Cloud Computing

8 Great WordPress Plugins

WordPress is used by more than 72 Million websites.  In fact, WordPress is used by over 16.7% of Alexa Internet‘s “top 1 million” websites and as of August 2011 manages 22% of all new websites.  48 of the World’s top 100 blogs use WordPress.  And WordPress is more than a simple blog engine, it’s developed to become one of the most simple to use Content Management Systems available today.  This is largely thanks to its rich plugin architecture and community support.  Did you know that there are more than 23,000 WordPress plugins – and counting?!

This great infographic by yoast.com illustrates the popularity of WordPress.

WordPress Stats Inforgraphic

 

Here’s a quick overview of 8 plugins that I find most useful…

 

http://jetpack.me/ – Jetpack supercharges your self-hosted WordPress site with the awesome cloud power of WordPress.com.

http://www.velvetblues.com/web-development-blog/wordpress-plugin-update-urls/ -VelvetBlues allows you to automatically update all of the links in your site when you change domains, or the format of your main URL.

http://ocaoimh.ie/wp-super-cache/ – WP Super Cache will speed up your site big time… Worked well for http://www.F2MKE.co.uk.

http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wptouch/ – WP Touch is not a bad way of auto-converting your site for mobile devices with lots of configuration options.  Doesn’t work quite so well for heavily customised sites – this is where you might have to consider getting down and dirty with some serious CSSing.

http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/cookie-confirm/ – Cookie Confirm is a brilliantly simple way of meeting your EU legal requirements for privacy.

http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/embed-posts/ – Embed Posts is a way of neatly and simply making a page out of posts.  Great if you want to reuse posts in multiple pages.  Try combining this with JQuery Expanding Box http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/jquery-expanding-box/ which creates a shortcode to add an expandable box to show and hide the selected content on a post or page with customisable show and hide links.

http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/all-in-one-favicon/ – get All In One Favicon to easily update site icons, including your favicon.

The Server-less School

With an open standards integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS) available, could we see the dawn of a server-less school?  What’s needed?

– An Identity Management (IdM) service with automated Systems Interoperability Framework (SIF) integration with a school’s Management Information System (MIS);

– A Shibboleth federated Single Sign-on (SSo) Identity Provider (IdP) service;

– A Zone Integration Server (ZIS) service.

The extent of ‘Cloud’ application services compatible with the iPaaS summarised above could negate the need for Local Area Network (LAN) hosted directory, file and application servers..?  If we can show that proxy and caching servers are also redundant, then we are well on the way to a server-less school.  What does this mean?  In short, this means less infrastructure and related hard, soft and management costs overhead, together with fewer things to go wrong when relying upon Internet access for teaching & learning. This approach also lends itself to a device agnostic Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) strategy.  The following image visualises this idea…

 

Future School

Chromebook Charging Cart

Wow! I’ve just stumbled across news that a Chromebook Charging Cart exists and if you live in the States is free together with a Cloud printer for purchases of 30 Chromebooks!  What’s the deal for us in Blighty?

Chromebook Charging Cart

Chromebook Charging Cart

Google Chrome OS

Google’s Chrome Cloud focussed OS and Chromebooks combined with a Google Apps for Business or Education deployment, have the potential to revolutionise the business and education IT world by significantly reducing support and maintenance costs, improving availability – ergo productivity, bettering Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and sustainability and delivering greener IT.

Here’s a great video that illustrates why a move to the Cloud makes sense…

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.

http://shibboleth.internet2.edu/about.html

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.

http://www.ukfederation.org.uk/

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 http://www.computerworlduk.com/.

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 –http://www.google.com/about/datacenters/.

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.

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.

Jolicloud

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

 

http://evolutionofweb.appspot.com/