lower Cost Cloud


    Before I left the UK, I had plenty of meetings and discussions with Microsoft partners and education customers about the impact of Cloud services in education - not just hosted email and collaboration services (like Live@edu), but also the data centre services used by developers and software companies, like Windows Azure. Cloud services are evolving in a way that challenges the fundamentals of IT provision in education - matched with an evolving user base who want anytime, anyplace access to services and data.

    Even hugely centralised systems, with large core databases, aren't immune to the changes driven by Cloud services - for example, the large economies of scale (and resulting lower bills) that come from using the shared datacentres that are part of the Cloud. And the other key benefit is the ability to scale a service to match the users - both upwards and downwards - which is really useful in education, which has big peaks and troughs of system usage:

    • Learning Management Systems with 38 weeks a year of heavy student use, and then 14 weeks of minimal use.
    • Examination systems with three weeks of very high use, and 49 weeks of nothing.
    • Admission systems that have a peak period of 3 months, and then go quiet for 9 months.

    In all of those examples, the ability to 'switch on' lots of Cloud servers for a short period, and then then 'switch off' is very different to the conventional model, where you build a private server farm capable of handing the peaks, with long periods of idle use in the troughs. And sometimes the cost of the servers needed for the peaks would be so prohibitive the whole project was too expensive.

    So moving to the Cloud in education isn't just about outsourcing your data centre - it is also about building a different model of service delivery that could allow you to deliver what was previously unaffordable. And if you can just switch it on and off like a light switch, then you can think quite differently.

    For an example of how the Cloud can help, read about how the Windows Azure service was used to rapidly develop and deliver a web service as part of the Queensland relief efforts.

  • 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

    Australian Education Case Studies


    There are plenty of other education case studies from Australia on the worldwide case studies website. Here's an interesting batch:

    • Catholic Education Office Paramatta uses SharePoint 2010 to run a new knowledge management system to serve their 78 schools and 6,500 staff. What's interesting about their approach is that they have implemented it as a collaboration system, including both a wiki and a workflow system. As Leon Bro, the Principal Consultant at the Artis Group, put it “It is everything to everyone. It is a document management platform and a business intelligence tool. It is a presentation layer and a data source. It’s an information management tool and full enterprise architecture in a box. It’s everything you need it to be.”
      Read the full CEO case study
    • Curtin University moved to the Cloud, with Live@edu last year, with the help of Dimension Data. Their IT challenge is to support 40,000 students on 11 campuses across 3 countries, which they solved by using a hosted-email and collaboration system in the Cloud, replacing an existing on-site system which had become difficult to maintain, and limited for users.
      Read the full Curtin case study
    • Drummond Memorial Public School used SharePoint to help their students and teachers collaborate with their partner schools, using wikis and blogs as a way of engaging people.
      Read the full Drummond case study

    You can see all of the Australian Education case studies from the last year online. (And this handy link will show you the last 90 days worth of global education case studies)

  • Education

    Reducing IT costs in education - Part II


    Last week, when I wrote about reducing IT costs in education, I talked about saving money by cutting down power bills. And there are plenty of other ways to reduce IT costs in education. Not every way is going to be right for every school, TAFE or university, but how about this pile of suggestions that might have something perfect for you:

    Pennsylvania Charter School saved $45,000 a year by changing their expense reporting and asset tracking systems, using SharePoint 2010 [Read more]

    Oxnard Union High School District saved $160,000 a year by switching off their old PBX systems, and introducing Lync Server - and also increased the availability of telephone services for staff [Read more]

    Florida Virtual School will save $2m over the next five years by switching from using Lotus Notes to our Cloud email and collaboration services [Read more]

    Fraser Public Schools in Michigan saved $600,000 on their new email and collaboration system by using the Live@edu Cloud service, instead of replacing their in-house system [Read more]

    The European University Institute saved $345,000 by moving to the Cloud for email too [Read more]

    Dundee High School saved $15,000 by using Windows MultiPoint Server to replace end-of-life computers in their IT suites and library - reducing the amount of hardware they needed, whilst improving the student experience [Read more]

    Aston University, in the UK, save $300,000, by replacing existing email service with Live@edu [Read more]

    And finally, Palm Beach State College saved $500,000 by consolidating their technology, and streamlining their IT operations [Read more]

    I know that saving money is only one aspect of IT service delivery, but if you need to improve the service you deliver whilst also reducing IT costs in education, then perhaps there's some examples above that might help?

  • Education

    Do you take technology for granted until you need it? Collaboration in a calamity


    Sometimes new technology fades into the background, and you forget what you did before it existed. But sometimes, you forget what it can do for you - you fall into the trap of using the bits you've always used, and not using the newer features until you're forced to.

