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The FE Blog
News and views from the Microsoft UK Education Team
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August, 2010

  • FE blog

    How do I get a job at Microsoft?

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    You may not be surprised to learn that it’s a frequent question that I get asked. And in the summer holidays I know that people’s thoughts often turn to their future, so I thought it was time to share the answer more widely.

    imageThe answer is partially straightforward – you watch http://careers.microsoft.com/, which is where all of our permanent jobs are posted. It allows you to search in different parts of the world, or different specialisms, or on key words. I think the keyword search is important, because many of the jobs are described in Microsoft-centric language (with references to internal acronyms etc) – so if you want to find a job related to education, I’d recommend that you use the keyword search first!

    We also hire quite a lot of people into contract posts – and they will often be dealt with by local employment agencies. The links are all on the careers site too.

    But, of course, finding a job advertised, and actually getting that job are two different things – because there’s the screening and interview process to get through too. The Xbox team have done a great job of describing some of the things you can do to help with that process in their blog post “How do I get a job at Xbox”, which also links to some of the recruitment team’s Career Communities on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

    As an aside, if you’re into gaming, the Xbox Engineering Blog is brilliant for detail behind the scenes of the gaming world. Like the post on “Xbox LIVE Avatar Technology” which talks about the science behind creating dynamic avatars in games.

    And finally, your students may be interested in finding out about the graduate and internship schemes. The graduates join on our specialised scheme, which takes candidates who’ve graduated with a 2.1 or above. And each year we take just under 100 interns into our placement scheme in the UK. These students are normally in between their second and third years at university. More information on the Microsoft graduate and placement schemes can be found on this link.

  • FE blog

    The easy way to install WordPress

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    Do you remember a couple of weeks ago I mentioned WebMatrix, which gives you an easy way to install a bunch of web applications – like WordPress, Moodle and Joomla! – on a standard Microsoft platform (which means you can more easily fit into the rest of your ICT infrastructure).

    Well, I just read an article on PC Pro (who sometimes enjoy being mischievous about the downfalls of technology) where David Moss talks about how easy it was to install WordPress in six simple steps. I’m not a WordPress user, so I haven’t tried it myself, but it’s a nice endorsement to get for our “let’s make websites easier to setup” initiative.

    Still unsure? Well, jump over and read the article “Microsoft Web Platform: the easy way to install WordPress
    to learn how David did it.

  • FE blog

    Freebie time - Desktop Virtualisation for dummies booklet

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    Let’s start by getting the jokes out of the way. Yes, the ‘…for Dummies’ books are my kind of books. And, No, that’s not me on the front cover.

    Now, that’s over with…

    image

    I’ve got my hands on 30 copies of the ‘Desktop Virtualisation for Dummies’ booklet to give away. And, let’s face it, desktop virtualisation is the kind of thing that needs a booklet like this. Despite believing that it would be important for education (after all, who else runs 300+ end-user applications on their network) I still find it confusing. After all, who wouldn’t be confused when you’re presented with so many choices:

    • User state virtualisation
    • Application virtualisation
    • Session virtualisation
    • Virtual desk infrastructure
    • Blade-based virtual desktops
    • Single-desktop virtual machines

    So this booklet is a good starter guide to help you think about where (and whether) to start with desktop virtualisation. It’s just 32 pages long, so just about the right length, and it sets out the strategies for virtualisation clearly. And it deals with the reasons for doing it in a clear way. For example:

    It’s not as straightforward as saying ‘desktop virtualization will save you money’, but it certainly gives you more options when you come to deciding how that money might be spent – either by reducing operational budgets in terms of minimised downtime, or lowering management and support overheads, or potentially enabling capital expenditure to be reduced or deferred.

    If you’d like your own free copy of Desktop Virtualisation for Dummies, then simply drop Mir an email, and he’ll get one in the post to you (As they say in America, this offer is “good while stocks last, for people in the Great Britain area”)

    ps Have you already implemented some of the strategies for desktop virtualisation? If so, either drop me an email or add a comment to this blog, because it would be good to know how it’s going.

  • FE blog

    Building Clouds - how to make a data centre more energy efficient

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    imageWe 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. In Europe, we have one in Ireland and one in Holland. I don’t know about the Amsterdam one, but the Dublin one is roughly three times the size of the main halls at Olympia (imagine – instead of lots of snazzy stands, that space packed full of humming server racks, a bit like our Chicago datacentre on the right). The Dublin one is where we host all of our UK Live@edu email services and data.

