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April, 2010

  • FE blog

    What is our CIO thinking about?

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    imageIf you are responsible for IT in a large organisation, then one of the biggest challenges you face is the huge pressure from internal and external forces for constant change – and also to reduce your budgets. The Microsoft Chief Information Officer Tony Scott is no different. I recommend taking ten minutes to watch the video he’s just recorded “Critical Trends within IT 2010” where talks about critical trends facing the IT industry, including cloud computing, virtualization, and the ongoing need to reduce costs and improve efficiency. He also talks about the changing role of the CIO, which is becoming more central to all organisations.

    This video is part of a larger series created by the Microsoft IT team (the ones who keep our internal network moving forward). Part of their role is to share their good practice with our customers. After all, they are often deploying beta versions of our new products in a live, mission-critical IT environment – so they learn a lot of things in advance of our customers.

    One of the ways that they do this is through TechNet, where they run a section called “Microsoft IT Showcase: How Microsoft Does IT”. As you’re working on your IT strategy plans for the next year, and especially if you are implementing any of our new products, it makes a great additional resource to use (mainly because the pragmatic advice is based on real-world deployments, rather than theoretical designs).

    They publish a wide range articles, white papers, and webcasts on issues from cost-cutting, new product deployments, to identity and access management.

    I’d also recommend their video Centralized Server Virtualization Drives IT Cost Reduction, which is one of their most viewed case studies. It describes the process, the cost savings, and the user and organisational benefits of the changes “

  • FE blog

    Microsoft and the Cloud – what it means for education

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    There’s recently been a lot of discussion within education about different models of ICT services. Individual colleges have tended to use a mix of services provided on-premise and cloud-based services . And newer models of teaching and learning have accelerated the trend towards cloud-based services – and at the very least, services which absolutely rely on a 100% reliable Internet connection. And this hybrid model, relying on both on-premise and cloud-based ICT infrastructure, looks like it is going to become more common across education. (For example, Becta say that education can’t meet it’s carbon targets unless they dramatically reduce the numbers of servers in schools and colleges, so there will be non-IT pressures to make change too.

    But this doesn’t just affect education – the integration of on-premise and cloud-based services is a hot topic for all IT Directors across business and the public sector, from small local businesses to global enterprises, and for all levels of government agencies and departments.

    How do all of the dots join up in this new IT services picture? Well, thinking about it has prompted me to write a summary of what’s going on with cloud-based services at Microsoft, to fill in some of the picture from an education viewpoint.

    Microsoft Online Services and Education

    imageWe’ve recently made a public big shift in our emphasis towards cloud-based services; but behind the scenes there have been very big changes going on for years to get ready for the day that cloud takes off right across the world.

    I’m going to use ‘Cloud’ to represent all of the Internet services that users and institutions might be using. It might be a mix of desktop and web-based software, or an entirely web-based service. Either way, it’s something that involves a web-service as part of the IT delivery.

    imageSo here’s my summary of the cloud-based services that Microsoft do that may be directly relevant to education, and the essential differences.

    The first service, Live@edu is education-specific, and not available outside of education. The other services are designed for a wide range of business and public sector customers, so you’ll see some overlap between the different services. Although that can feel like duplication, it also means that you’re able to select your online services rather like an a la carte menu – choosing the combination of options to match your exact needs.


    imageLive@edu

    Live@edu is a free hosted service, designed specifically for education, which allows you to outsource some of your IT infrastructure to the cloud. The starting point for many is email, where you keep your existing email domain (institution.ac.uk) and point it over to our email servers – and we then run an Exchange 2010 mail service from our data centres for you, with each student getting a 10GB email inbox. As part of the service, each student gets their own Windows Live ID, which also means that they can use the hosted SkyDrive service too – with 25GB of file storage hosted on the web for each student. In the future, we’ll also be integrating SharePoint into Live@edu, giving you more options for collaboration between users.

    How do you buy it?

    As it’s free, you can simply sign up directly at the Live@edu site

    Where to find out more

    http://www.microsoft.com/uk/education/further-education/products/live-at-edu.aspx


    imageWindows Azure

    Windows Azure is Microsoft’s cloud computing operating system. This is essentially a set of services that developers, software vendors and systems integrators can use to develop applications and new business models. We host the servers in the cloud, running cloud versions of the same platforms that would normally run in-house – things like web servers or highly-available SQL servers. The developers use exactly the same tools as today to develop their applications (eg Visual Studio) on their own desktop/in-house machines, and then they can choose to deploy locally or onto Windows Azure in the cloud.

