Martin’s Weblog

Approaching Clouds – First Impressions

Increasing amounts of our lives are mediated by IT and developments in educational, social and technical culture require organisations to develop systems to deliver expectations.

Back in June 2008 I wrote “MLE to PLE a framework for considering systems” which attempted categories approach and offer criteria to help evaluate systems.

This blog looks at the systems for learning being considered at EHWLC to meet expectations and my first impressions.

Product on-site

This is the traditional approach – purchase software and hardware and install in your systems centre. The system we have been having a look at is Microsoft Sharepoint.

In many ways Sharepoint presents the issues of any traditional product on-site system. I have found Sharepoint to be time consuming and overly complex. Due to the logistics involved (product “manufacture” and provision to customer sites) I have found Sharepoint to be out if date at the time of delivery. It offers a traditional perspective on web 2.0, focused on Office documents when what I am looking for is web page “in-situ” creation and editing where you only need a browser. We are trying to move away from the sharing and circulation of word documents and Excel spreadsheets yet Sharepoint encourages this – not surprising really. One advantage to Sharepoint is it’s tight integration with your internal organisational systems (if you are using Active Directory). However, with the increasing number of non-organisational users you may wish to include (e.g. franchise partners etc) this approach presents problems.

Product hosted

Instead of installing a product in your system centre this approach is to use the system centre of a 3rd party to run (host) your system and access it via interfaces across the Internet. The 3rd party can offer business continuity and security. This approach offloads the work of running the data centre systems but presents the limitations of the product. The system we are considering is the ULCC hosted/serviced e-learning.

We have only just started looking at the ULCC hosted service. I am hoping that it errs more towards a service rather than hosting a product. One of the problems of a product on-site is that we are all so busy that finding the enormous amount of time required to get a system on the scale we are considering started up is very difficult. With the ULCC e-learning services we hope to be able to contract technical implementation time to the service providers so that actually provisioning a service becomes a possibility. One of the major areas I will be looking at are the Interfaces we can use to interface with our other systems

Service – Cloud (Organisational)

With this model you use the system centre of a 3rd party to run (host) your system but are not concerned about the technology behind the service – your focus is on the service itself. We have been experimenting with two cloud services for many months Microsoft live@edu  and Google apps for education  

Neither of these systems is fully ready yet and neither offer all I want or in a format I want but the potential is fantastic. For both these systems we have batch provisioned user accounts from files that can be generated by our MIS systems and both systems are very easy to administer. Both systems provide services which Microsoft and Google offer on their cloud sites (blogs, email, collaborative workspaces etc).

Organisational DIY

If you are lucky enough to have your own programmers this approach is to use your own specialists to program and design your own system. This could be on-site, hosted or in the cloud. We are working with Centime  with this approach. We have identified a great deal we would like to work on such as RSS feeds, interfaces, web page “in-situ” creating and editing etc. A major problem is the time and resources required to engineer these features.

Personal DIY – pure MASH

With this approach we use and integrate whatever people (learners and staff etc) choose to use. W e have been developing awareness and skillsets in many cloud systems for storage, blogging, feed aggregation, website creation etc.

I have found this approach fast moving, dynamic and exciting. The main problem has been with the “paradigm” – most users are unfamiliar and seem uncomfortable with freedoms and self responsibility of a personal DIY approach to their IT. Another problem has been with integrating the diverse systems into something coherent.

First Impressions

My first impressions are that none of the systems offers a complete solution of what I would like to see.

– A system that is inclusive of all our potential users – current staff, students and partners but also potential users and those who have left us (alumni).

– A system that is extremely easy to use and administer

– A system that provides data interfaces for college systems to use (something to identify the user to the system plus associated data)

– A system that is dynamic – easily and quickly able to change (agile)

The full Personal DIY MASHUP approach is I feel the direction we need to point ourselves in and to use those systems that help us to move in that direction.

Microsoft Sharepoint is too complex, slow to change and backward looking but is likely to have a place in a limited traditional organisational deployment perhaps as a development of our staff Intranet and replacement of the Pool drive.

Microsoft live@edu  and Google apps for education  – I have a “philosophical” problem with these – why provision college associated Microsoft live or Google accounts when people can do this themselves. Does a student really want to use a college associated email (e.g. martin.king@gspace.wlc.ac.uk ) for the rest of their lives. More likely is that these services can be used for a traditional secure project in the cloud and this is where our early experiments with these systems have taken place e.g. departmental collaborative space and calendars.

For me this leaves a combination of Organisational DIY (Centime) or service/hosted systems (ULCC hosted/serviced e-learning) provisioned in such a way to facilitate – pure MASH personal DIY.

As a test of these and one of the first projects I would like to look at is the replacement of college provisioned student email with students own email.

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December 7, 2008 - Posted by | cloud, IT and education, web 2 | , ,

2 Comments »

  1. […] Approaching Cloud – First Impressions describes some of the system types available for cloud computing – they can be regarded as if on a continuum from the more traditional “product on-site” approach (not really cloud) through to a fully MASHED DIY approach. […]

    Pingback by Cloud the Issues « Martin’s Weblog | December 14, 2008 | Reply

  2. Very thoughtful… at first blush I think that the overall Live environment supports the personal DIY approach well (as would Goog of course), and perhaps Microsoft should consider lessening the institutional orientation of Live.edu, but then there are all those uni CIO’s and IT managers to consider 🙂 Nice blog, I enjoy reading your posts.

    Comment by lewisshepherd | December 31, 2008 | Reply


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