Baby Steps into the Cloud: ICT as a service for education
Baby steps into the CloudICT as a service foreducation Inspire moreMicrosoft® asked Gerald Haigh, an education journalist, leadership writerand ex-headteacher, to get to the bottom of people‟s views on the future….
Table of Contents3 Baby steps into the Cloud5 Why do, and should, institutions take that first step?6 Is it cheaper in the Cloud?7 But why the Microsoft Cloud particularly?10 A different style of ICT management11 The bigger vision of the Cloud12 What’s the conclusion?13 The crystal ball? Page 2
Baby steps into the Cloud We don‟t normally expect a school, college or university to generate its own electricity. There‟s no building with a bank of generators, no “Manager of Electrical Generation”, leading a team of technicians and adding to the woes of a vice-chancellor, principal, head or business manager. That would surely be absurd, when all that‟s really needed is a big “On-Off” switch and a phone to shout down when the service fails.Gerald Haigh, aneducational writer and But we have expected our education institutions to be experts atjournalist, spoke with a running their own “IT Power Stations”, generating their own utilityrange of people service. Even though, as consumers, we are increasingly using IT asinvolved with the a utility service – to communicate, collaborate, work and play.adoption of Cloud You may see where this is going. We believe we are at a criticalservices in education. turning point, and it‟s time to debate the future provision of IT inBoth within Microsoft, education. And at the centre of this change is “the Cloud”.and from education Attempts to define Cloud computing often make the analogy withinstitutions already the development of public utilities - electricity, gas, water - whereusing Cloud services for the move from on-site, or very local generation, through totheir students and staff. national and international distribution has brought increased efficiency and lower costs. So, goes the argument, why not provide computing power in the same way? It can be “generated” remotely by a factory-size bank of powerful computers (“servers”) and delivered over the internet to subscribing consumers who can take as much, or as little as they need. Page 3
When I was asked to talk to a range of people about Cloud services, and produce this whitepaper, I wasn‟t expecting my very first meeting to give me such a big problem – that the veryfirst person I spoke with didn‟t like the word “Cloud”!Daniel Batts, Microsoft‟s Head of Public Sector Business Development, is doubtful aboutusing the word „Cloud‟ at all. For him, when someone asks what „Cloud‟ means, the answer is„a service over the internet‟.The point, says Daniel, is that removing the word „Cloud‟ clears away some of the mystiqueand makes it possible to focus on what is actually on offer: “When we‟ve reset the understanding like that, we can talk about Microsoft, and the fact that we‟ve actually been doing these kind of services for ten or fifteen years. We have Hotmail after all, with four hundred million users. We have the experience and the understanding to deliver Cloud services at scale.”Daniel goes on to emphasise the seamless relationship between Microsoft‟s established andfamiliar products installed on the customer‟s premises and the same ones available as aservice over the web – “in the Cloud”.“Customers are not being presented with an ultimatum to drop everything in order to moveto the Cloud. There‟s the opportunity to keep some things on your own premises andmigrate others to the Cloud”. In fact, he goes on to say: ”Cloud is not a destination, it‟s a journey – and the direction of travel is driven by two agendas – cost cutting and the need for transformation of government services.”It‟s an explanation, he says, that carries a lot of weight with public sector customers who areaware of the push for transformation, highly sensitive to budget considerations, andunderstandably risk averse about data protection and security.So, for example, the opportunity to start with a secure, cheap (or free) hosted email servicethat comes with extra features that can be brought into use as required is always going to beattractive. That‟s certainly the experience of the many schools, colleges and universitiesacross the world which have moved their email service to Live@edu.
