What is Shibboleth and the UK Access Management Federation (UKAMF)?

Shibboleth is an open source and standards based software package for web Single Sign-on (SSo). It allows software services and applications to make informed authorisation decisions for individual access of online resources in a privacy-preserving manner.

In the United Kingdom, the UK Access Management Federation (UKAMF) provides a single solution to accessing online resources and services for education and research using the Shibboleth software.  Identity Providers (IdP) and Service Providers (SP) can register with the UKAMF by following a set of procedures and implementing agreed to policies.

The best explanation I have found so far about how Shibboleth and the UKAMF works is in the following video…

Reaching for the Cloud

BETT Show Michael PickettOn Thursday 12th January 2012 I had the nerve-racking pleasure of presenting Norfolk’s deployment of Google Apps for Education and Chromebook pilot from the Google stand at the BETT Show 2012.

This was Google’s first presence at the BETT Show and wow were they continuously packed! The stand was brilliant – an outdoor classroom theme with an awesome Google Science Fair smoothie bar – drinks served in test tubes!

Despite my nerves, enhanced by the packed audience and pointed video camera, I think that my presentation was well received – judging by the staying put of the crowd and queue of questioners afterwards. Well, the video evidence will either confirm or dispel this notion!

The expressions of intensified interest when I talked about Norfolk having the largest single domain UK public sector implementation of Google Apps – 148,000 registered users – were welcomed. Further err Googling suggests that this may well be the largest single domain deployment in the World!  More on this to come (hopefully) courtesy of a write-up by

Interest seemed to further swell as I talked about how Google’s open standards enabled us to sit Apps for Education over our standards based Cloud infrastructure with its core components including Identity Management, Shibboleth for Single Sign-on (SSo) and the Systems Interoperability Framework (SIF) for the secure and automated movement of data around the system.

If you are still interested then the following slides accompanied my presentation…

How Green is the Cloud?

An emerging wealth of evidence supports the argument that the flip-side of reducing our impact on our World’s resources – dependent upon how we approach ICT – is significant financial savings.

Green Cloud ComputingFor example, the adoption of Cloud – sharing pooled resources and facilities – will contain the viral growth of duplicate data centres across many enterprises.  This not only makes a case for Cloud as an energy-saver, but ‘pay for what you need and when you need it’ pricing models compete very favorably against the costs of traditional models.

Client devices offered in the Hardware as a Service vein and designed to be Cloud focused are typically very low powered.  In terms of battery life this makes them more practical for the mobile user – or in the classroom where keeping devices charged for the learning day presents its own logistical challenges.  Lower power is clearly greener and happily brings down electricity bills.

The Carbon Disclosure Project reports that a company adopting cloud computing can reduce its energy consumption, lower its carbon emissions and decrease its capital expenditure on IT resources while improving operational efficiency.

An energy study by Microsoft, Accenture and WSP claimed that a company with 100 employees can reduce energy consumption and emissions by more than 90% if applications are deployed in the Cloud.

And Cloud data centres are getting greener too –

Cloud computing offers other Green and cost benefits such as:

  • Fewer car journeys where support can be managed remotely, in the Cloud;
  • Increased employee productivity through more flexible, mobile working combined with much improved availability;
  • Improved device longevity with reduced dependency upon increasingly resource hungry Operating Systems and locally installed applications.

Is the keyboard dead..?

There’s a great deal of discussion about the relevance of traditional devices with a physical keyboard attached – netbooks, laptops, desktops, etc. – with the advent and increasingly adopted tablet. I use all of these types of devices (on iOS now) but am still not convinced that I would naturally want to bin the keyboard for certain tasks like large word processing..?

It’s all about me :)

Another infographic generator from This visually plots information based upon your answers to some fairly basic questions against the responses of over 200,000 previously surveyed people.

It's all about me infographic

Some easy to use and fully customisable inforgraphics generator tools would be fantastic! IBM’s Many Eyes online tool is a good start, but I want to be able to use my own base images, colours and stuff… Powerful in the classroom and in business.