    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 college 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.

    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.

    imageThe 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 www.microsoft.com/environment 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 you’re interest knows no boundaries, then you might be interested in the MS Datacenters blog, which has 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.

  • FE blog

    How to manage the risk of Internet Explorer 6

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    If you’re still running Internet Explorer 6 (IE6) within your campus, instead of being on a later version, then you’re probably doing it for a very good reason – especially as many websites are reducing or removing support for IE6 (for example Google and YouTube both dropped IE6 support this year). And the good reason is that you probably have an application, or a key website, that only works with IE6 – often something that the management team need to use for budget or student management. But all the time that you’re using IE6 as your standard browser, you know that you’re slipping further behind.

    If you’re in a bind, you might find this white paper useful – Solutions for Virtualising Internet Explorer – which gives good advice on the options that you can choose to allow you to move to a later version of Internet Explorer as a standard, but still make IE6 available for users that need it.

    While virtualising Internet Explorer 6 isn’t simple, it does allow you to move your infrastructure management forward – and the process you use for it would also help in the future if you want to allow for multiple versions of web browsers for testing purposes (eg to allow you to run multiple browsers to test your college website or other web developments)

    imageDownload the Internet Explorer Virtualisation White Paper

  • FE blog

    Want to hear us talking about security and our roadmap?

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    Every year, we get lots of feedback from our customers, through a variety of different routes:

    • we conduct an annual customer satisfaction survey, which gives an overall picture
    • we deal with individual customers through our support, customer care and partner management teams
    • we see literally millions of product reports (every time you hit the “send to Microsoft” button)
    • personally, I get plenty of useful feedback from blog readers like you, as well as comments and discussions via my @rayfleming Twitter account

    It means that we can use that feedback to improve things around here (and also in many ways that you’ll notice in products and services we deliver). This year we thought we’d go a step further for all of our customers, and run some specialised events around the country. The events are for our largest IT customers. Although they aren’t specifically aimed at customers in education, all of the content except the licensing workshops will be useful for education customers.

    The Microsoft experts are hitting the road across the UK in the coming months to deliver half-day briefings on a range of topics including our software roadmap and security.

    These briefings are packed with information, delivered by presenters who know the topics inside out and each session is limited to a small group of customers to provide the maximum time for interaction and engagement with the experts delivering the content.

    The topics covered in the current programme of briefings are:

    • Future (Microsoft) vision and product roadmap
    • Making the most of Software Assurance (SA) benefits
    • Trustworthy Computing and Security
    • Understanding Software Asset Management
    • Licensing 101 – this will cover commercial licensing, and not education licensing
    • Licensing products – this will cover commercial licensing, and not education licensing

    The briefings are taking place in the following cities between August and November.

    • Birmingham – 21st October – 28th October
    • Bristol – 3rd November
    • Edinburgh – 28th October
    • Leeds – 18th November –24th November
    • London – 25th August - 30th September – 27th October – 23rd November
    • Manchester – 22nd September
    • Reading – 24th August – 30th September – 26th October  - 24th November

    All the dates above exclude the licensing events. Unless you plan a career in big-business-IT, then you won’t want to attend any of the licensing events, as they will only focus on our commercial software licensing schemes.

    You will find much more information about the where, when and what of these Microsoft briefings here together with instructions on how to register to participate in any of the briefings.

  • FE blog

    Saving money - how to get started with server virtualisation

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    I’ve been writing quite a bit about examples of education establisments virtualising their servers, especially as it is one way to significantly reduce your college IT and energy spend. We published a case study on Leicester College on their virtualisation project earlier this year. As Paul Chapman, Head of Libraries and E-Strategy at the college said at the time:

    By virtualising servers, we’ve cut their cost by 50 per cent, and that’s not including the staff time we’ve saved with easier-to-manage machines.

    And they report reducing power consumption to reduce their carbon footprint, as well as getting a more robust ICT infrastructure. So there’s plenty of reason to consider virtualisation.

    But knowing it’s a good thing to do is one thing. Knowing how to do it is completely different. So here’s a little help

    Of course, one starting point should be the Microsoft website’s Hyper-V section.