“A baby step into the Cloud”That‟s what Microsoft Evangelist Ben Nunney calls Live@edu. At least one university ICTmanager raises a weak smile when he hears it – after all, moving 14,000 students over fromthe previous system in short order didn‟t seem like child‟s play to him. He got Ben‟s point,though, which is that for many, perhaps most, educational institutions it‟s not so much amatter of “moving to the Cloud” in general terms. It‟s more likely to be a straightforwardquest for a better and more cost-effective email system that will meet the expectations oftoday‟s students. Live@edu is certainly that, but once that step has been taken, and it‟s upand running, users can then start looking at the host of Microsoft Live applications that comewith it, such as SkyDrive, Office Web Applications and the Calendar, all of which add up toan online environment with ample data storage and easy collaborative working.Why do, and should, institutions take that first step?If you‟re a university, a college or a school, why would you move away from your existingemail system? After all, it‟s presumably tailored to your specific requirements and lookedafter by friendly folk with an office not far away, who‟ll rescue you when you get confused.Perhaps it‟s because you believe that by doing so you will “…simultaneously streamline output and lower costs, while also dramatically increasing capacity and adding new features.”That, of course is a quote, straight from Chuck Austin of the State of Kentucky‟s EducationDepartment (link).In the Spring of 2010 Chuck migrated, over a single weekend, all of the State‟s 700,000school students and teachers to Live@edu. They did it, says Chuck, because: “Our students and teachers were struggling with an older system that lacked capacity and lacked the ability to scale up.”It‟s surprising how often that‟s the case. Here in the UK, for example, The University ofAberdeen, in 2007 was among the first educational institution to move its 14,500 students tooutsourced email.Program Manager Mike Whyment, explained that it wasn‟t a matter of the system notworking, but that it no longer met the vastly increased expectations of today‟s students: “Our existing student email system was coming to the end of its life. We had a natural point of reinvestment, either to invest in a new on-site system or outsource -- which was clearly the cheaper option.” Page 5
And 600 miles south, at Chichester University, another early adopter of email services in theCloud for both staff and students, we hear this from James Mason, Head of IT Operations: “We had an email and calendar system that over the years became inadequate, and so two years ago we started to look at alternatives. We quickly realised that for what our students were demanding we couldn‟t afford to buy and had to go for a hosted solution.”Then, somewhere in between, in the English Midlands town of Corby, there‟s Lodge ParkTechnology College, another converter to the Cloud. This time it‟s Principal Guy Shearer whoexplains the shortcoming of their previous email system: “What the students were given was not as good as what they were using out of school. We were looking for something that felt as good as you‟d get at home.”Is it cheaper in the Cloud?Moving existing services to the Cloud has considerable cost-saving implications. Free or lowcost email is an obvious part of this, but there are other savings that come from buying,running, maintaining and replacing less hardware and also sometimes needing fewersoftware licences. The University of Aberdeen estimates, conservatively, that it‟s saving£60,000 per year in this way.And even when budgets are tight, there‟s usually the possibility that money saved can beproductively spend elsewhere. Gartner, respected information technology research andadvisory company, reports that 70 percent of IT spend goes on routine maintenance ofwhat‟s already in place. Remove even some of that, and the possibility opens up of realinvestment for the future. As Microsoft Director of Education Steve Beswick puts it: “Cloud gives you an opportunity to reduce your spend on existing systems, and invest more in innovation, rather than being dragged back all the time into maintenance mode for old systems that require management.”It‟s a better service for your money in the Cloud.Users will often say that the improved service offered by a service like Live@edu - every userbeing instantly upgraded to have 10Gb of available storage in their email inbox, plus 25Gb ofWindows Live SkyDrive web-based storage, plus all the advantages of a hosted service interms of upgrades and maintenance - is at least as important as the fact that its free tostudents. (“We‟d still have it if we had to pay for it,” said one headteacher.) Page 6
But why the Microsoft Cloud particularly?There‟s more than one Cloud provider in the market, which raises the question about why aneducational institution chooses the Microsoft product. From my conversations with schools,universities and others, there seem to be four identifiable reasons, and as rule all of themcome into play.1. Personal customer service.For Guy Shearer and colleagues at Lodge Park, for example, it wasn‟t so much a matter of thetechnology as the availability of good face to face advice. As Guy put it: “Within a day of expressing interest we were talking to a person, we had a visit and there was a sense that this was someone trying to find out what we wanted and make suggestions. We didn‟t feel overwhelmed.”James Mason at Chichester had the same sort of experience. He had a number of veryparticular requirements, including the need to integrate Live@edu with the University‟s webportal under a single sign-in. James was concerned about the degree to which Microsoft, andthe Microsoft partners, would be