    Because our job is to run an agile, efficient, secure and trustworthy central service through our worldwide datacentres, it means that the developers don’t need to worry about building and managing virtual machines, patching operating systems, and designing their own redundancy system. That’s the Azure team’s job.

    The Windows Azure Platform also includes AppFabric, which is an add-on to allow you to integrate your on-premise and cloud infrastructure, with access control and service interoperability

    How do you buy it?

    It is based on a pay-as-you-go subscription, calculated on the volume of data/workload that’s used. In a sense it is very similar to a normal utility, like gas and electricity – you use as much as you want, and pay for what you use. And just like the electricity company, it’s our job to make sure the capacity is there when you want to use it. It also allows you to convert capital expenditure into resource expenditure – because you aren’t buying big fixed capital infrastructure – just simply renting the capacity you need, when you need it.

    Where to find out more

    http://www.microsoft.com/windowsazure/


    image

    Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS)

    This provides hosted versions of applications – like Exchange, SharePoint, Live Meeting (for web conferencing) and Office Communications (for instant collaboration) . So instead of installing your own infrastructure, you subscribe to the BPOS services you need, either as standard configurations, or as a dedicated services with your own dedicated architecture. It’s especially good for education, as it means that users can access information from virtually anywhere, whether on our off campus.

    One of the benefits of using a cloud service for something like SharePoint is that you can then focus your IT resources on adding value to business-critical projects, rather than on running utility services.

    By making it a cloud-based, subscription service, it is easier for you to provide the right subset of resources for the right users – choosing both the users and the services, and then not having to worry about the deployment and maintenance costs.

    How do you buy it?

    You simply license the users for the applications you want – on a per-user, per-month basis. There’s no additional device licences required, or any usage costs. It’s just a flat-fee monthly subscription. To reduce the monthly cost, you can roll this under your existing Volume Licence agreement

    Where to find out more

    http://www.microsoft.com/online/en-gb/default.mspx

    And yes, there’s a free trial (available on the link above)


    image

    Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online

    This is a cloud-based customer relationship management service that can be accessed through Outlook or an Internet browser, and has rich integration with Office applications – Word, Excel and Communicator. It’s a comprehensive service which includes marketing automation, sales force automation, and customer service and support capabilities, as well as integrated workflow and business intelligence. In education, this is most likely to be valuable to independent schools, colleges and universities.

    The beauty of this cloud service is that you can start a deployment in a small way, without having to build your own infrastructure, and then grow it as you need to. The cloud system is built on the same code as the on-premise system, so you can move between deployment options in the future.

    How do you buy it?

    It will be a per-user, per-month subscription, but unfortunately the online version of Dynamics isn’t available in the UK yet – currently it’s only in North America. But it should be crossing the Atlantic this autumn.

    Where to find out more

    http://www.microsoft.com/online/dynamics-crm-online.mspx

    And yes, there’s a free trial (available on the link above)


    image

    Microsoft Private Cloud Infrastructure

    This is a set of resources, products, and management tools that allows you to run your own private cloud (or contract another organisation to do it for you), using the best practice techniques that we have developed for our cloud infrastructure. It enables you to dynamically pool, allocate, and manage resources to deliver flexible/agile Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Capabilities like self-service portals let your end-users rapidly consume IT services by self-provisioning (and decommissioning) infrastructure on a shared server fabric, virtualised by Windows Server Hyper-V and managed by System Center. Departments are thus able to deploy their applications with a lot more speed and agility. This allows your own IT team to focus their time on solving business problems rather than worrying about keeping the basic infrastructure running. It provides a less complex, more agile and more efficient infrastructure, in-house. And there’s also a hybrid model, where you contract a service hoster to provider a ‘virtual private cloud’, perhaps as a top-up to your in-house infrastructure.

    How do you buy it?

    Well, because it is based on a set of best practice advice, you’ll find that the key components are being built into the products you already have – like Windows Server 2008 and Hyper-V – and the Systems Management Server products. And in addition, we’re releasing free toolkits – like the Dynamic Infrastructure Toolkit for System Center and the Dynamic Data Centre Toolkit for Hosters.

    Where to find out more

    http://www.microsoft.com/virtualization/en/us/private-cloud.aspx


    image

    Office Web Apps

    The Office Web Apps are online companions for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. Office Web Apps provide quick viewing of Office documents and basic editing capabilities. There are two methods of accessing Office Web Apps.