    Education Technology Now

    imageAnd for education specific information, there’s an added gem available. Alan Richards, who’s the IT Manager at West Hatch School, has written about various aspects of virtualisation on his Education Technology Now blog. At every step of his virtualisation journey he wrote about what he was doing, and the decision he was taking, and it provides a detailed case study on how to virtualise school servers.

    The series of blog posts he’s written take a step-by-step journey:

    The Design Phase - The second part of the Design Phase - The Physical Phase - iSCSI Setup – Video - Windows Server Failover Clustering Setup – Video - Windows Server Failover Clustering Setup – Corrections - Clustered Shared Volumes – Video - Installing Hyper- V – Video - Live Server Migration

    And Alan’s now writing more specific posts, such as Upgrading, Migrating & Virtualising SharePoint 2010.

    11 Golden Rules for Virtualisation

    I’d also highly recommend Steve Cassidy’s excellent article on PC Pro - 11 golden rules for virtualisation - which provides a straightforward set of rules to consider and decisions to make. For example, he starts by advising that you measure the potential savings (and demonstrate them to the head & school business manager):

    Virtualisation projects pay back by reducing power bills and server purchase budgets. The latter is easy to demonstrate; the former requires some distinctly non-computing work.

    To really see the benefit, you have to be able to compare hosting rack-space invoices, or monthly electricity bills, or stand in the blast of the cooling fans – it’s very difficult to translate the massive efficiency improvements into something tangible. The most basic fat-plug current meter can form the basis of a good solid demo for that disbelieving finance director, standing in the server room watching you start up the old boat-anchors and chalking up their power draw on the wall.

     

    Find a Microsoft virtualisation partner

    And finally, you might also want to find a Microsoft partner for some advice. The easiest way to do that is to use Microsoft Pinpoint, which allows you to find partners with specific competencies – this link gives you all UK partners who are listed as working in Education, and offering virtualisation solutions. You can easily refine it further by adding your location, and finding the local ones.

    (Looking at the list that Pinpoint shows, it appears that many of our partners haven’t updated their specialisms in the database. So if you’re a Microsoft partner, and you’re reading this, you might want to go to the Microsoft Partner Network, or talk to your account manager, to do this)

  • FE blog

    SharePoint Saturday comes to the UK

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    Just a quick note to point SharePoint lovers towards the SharePoint Saturday, being held on October 2nd in Birmingham.

    image

    At a time when training budgets are shrinking, then you’ll be cheered up to know that it is free to attend, and is being run by a group of SharePoint enthusiasts, very focused on sharing their good practice. The agenda’s still being finalised, but if you’re free, and want to spend a day sharing tips with other SharePoint users, then consider registering now, as I’m sure it’ll fill up quickly.

    imageFind out more about SharePoint Saturday

  • FE blog

    Do cloud-based datacentres run as fast as your onsite ones

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    The Bits blog from the New York Times ran an interesting article a couple of weeks ago called ‘How Fast Can a Cloud Run?’ (you’re right, I’m still catching up with my reading!). It talks about a service called CloudSleuth, which measures the speed of response of various cloud services.

    Our Microsoft Azure cloud came out on top (I’d like to think I’d still be writing this, even if it didn’t).

    Living near clouds is a good thing

    But the thing that interested me was the impact of geography on response times. I used to remember the good-old-days-of-the-Internet, when the service would start to slow down to US-based websites from around 2 o’clock in the afternoon – which coincided with people waking up and getting online on that side of the Atlantic. But that was a decade ago or more – I’d forgotten all about it.

    image

    The chart above, snipped just now from CloudSleuth, shows the picture that caught my eye. Basically, the closer you are to the datacentre, the better your cloud experience is going to be. And because most datacentres are in the US, that’s where the best response times are.

    It sparked off a few of thoughts:

    • How transparent cloud computing is going to be, compared to today (because the whole world can look up your response times)
    • I wonder if that’s why we’ve been having high take-up of our Live@edu cloud email services for education in the UK – because the datacentre is in Dublin, not Dallas.
    • We obviously need more cloud datacentres in Europe.

    So, do cloud-based datacentres run as fast as onsite ones?

    Well, it’s pretty clear that the answer depends on a variety of factors:

    • How fast is the cloud datacentre?
    • How fast is your own datacentre?
    • Where is the cloud datacentre?
    • Where is your users? (because if your user isn’t on-site, they probably get a completely different experience)
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