able to help him with all of that: “My worry was that because Microsoft is such a big company they might just provide the kit and leave us to it. In fact they couldn‟t have been more helpful. Whenever there was a query they answered it quickly and they sent out people to help us.”Then there‟s Mike Whyment at Aberdeen, who says, of Microsoft: “They were more than willing to visit us and sit down and alleviate our fears.”For Mike Whyment, and also for Guy Shearer, another key question was to do with thelocation of the institution‟s data.2. Where will our data be?School and university leaders are rightly concerned about where their students‟ data is held,and who‟s responsible for it. For Mike Whyment the fact that Microsoft hosts its e-mailservice within the EU (in Dublin) was the deciding factor. So much so, he says that if noprovider had been able to make that commitment, they wouldn‟t have moved to a hostedservice at all,At Microsoft, it‟s a question that Microsoft Cloud Services Business Manager Chris Rothwellrecognises. “It‟s at the front of the mind when people look at Cloud procurement –„Where is my data, can you tell me? Is my data private? Do you do things like mine data to target advertising?‟ But Microsoft doesn‟t have a business model that‟s around advertising in these services, so we can say there‟d be no benefit for us in that.” Page 7
Customers can also be reassured about compliance with e-safety, as well as ISO:27001 andEU SafeHarbour requirements, says Chris. “We have a legal framework and a set of software tools that allow the individual customer to say, „I know I‟m compliant because I have tools to ensure that.‟”3. The strength and depth of the Microsoft offering.Chris feels very strongly that it‟s important for Microsoft to take the debate beyond the moreobvious issues around Cloud services. “Everybody talks about the well-known benefits – you don‟t have to patch the software, or install upgrades, or provide support. What they‟re not talking about is your responsibilities as an educator. They don‟t diminish, and it‟s about which supplier can help you achieve all the benefits while meeting those responsibilities. It‟s easy to say „the future is in the Cloud‟ when actually what users want is to produce the best work they can.”And this, he says, is where Microsoft scores, because: “Microsoft as a company invests in education and in productivity.”So Microsoft Office, for example, he says, is a great and proven productivity tool, thatdoesn‟t disappear with the move to the Cloud. On the contrary, it‟s enhanced and enriched: “Because you talk about Cloud doesn‟t mean you lose the richness of Office. You don‟t need to throw away the old to bring in the new. Office Web Apps in the Cloud mean you can keep the things that Office is good at and add to it the things that Cloud is good at.”Guy Shearer makes the same point: “We‟re using Office on the desktop, why wouldn‟t you continue with it online? I know some colleagues are already using and sharing Office documents on the web without realising that‟s where they are.” Page 8
4. Live@edu makes it easy to take considered and gradual further steps into theCloud.Microsoft‟s Online Services, like Live@edu, come with a steadily increasing portfolio ofservices which together offer greatly enhanced opportunities for collaboration andcommunication, and at the same time taking users further into the Cloud. At Lodge Park,says Guy Shearer: “The leadership team‟s using Office Web Apps, cutting down on all those emails with attachments. And the Calendar is becoming the official school calendar.”Commonly, users all talk about the efficiency of document sharing, avoiding the “whichversion is this?” problems. Guy goes on to explain that his students are now using SkyDriveinstead of USB sticks. Providing them with a better and safer option is clearly a more positivemove than imposing a ban on USB sticks,At both Aberdeen and Chichester, the story is essentially the same – the features are put outthere on loose rein and staff and students are finding ways of using them. Today‟suniversities have many thousands of students and staff, working flexible hours acrossmultiple locations, often globally. They will expect to gain access to their work and theiremail from any device, using any browser, anywhere at any time, without learning that theirmailbox is full or an attachment is too big. The fact that Live@edu is meeting theirrequirements means a significant improvement in the quality of service that an institutionoffers to an incoming student.It means also that students, groups of students, departments and staff have to a great extentto be allowed to explore the Cloud in their own disparate ways. That means it‟s difficult forany of these pioneers to forecast their future in the Cloud. Mike Whyment believes thatwithin five years, “Everything will be in the Cloud”. Others point to specific steps forward –for example, with Microsoft® Office 365 for education, seeing SharePoint in the Cloud, andintegration of Live@edu with virtual learning environments and with managementinformation systems.This in turn leads leadership to rethink their approach to the provision of hardware ineducation institutions. Guy Shearer suggests that a roomful of PCs can already look oldfashioned - “And soon that could be true of a roomful of fixed laptops.”And at the University of Aberdeen, Mike Whyment, following the same line of thoughtwonders whether it will eventually be possible to get rid of open access PC areas if everystudent has their own device.None of these questions have easy answers. They do, though, arise from the prospect of anexciting and new kind of future for the way ICT is provided and used in education.And that, of course, makes for, a new kind leadership. Page 9