    • Individuals (eg your students off campus) can use the Web Apps in Windows Live, and the files are stored online in their webspace on their SkyDrive.
    • For institutional use, they can be hosted on premise on your SharePoint 2010 or they can be hosted with Microsoft Online. In this mode, files are stored within your infrastructure. It is mainly intended as a companion to the full Office suite, but available over the web when you don’t have Office installed, or when it speeds up sharing and collaboration.

    How do you buy it?

    Individuals can access it on Windows Live using their Windows Live ID. For institutional use, every licence for Office 2010 under a volume licence scheme (such as a Select licence) includes an additional licence for Office Web Apps.

    Where to find out more

    http://www.microsoft.com/office/2010/en/office-web-apps/default.aspx


    imageForefront Online Protection for Exchange

     
    This is a fully hosted service for managing the inbound and outbound flow of e-mail, through e-mail gateways with multiple filters that provide organizations with a defence against e-mail-borne malware, including spam, viruses, phishing scams, and e-mail policy violations. In addition, the service has a Web-based administrative console for writing rules to help enforce your organisation policies governing e-mail usage (eg limiting which domains users can send/receive email from etc)

    How do you buy it?

    You would normally buy it through your existing volume licence agreement, on a per-user or per-device basis.

    Where to find out more

    http://www.microsoft.com/online/exchange-hosted-services/filtering.mspx


    imageWindows InTune


    This is a new future cloud service for managing Windows PCs over the web, announced on 19th April with a limited beta programme. It allows you to use a single web-based console, with tools for updates, malware protection, troubleshooting, remote assistance, security policy configuration and desktop virtualisation. The aim is to simplify PC management and improve the end-user experience. It also includes the upgrade licences for Windows 7 Enterprise, anti-virus and other management tools for the workstations that are covered.

    At the moment this isn’t available in the UK, but we have confirmed that the service will be available within a year of the beta programme. It is mainly designed for smaller networks, so may only have limited use within colleges.

    How do you buy it?

    You will pay per-device, per-month, and it can be purchased individually, or as part of your existing volume licence agreement.

    Where to find out more

    www.windowsintune.com

  • FE blog

    Maintaining High Availability for Microsoft.com

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    There’s an interesting TechNet article all about how our IT team keep Microsoft.com up and running. Alongside the article, there’s also a webcast available, so that you can explore the story in more detail. As learning becomes more reliant on technology generally, and the web specifically, then there are some strong parallels with the challenges faced by IT teams in universities.

    The Microsoft corporate Web site, Microsoft.com, is one of the largest and most heavily visited sites on the Internet, yet it maintains consistently high availability ratings. The team that operates the site meets these demands through a combination of carefully planned infrastructure; collaboration with other teams; and use of technology for maintenance, monitoring, and change management.

    During the past eight years, Microsoft.com has achieved one of the highest rankings on the Internet in terms of site availability as measured by Keynote Systems Inc., an independent third party. According to the Keynote reports, Microsoft.com has been available more than 99.8 percent of the time for the past five consecutive years, and more than 99.9 percent of the time for the past two years. The site generates more than 1.2 billion hits per day from more than 57 million unique Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. This traffic generates 200 million daily page views, averages 30,000 Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) requests per second, and results in an average of 750,000 concurrent client connections.

    The Microsoft.com Operations (MSCOM Ops) team within Microsoft Information Technology (Microsoft IT) operates more than 300 production servers that host approximately 900 Web applications. Based on Internet Information Services (IIS) and Microsoft® SQL Server® database software, the infrastructure design takes advantage of newly released tools and features in support of the team's goal to be an early adopter of Microsoft technologies.

    The article describes how team identifies and mitigates potential points of failure to deliver continuous availability for Microsoft.com—even while adopting new Microsoft technologies in the production environment, and includes best practices developed over years of operating a highly available, large-scale, and continuously performing Web infrastructure.  The best practices address:

    • How to identify and address availability issues through building in redundancy and evaluating the need to design solutions to geographic-segmentation challenges.
    • Process guidance, including suggestions about when, during the software development life cycle (SDLC), operations and applications engineers can work together to support delivering high availability.
    • General guidance on planning for, building, and using proper monitoring based on understanding site traffic.

    imageRead the full Technet article or watch the webcast

  • FE blog

    Office 2010 availability dates for colleges

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    imageWe have been developing Office 2010 for quite a while now – and many of you have been taking part in that by running the beta versions (at the last count, 7.5 million people have downloaded the beta version).