    For me, one of those 'forced to' moments came when I had to turn a face-to-face training day into an online day, to cope with terrible weather that closed our training venue. It pushed me into using Live Meeting and remote webcams and conferencing - and I've not looked back since.

    I saw a similar story today when reading the news on the website (which is a regular read for me, as it helps me to keep up to date with the kinds of business and technology challenges our customers face). The story's from a university in the States, so we're not likely to be hit by the same kind of snow blizzard, but this summer seems to have been full of other types of weather problems, so I'm sure there are parallels:


    Winconsin blizzard vs data center: How Marquette won

    When Marquette University's IT department deployed unified communications tools to improve collaboration among faculty and staff - IT staff collaboration wasn't the priority. But as it turned out, Microsoft's Lync suite of voice, videoconferencing and instant messaging tools proved to be IT's life raft during a snowstorm-related data center calamity.

    During a January blizzard so snowy that the Milwaukee-based university closed, the HVAC units that run Marquette's data center short circuited, after wind-driven snow piled up and then melted inside the air conditioning condensers on the roof.


    I'd recommend reading the full story online, because there are plenty of lessons in the story if you're running a team - whether or not you're running a data centre!

  • Education

    How to deploy Windows 7 to 200,000 computers


    The Microsoft IT team have the job of running an complex and rapidly-changing IT infrastructure for a very demanding user base - our own. Sound familiar to you too? Well I guess it should, because almost every education institution has exactly the same challenges and budget pressures.

    The team are often on the leading edge of deploying our technology to our own in-house users - for example, not only supporting users running Windows 7 betas, but also rolling out Windows 7 to 84,000 clients within 2 months of the release day. They also have a role of documenting the processes and experiences, and publishing them for our customers to learn from.

    The story of how Microsoft deployed Windows 7 internally is online now, and here's some of the nuggets I picked up from it:

    • The team focused on providing a self-install process for non-technical users (yes, I did my own!)
    • Simultaneously, they wanted to reduce help-desk calls
    • They had to support 46 types of laptops, and 22 types of desktops - and offer 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows
    • Data security was increased by rolling out BitLocker Drive Encryption and DirectAccess at the same time
    • And they had to test 1,500 applications for compatibility

    And somehow, they did - seeing up to 3,000 Windows 7 installations a day, to get to 84,000 clients within 60 days, and a total now of over 190,000 internal clients around the world.

    Learn MoreThe article on how they did it, and the lessons they learnt (and the constraints they had) makes a good read if you're in an infrastructure planning role.

  • Education

    Tasmanian Polytechnic links 35,000 users across 20 campuses


    There was a nicely written informative case study published on our global website on Tuesday about Tasmanian Polytechnic. It takes a long-term view of the changes that they have been making to increase collaboration for their staff, and the journey that they have gone on with their collaboration and communication systems. The end result now is that they have created a truly integrated communication and collaboration system, and then been able to help users save time and allow them to focus on their collaborative projects. (It's also interesting that it isn't driven by a move Cloud services, but is currently based on the Polytechnic's in-house infrastructure)

    Owain Williams, the Executive Manager of the ICT Services Branch, is quoted quite a few times in the case study. With all of the technology we have available to hand in our office, I guess I've taken for granted the way that it has changed my working style over the last five years. But Owain tells the story of how it has been a positive change for the staff in Tasmania:

    "It used to take 20 minutes to set up every teleconference meeting, but our very first meeting using Office Live Meeting and RoundTable* took a total of three minutes to arrange. People are more inclined to work together when it’s easy to do so, such as being able to put on a headset and launch an impromptu video phone conversation to complete a document, resolve an issue, and so on.”

    “One of the beautiful things about Exchange Server 2010 is how wonderfully straightforward it makes it for our growing number of mobile users to stay productive wherever they are. They can spend more time out of office because they can access everything—including email messages and files. Being better connected makes for a richer experience.”

    “The experience with our Microsoft tools is so much richer in terms of interaction and ease, compared with what we had before, that people actively want to use the solutions. Our new forms of collaboration are producing more valuable results in less time, too—with no car ride. In the short amount of time since implementing the Unified Communications solutions, I’ve seen collaboration go way up, both among internal colleagues and with vendors and industry experts from around the country.”

    Learn MoreRead the full case study on the worldwide Microsoft case studies website


    * RoundTable is a conference phone and video camera from Polycom with a built-in, 360-degree camera that uses advanced speech recognition to follow the conversation and identify active speakers

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