A different style of ICT management.Mike Whyment at Aberdeen says it‟s more than just a change in technology: “It‟s changing the game. In the past we‟ve documented everything we offer, but when we look at the Cloud - at Calendar, Skydrive, Office Web Apps and so on - it‟s not practical to keep abreast of everything and document it, especially as new applications come out, and existing ones are seamlessly updated.”However, he says: “Today‟s student is comfortable with that kind of model of trying things out. If there‟s something they don‟t know they‟ll find a friend who does.”Stephen Peverett, Network Manager at Lodge Park, calls it: “Not losing control but releasing control – trusting the students, moving away from the mentality that wants to lock everything down.”Along with that comes, of course, a different role for the ICT staff, some of whom may fearfor their future in a Cloud-based ICT environment. The word seems to be, though, that therole can change for the better. Mike Whyment points out that there‟s much less routine workto do on backups and maintenance, but the system still needs to be monitored andmanaged. “They‟re gaining more skills, becoming more employable.” Page 10
The bigger vision from the CloudThe story for education up to now seems to go like this.First, comes the awareness that students expect more from the system than they‟re beingoffered. As Steve Beswick, Microsoft UK Director of Education, put it: “A decade ago, the ICT in a classroom was significantly better than the average student had access to at home. But we‟ve gone through a complete inversion – now the average student has incredible IT outside of the classroom – at home, in their room, and sometimes in their pocket. They have high IT expectations.”In particular, they want high-capacity email, and they want anytime, anywhere access fromtheir own preferred device.Then, the search for satisfying this demand shows that only a hosted service will beaffordable.Next comes the choice of supplier and the installation, followed by a period during which thefull range of the supplier‟s product is explored and used.There are, though, achievable steps beyond that, when Cloud services are scaled up to servebasic communication and collaboration needs across a large number of institutions. At thatpoint the Cloud becomes what Steve Beswick, calls: “A set of services, which is there for you to use, just like any other utility.”Steve compares this with the government, or the local authority, building a road on behalf ofthe community, rather than giving individual road building grants to individual householders.He sees it as a major opportunity for government and schools to work collaboratively: “We deliver a service which is there for every school, college, university – and every teacher and student. It opens up the possibility of a richer environment for less cost and we‟re excited about what could happen as a result.”Microsoft have announced the future vision for their Cloud services for education, withMicrosoft Office 365 for education, which adds new collaboration, communication andstorage services in the Cloud for students, staff and other education stakeholders. Thisreinforces the message that the Cloud is developing rapidly, and education institutionsshould continue to raise their expectations of what they can achieve using them.There are other aspects of the Cloud story to be explored in the future. For example, earlyresearch is showing that there are significant environmental benefits from using Cloud-basedservices – with reductions of between 50% and 90% in carbon emissions depending on theinstitution size (link) Page 11
What‟s the conclusion?So, having had the chance to speak to people involved in the journey to the Cloud – withinMicrosoft and within some of the education institutions that have already begun, let meshare with you some of the absolutely key things that I‟ve seen: There is no doubt, the cost savings from moving to the Cloud are variable, but for the adopters so far have been significant and often considerable. The real savings will come when Cloud services are scaled up to become what Steve Beswick calls, “A set of services, which is just there for you to use, just like any other utility.” Efficiency gains – increased capacity, significant improvements in collaboration and communication, freedom from routine maintenance and care, are equally important, especially when money is released for strategic investment for the future. Cloud services are also credited with reducing the carbon footprint of institutions – which stands to reason as large data centres will be much more efficient than each education institution, right down to primary schools, running their own growing bank of servers. Communication and collaboration are key qualities in a system which links thousands of widely dispersed students. Microsoft has a track record in providing hosted web services to UK education customers already. The existing and proven Microsoft software products upon which so many users depend for their work, far from being displaced by their Cloud counterparts, are being enhanced and extended by them. Cloud services need to be released into the institution‟s community so that users can build their own set of applications and practices. What these users need is guidance and safeguarding rather than instruction. The issues for users aren‟t so much technical as ethical, professional and administrative. (For example, if it‟s technically possible for a student to gain live access to a tutor at any time of day or night, does this call for good practice guidelines?) The future of Cloud services in any institution cannot easily be planned in detail. Its shape will emerge from a continuing conversation between leaders, users and the supplier. Page 12