Me as a Twitter infographic! Shopping..? ;-)

Just had a go with the labs Twitter infographic generator…

The quiet Google Apps and Chromebooks revolution

Over the past few weeks I have been assessing how best we can deploy and manage a set of Google Chromebooks to be piloted across a group of schools.  We already have an enterprise deployment of Google Apps for Education with approximately 130,000 users grouped into around 450 Organisational Units.  The entire user and organisational management is efficiently streamlined using the Systems Interoperability Framework (SIF); new users, transient users and leavers are all near-time captured through SIF making account management a breeze!

How does this work?  (1) The school Management Information System (MIS) is updated – pupils and staff intake, leavers, or changes – and modifications are transported securely via SIF and the (2) Zone Integration Server (ZIS) to the Identity Management (IdM) server.  Here users identities are matched or created.  (3) Then the identities are passed via SIF to the ZIS and then (4) on to Google Apps.

SIF Identity Management

Now here’s the cloud clever bit… Before deployment to your users, each Google Chromebook is registered with your organisation’s Google Apps domain using the management console.  Here you can define a multitude of policy options including which applications, or extensions, a user should, or should not, have access to.  Policies can be defined for different organisational units – pupils and staff, sales and marketing, etc. – and updated at any time.  Any user who signs-in in to any registered Chromebook will automatically receive the profile relevant to them.  Organisational Unit policy changes are automatically applied the next time a user signs-in, or after a set time period.

Chromebook Management

This is a fantastic example of how simple, powerful, efficient and cost effective cloud computing really can be.  No expensive domain servers to maintain and house.  No network intensive traditional roaming profiles.  Easy management from any place in the world with an Internet connection.  Flexible and mobile workforce and learners.

Cloud Computing for Slimmers

The emergence of slimline Operating Systems (OS) such as Jolicloud and Google’s Chrome OS, which focus upon delivering applications, file storage and security from the web, changes things.


They herald the promise of much faster access to what we want and do the most – the web.

Think about it. No really, really think about it. When you boot your PC, laptop, tablet, or mobile device, what and where is it that you want to go fastest and first? Email? Information search? Apps that keep you productive or in the social mix? The probability is that all this stuff is now located on the web – in ‘The Cloud’. Even the files that you store, or media that you might want to share, are sitting out there in the ether…

So… Why on earth would you want to hang about waiting for your device to boot, figure out if it is up to date, virus scan gigs and gigs of inefficiently used, or unused, hard disc drive (HDD) space, nag you for reboots and oh, check if it is still up to date, etc., and so on?

What if your Operating System (OS) went on a diet? What if it was designed to get you onto the Internet and to all of the stuff that you want to do way faster? Maybe you could even stop worrying about losing your stuff, or protecting it from nasty intruders? How about you don’t need to think about changing your device, or upgrading your hardware, every couple of years?

These are just some of the things to start considering when looking at what the slimline and web focussed OS’ have to offer. Whether you are replacing your home setup, or if you are making decisions about a full-on enterprise alternative to traditional desktop solutions, you probably should consider the Cloud desktop.

Here are just a few reasons why…

1) An OS that is slimline, or small footprint, demands less of your device resources and thus – assuming the hardware keeps working – is faster for longer;

2) Less apps installed locally means fewer updates, reduced client management and backup and recovery headaches are pushed into the Cloud;

3) Why not combine a move to the Cloud with a reduction in Hard Disc Drive (HDD) space and device moving parts by phasing in Solid State Drives (SSD) – extended device life too?

4) Consider a support model that favours connectivity and capacity over the device and hardware – if most stuff is in the Cloud then issuing a replacement device is far cheaper – standard builds and courier swaps, as well as pushing identity management and authentication beyond the Local Area Network (LAN);

5) Do we need locally housed and managed servers anymore?

6) A slimmer OS is more likely to accommodate a lower powered device and hence, greener IT – oh and did I mention that you might be able to do away with local servers, related air conditioning and useful space?;

7) Web apps are increasingly device agnostic;

8) Flexible and mobile working combined with workforce reform can only thrive in this environment;

9) So… Sustainability, portability, cheaper and greener!

I’m leading a project to introduce and pilot a small number of Cloud focussed OS devices into schools and these are a few of the questions that I hope to answer. And that’s alongside assessing the real benefits that any of these sorts of ICT devices might bring to an education, or business, environment. So do follow me on Twitter, subscribe to my RSS feed, or keep coming back to see how these questions are answered in the real world.

