SIF

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

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…

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!

Google Trends

What’s trending in Google today?

First up is the Systems Interoperability Framework

Most searched for images…

The growth of Twitter…

UK Government seeks a common infrastructure built on open standards

The UK Government’s Cabinet Office has announced a strategy to deliver real financial savings and efficiency gains through the agile implementation of an ICT infrastructure that will enable the reuse and sharing of our ICT assets.

In a move that is believed to reduce the high level of risk associated with large scale ICT projects, the infrastrtucture will build upon the successes of smaller projects that have transformed services through the use of common and open standards.  By encouraging and in some cases mandating the use of open standards, joining-up all of these pockets of smaller projects to form a supportive, comfortable and long lasting king size infrastructure mattress will be simpler.

Some key points to note:

The Government will push ahead with its agenda for data centre, network, software and asset consolidation and the shift towards cloud computing.

The standardised cloud platform will also allow developers, especially SMEs, to generate innovative solutions.

A common infrastructure based on open standards will allow for greater flexibility of policies and services delivered at lower cost and within a shorter timeframe.

The use of common standards can make ICT solutions fully interoperable to allow for reuse, sharing and scalability across organisational boundaries into local delivery chains.

The adoption of compulsory open standards will help government to avoid lengthy vendor lock-in, allowing the transfer of services or suppliers without excessive transition costs, loss of data or significant functionality.

Modern, knowledge-based service delivery underpinned by effective information architecture and open standards will support government to build more transparent, trusted and efficient information exchange processes.

Read more at http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/content/government-ict-strategy

Influence UK Government technology standards now!

UK Government Open Standards Survey

I’m not sure how well publicised this Cabinet Office survey has been..? I stumbled across it whilst searching for something quite different.  The closing date is 20th May 2011 – so complete it today!

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/UKGovOpenStandards

The results from this survey will be reviewed by the Chief Technology Officers Council and their conclusions will be published on the Cabinet Office website in the Autumn.

Here’s the background…

Government must be better connected to the people it serves and the partners who can work with it – especially small businesses, voluntary and community organisations.  Government ICT must play a fundamental role in making life easier.

One of our first goals is to organise Government data and systems using an agreed set of standards that make our ICT more open, cheaper and better connected.  To do this, we need to know which standards are most important to you.

The survey ends on 20 May 2011.  We’ve included free-text fields in the survey, so you can tell us what we have missed or which alternative standards you believe may be better.  The results from this survey will be reviewed by the Chief Technology Officers Council and their conclusions will be published on the Cabinet Office website in the Autumn.  Bear with us whilst we work through your suggestions and please understand that we’ll have to prioritise our responses.

 

Interoperability across the UK

A picture speaks a thousand words… And this one, a map showing the official spread of Systems Interoperability Framework (SIF) implementations across England and Wales, says it all!  I’m sure that in time there will be a map to reflect the wider UK, including Northern Ireland and Scotland where there are already implementations.

UK Interoperability Map (Jan 2011)You can click on the map image to go to the UK SIF Association’s fully annotated PDF version, or visit http://goo.gl/1RXsn.

Do you have a SIF implementation in your area that you want to talk about and add to the blue on the map?  Get in touch now with the UK SIF Association at https://www.sifassociation.org/uk/.

SIF Association UK and the DfE to work closely together on interoperability!

The Department for Education (DfE) has released a joint statement with the SIF Association UK stating that they “have agreed to work closely together to take forward work on the interoperability of data in the UK education system.

This is great news that should see interoperability in the UK education space energized.

It is clear that SIF Association UK members need to demonstrate “stories” that show real life implementation benefits. Stories about how SIF has reduced burdens upon schools that can be directly translated into cash to spend. How SIF has made transactions across the system easier? Where efficiency gains have been made?  And with transparency high on the current government’s agenda, how SIF is an enabler for the publicising of data? For example to parents about how well a school is performing? It is also really important and increasingly so with the advent and propagation of Free Schools and Academies, that SIF as a facilitator of local choice and control is examined.

Finally, those with an interest in interoperability should really start to consider how SIF could be developed to serve a purpose wider than the schools space?

To view the statement on the Information Standards Board website go to http://www.escs-isb.org.uk/news/news/ISB+SIF+Association+Interoperability+Statement.htm and on the SIF Association UK’s website in PDF at http://www.sifassociation.org/uk/upload/news/9E2DB7_UK_Interoperability_Statement_March_2011.pdf

SchoolsICT has videos of Tim Wright’s presentation and QA session at http://goo.gl/nbPIV

SIF Association UK Video

A great video release that clearly explains what the Systems Interoperability Framework is, how it works and what benefits can be achieved.