    Late on Friday, Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 reached their last stage in the development process – called Release To Manufacturing (RTM in geek-speak). That means that it is finished and ready to go, and the code is then released to be made into the final product – whether that’s creating the DVDs that you buy in a shop, or creating the download websites for our volume licence customers.

    Making the physical disks takes a little longer than the download sites, so here are the dates when you will be able to get hold of Office 2010:

    • April 27 – If you already have Office and bought Software Assurance you can download from the Volume Licensing Service Centre
      This covers all colleges who have a Campus Agreement, and those of you who’ve bought Office 2007 under the Select licence with the Software Assurance.
    • May 1 – You can buy new Office 2010 licences from your Microsoft partner under Campus Agreement or Select.
    • June – Home users can buy a retail copy of Office 2010 from the shops

    If you’ve missed it, here’s a brief overview of what’s new in Office 2010.

  • FE blog

    Are you ready to deploy Windows 7? Need a bit more help?

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    Thanks to Rich from Bechtle, I know where you can get some help. Rich has just blogged about the Windows 7 Deployment Learning Portal on his Software Ruminations blog.

    Windows 7 Deployment – the Learning Portal

    We spend almost $10 billion a year on research and development, and so each time we release a new product, there’s new things it can do. And a lot of the R&D spend is focused on making IT easier. If you’re running a reasonably big IT system (as most education IT systems are), then one of the things that has been a hassle is deploying new versions of software, and managing the complex IT networks that are out there.

    When we developed Windows 7, the engineers spent quite a bit of time working out how to make the deployment process easier, and building tools to help that process. That’s good. The downside is that things have changed. If the last time you rolled out a new operating system was when you deployed Windows XP, then you’ll find that it has (a) got much easier and (b) changed the steps you take. All those previous tools – like Ghost and other specific deployment applications – may no longer be the best, quickest, cheapest and easiest way to deploy Windows.

    And the Windows 7 Deployment Learning Portal takes some of the pain out of getting yourself up to date. Instead of dumping all of the information onto you, it allows you to take a series of mini-tests:

    • Preparing for deployment
    • Configuring an image
    • Migration
    • Compatibility testing
    • Deployment Methods

    At the end of each test, you get a mark, and links to specific TechNet pages relating to the topic – so that you only need to read the stuff you don’t know, not waste time sifting through the stuff you already know. And the links point you towards things like articles, How-To guides, Step-by-Step procedures etc.

    And there’s an incentive too – the first 150 people to pass get a free MCITP (Microsoft Certified IT Professional) self-study guide, and the first 500 get a voucher for a free certification exam – so that you can get a new qualification for your CV/annual performance review.

    imageGo to the Windows 7 Deployment Learning Portal


  • FE blog

    Chemistry Add-In for Word 2007/2010

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    The Microsoft Research (MSR) teams around the world are always cooking up clever new bits of code, and many of them get incorporated into new products as they roll off production lines in the future. However, they aren’t part of the product teams in the conventional sense – they have much more latitude to play with ideas, and come up with ideas which aren’t solely linked to products. (As opposed to the developers, eg in the Office team, who’s job it is to make sure they build new features into their specific products).

    imageBut sometimes the two worlds come together – as with the free Chemistry Add-In for Word from the team in Microsoft Research Cambridge. Working with the Unilever Centre for Molecular Science Informatics, they’ve come up with an add-in that makes it easier for students and researchers to include chemical information – such as labels, formulas and 2-D depictions, within a Word document. And easy to edit afterwards.

    And the bonus news is that this is free. So you can delight your chemists at no cost.

    imageFound out more about, and download, the Chemistry Add-In for Word


    If you want to find out if your science lecturers and students would find this useful, there’s a short video to demonstrate what it does, and a User Guide (which, intriguingly, on page 15 has advice on how to “Edit an Atom” – perhaps the software’s more powerful than I imagined!)

    ps You can find all of the other published downloads from Microsoft Research on their download page

  • FE blog

    How the Office Add-In for Moodle works

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    I’ve found a couple of interesting videos for the Office Add-In for Moodle, which are worth watching if you’re considering whether it will help you in your college:

    They’re both short videos – around 3 minutes – and it quickly shows how easy it becomes for your staff to be able to save work in your Moodle system, directly from within Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

  • FE blog

    More Moodle advice – The Moodle on SharePoint white paper

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    image

    The team over at the Microsoft Education Labs have been busy over the last few weeks. If you’re new to it, Education Labs was created by the Microsoft Education Products Group to build and release new product prototypes and useful add-ons, specifically for education use.