I’ve focussed upon evidencing the delivery of cheaper desktop solutions here. But this is just one piece in the whole Cloud jigsaw. In my opinion, key to an overall successful Cloud strategy is data and / or information interoperability. You want all of these disparate Cloud apps to link together for the user’s sake! If you are reading this with interest and a watching brief, then whatever your current strategy is, start with open standards data interoperability! If you are in the education market then don’t miss SIF!

The Evolution of the Web

Whilst trawling for information on Chrome OS and its supporting devices to understand how these might be deployed and managed across a large estate, I stumbled upon this great interactive infographic, built in HTML5, which details the evolution of major web technologies and browsers.

The Evolution of the Web

The benefits of Cloud Hosting for SMEs

Commensus‘ CTO Alex has written an engaging and succinct guide to the benefits of Cloud Hosting for Small to Medium Enterprises. Many of the points raised in his article are clearly relevant to other sectors.
Cloud Computing

“In our increasingly globalised world, small businesses need an operating communications network to span the geographically dispersed parts of the company. But the business applications required to achieve this are an pricey proposition in our current economic climate. This is making it progressively hard for small companies to compete with large corporations who hold seemingly infinite budgets. But we are now seeing the emergence of multi-tenanted business applications based upon a price-per-user model, or in other words, the Public Cloud. This is allowing youthful organisations to enjoy enterprise level services, security and products, at a fraction of the price.

Now is the time to begin “Thinking Big” – and utilizing communications to get there. With Cloud Computing, instead of running Desktops, Applications, Exchange or Voice through physical in-house servers, they are hosted on centralised virtual servers in a data centre. This entire process is instant to setup and easy to use; you just login, customise and begin. Applications are more scalable, more secure and more reliable as you don’t need a copy of an app for every department using it, just one app which is variable enough for everyone to customise for their own particular needs. You can instantly provision applications whenever you need them as the end user directly controls the resources they require. This allows firms striving to adapt to the pace and dynamism of business today to deploy highly resilient virtual machines for their staff, dawning a new era of flexibility.

Managers are beginning to realise a change in the dynamics of their businesses now that staff can be networked more cost-effectively, no matter where in the world they are. Employees can benefit from enhanced mobility with access to their individual desktop user profile from any device – Laptop, Thin Client or iPad – from anywhere in the globe within reach of a 3G network. This makes it easy to connect individuals and offices in one cohesive, responsive unit in which users share and synchronise emails, diaries and files. Small organisations can hire home-based workers, or open small branch offices, or more effectively connect employees on their mobiles to deliver seamless, customer service as easily as a large corporation. Cloud Computing also furthers employee productivity and innovation by offering access to the latest technology without the need for any investment in upgrades so small organisations get first class IT on a global scale without having to spend a penny.

IT executives have raised some concerns about the security of their data in the Cloud. But since all data and applications are centralised in a data centre, it is vastly simpler to enable and enforce processes and procedures to ensure security, privacy and other best practices. No data is stored on a device, so you never have to worry about proprietary data coming into the wrong hands if the device itself is missing, stolen or breaks. This is particularly significant with potentially gigabytes of sensitive corporate data sitting on the desk of each member of staff.

But some executives are still hesitant to take the step: their thought is that they would no longer be able to ‘touch and feel’ the systems which drive their company. Alex Parker, CTO of Commensus PLC is not surprised by this reaction, but feels there is enough experience of remote working to relieve those fears. “Data centres have been on the scene for three decades or more: Cloud computing is simply a logical progression of that service. There has been little evidence of businesses experiencing problems with access to data and with comprehensive service level agreements that specify virtually constant availability, any remaining concerns should be set aside.”

Most businesses are small (over 98% have less than 100 employees) and they like it that way: they value the flexibility, responsiveness and customer interaction. It is clearer than ever that the competitiveness of an organisation is now less based on its size than ever before. By having effective use of today’s communications capabilities, small firms can contend against anyone, anytime, anywhere, of any size. If you think it, you can do it. With the development of cloud technology and the applications and solutions available to small business, the sky really is the limit and size is no longer an issue.”

Follow Alex @WhatistheCloud