    Following on from the Office Add-In for Moodle earlier in the week, there’s some further advice and support from the Education Labs team for Moodle that may be useful to you. If you’re either using Moodle, or considering it, then you may want to consider how you set it up. Because Moodle is an open source product, it’s often assumed that it should be installed on an open source server – like a Linux box. But the challenge with doing that for many colleges is that it doesn’t therefore easily integrate with their existing ICT systems – for example, managing users and files on your existing network infrastructure.

    However, there’s a more positive way to deploy Moodle, which is to install it on your existing infrastructure, rather than having to add additional complications. The most powerful bit of your infrastructure to add it to is your SharePoint – because it fills in some of the gaps of a conventional Moodle system. First, it helps prevent data loss. For example, if a lecturer deletes a file by mistake and wants to get it back, you’ll easily be able to go into SharePoint and restore it from the recycling bin – rather than it being lost forever. Secondly, you can take advantage of versioning in SharePoint. If a lecturer or student overwrites a file by mistake, it can be restored to a previous version from SharePoint.  Finally you can use SharePoint’s search capabilities to search across the content of all of your content, whether it is in your SharePoint file storage, or in your Moodle system (currently there is no equivalent file search capability in Moodle).  Perhaps most importantly, staff can get these benefits while continuing to use the Moodle user interface they are accustomed to, meaning no new training.

    How do you install Moodle on SharePoint?

    So if it makes so much sense to run your Moodle on top of your SharePoint, how do you do it? Well, we’ve published a white paper that explains how to set up SharePoint as the file system for Moodle. It doesn’t need any special programming – if you have SharePoint and Moodle, it is a matter of configuration. 

    You can download the full white paper here (click on the Read It link) which can help you plan your strategy.

    imageQuickly find all the other Moodle posts on this blog

  • FE blog

    Launch Announcement - New Moodle Integration for Office

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    The Microsoft Education Labs team have just launched the Office Add-in for Moodle (or should it be the Moodle Add-in for Office?). This launch builds upon the success of the availability of the Microsoft Live Services Plug-in for Moodle which launched last July. 

    The idea behind the add-in is simple. Now, when you got to Open or Save a file in Office 2003 or 2007, you can select to ‘Open from Moodle’ or ‘Save to Moodle’ directly. This makes it easier for your users to use Moodle natively, and hopefully will encourage them to make better use of your Moodle installation. (If you have a SharePoint-based learning platform, you get similar functionality in Office 2010)

    The “Office Add-in for Moodle”

    View Slide ShowUploading files to Moodle is now much easier.  The Office Add-in for Moodle (OAM) is an add-in for Microsoft Office (versions 2003 and 2007) that allows teachers to open and save Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents to a Moodle website. Today, teachers who use Office and Moodle have to switch back and forth between their web browser and Office applications.  With the OAM, teachers can create, open, edit, and save Moodle documents from within the Office applications.  You no longer need to use your web browser when working with Office documents stored in Moodle.

    So what do you need in order to start using the add-in?  OAM does not require anything to be installed on the Moodle server (note we only tested against Moodle versions 1.8-1.9).  Anyone who is the teacher or owner of a Moodle course can install the add-in and access their documents.  Once installed, the add-in adds two menu items to your File menu (Office 2003) or the Office Button menu: Open from Moodle and Save to Moodle.  In order to browse course files on your Moodle you will need to first tell the add-in the address of your Moodle and the credentials you use to log in.  Once added you can view the list of courses you are enrolled in.  Naturally, students and others can access the content directly from Moodle as they normally would.

    We focused on teachers and content specialists first, since we know most documents posted to Moodles come from teachers. We’ve gotten some requests already about adding support for students and assignments, but we want to hear from you.  So check it out, and let the EducationLabs team know what you think and if there’s anything you want them to work on.  In order to get this beta tool in your hands right away and to get feedback before this gets fully locked down, we decided to roll this out before embarking on synchronization with other add-ins and other Moodle functionality. 


    It’s worth browsing on the Education Labs site for other projects recently released www.educationlabs.com

    imageFind out more about, and download, the free Moodle add-in
    Read other posts on Moodle on this blog

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