BETT 2011 and SIF

If you are attending the largest ICT Education show in the world this week – BETT 2011 – then come and find out more about SIF by visiting the SIF Association UK’s stand upstairs in the Main Hall Gallery, along the Innovation Avenue. Look for stand reference INNPOD19. See you there 🙂

Virtualising SIF

Well… It’s been a mad few weeks hence being a quiety on the blog!

We’re migrating our SIF, Identity Management and Shibboleth Single Sign-on infrastructure to a ‘virtual data centre’ – a kind of private cloud.  This will give us loads of confidence in terms of scalability, high availability, sustainability and total cost of ownership, as well as alleviating the strain of managing the hardware, OS and networky side of things.

It has meant that there is much interest in what we are doing resulting in case studies, media coverage and a spell for me in front of the camera, lights and action – oh and having make-up applied in front of the team :-S

Still, I’ve learnt a few things…  It doesn’t matter how well you know your subject, asked about it in front of the camera and even a thoroughbred Bable Fish will struggle to translate your ramblings.  And, should I ever acknowledge that the Johnny Depp Pirates of the Caribbean look does have its advantages, then I now have some make-up application training 😉

If the film team are magicians and able to cut and slice the vid into something that is not too career limiting – and if I am able to post it – it will be here at some point.

SIF Association’s official response to the Education, Skills and Children’s Services Interoperability Review is published

The SIF Association’s official response to the Education, Skills and Children’s Services Interoperability Review is published. Read it here!

How much ICT infrastructure does a school really need to manage?

Let’s just start with servers…

A quick tally of the number and types of servers a typical secondary school might have sitting in a dedicated, no doubt air-conditioned, room resulted in this visual…

School Server Infrastructure Today

School Server Infrastructure Today

And a few of the disadvantages of this approach might be:

  • Some poor soul has to keep all of these running and somehow manage stay an up to date expert across a wide-ranging set of server services.
  • Each server is most likely running 24/7/365 at an average of around 200 watts – roughly £2.5k per annum in electricity bills alone and that’s quite a smelly carbon footprint to boot.

Provider: Scottish Power (Tariff: Premier Plus online, London)
Rate: 11.252 pence per kilowatt/hour
Rate last checked: 10th Sept 2009

And that’s without going down the whole maintenance and replacement, licensing and support costs. Nor factoring in stuff like resilience and security…

What if today looked something like this..?

School Infrastructure Today?

School Infrastructure Today?

A few of the advantages might be:

  • High availability resulting in high teacher confidence in the ‘invisible’ ICT.
  • Much lower total cost of ownership – subscription based access to services that you need and when you need them.
  • Flexible – add new and remove unwanted services with ease.
  • More space – no more dedicated server room.
  • Sweeter smelling carbon footprint.
  • Access from anywhere and at any time 🙂

Yeah right… But how do people login to the network?

They don’t. Ideally they single sign-on (online) into the services that they have privileges to access. Look at how you can link-up your accounts on many of the popular web based apps like Google, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook and so on and on and on… In education terms this would most likely look like using the UK Access Management Federation and Shibboleth for single sign-on.

But the web isn’t advanced enough yet to support all of the teaching, learning and management tools, apps and services that we need!

Sure it is! Just check out my Delicious bookmarks for a sample… Also check out Johannes Ahrenfelt’s blog for even more ideas!

Okay… But how on earth do I keep all of these disparate apps updated with the relevant info about students and staff?

How do you right now? A combination of many different and often bespoke or proprietary methods methinks? The Systems Interoperability Framework (SIF) is a promising option for education services. Get involved!

Yeah but what if our connection to the internet goes down?

Get some resilience. A fail-over connection maybe? Let’s face it, with all of those servers a potential weak point, the chances are that your internet connection is far more reliable than you might think!

What do you really think? Some good debate around this is very welcome 🙂

PS Would we still need a proxy server if, as is likely, most of the web traffic is encrypted across Secure Socket Layer (SSL) (port 443 / https)?

SIF in Norfolk

Here is a quick update on SIF in Norfolk… We are currently rolling out SIF Agents for all schools MIS’.  We are provisioning Google Apps accounts for about 130,000 users using a SIF Agent developed in-house using Edustructures ADK. The agent supports events.

We’re also keeping accounts synchronised throughout ‘the system’ via another in-house developed SIF Agent which supports the Identity Object.

The following diagram summarises:

SIF in Norfolk

Click the image to see SIF in Norfolk full size

How To Judge Your Vendor’s Support for a Standard

An interesting blog from Michael Feldstein about “How To Judge Your Vendor’s Support for a Standard” @

Education, Skills and Children’s Services: Interoperability Review

F2MKE Logo

I have read and digested this, re-read and re-digested… My initial thoughts are that, while the overall premise is absolutely correct in terms of the potential savings that an open interoperability standard can deliver across the sector, it doesn’t seem to present any logic in the suggested dismissal of SIF as a strong contender for development to meet the requirements.

I agree that SIF does have some shortcomings at present, but these are clearly recognised by the community and the will and swell of collaborative activity between schools, LAs, RBCs, Government departments and very importantly, suppliers, is without doubt there! The community approach, of which I have been a part since mid 2007, is an extremely refreshing and productive one. Indeed, it is the only approach that I can see being plausible in the development of a truly open standard. Just look at the make-up of the W3C and that clearly works!

The work of the is critical and there is no reason why the SIF standard cannot mature to deliver on the business and data standards set out.

The report provides examples of the current weaknesses in the SIF standard, but does not mention any of the positive aspects – aspects that I can clearly evidence as already delivering tangible and intangible benefits in terms of efficiencies and education. 14 to 19 is not excluded here either!

Finally, for now, the report fails to mention any alternative standard with which to ether compare or build upon.

Have a look at the following link for the full story and in the meantime, I will digest some more 😉

Introducing the Systems Interoperability Framework (SIF)

The Systems Interoperability Framework (SIF) is an international open standard that enables near real-time sharing of information between resources.

Because SIF is an open standard, any services using it can share information without the need for any bespoke integration.

The benefits are many…

  • Information about me is kept safe;
  • I’m more likely to access the valuable resources available to me;
  • The resources I use can be personalised;
  • Pluggable – all my systems, applications and resources work together;
  • Time is saved with information added once and reused many times;
  • Errors are reduced – information is reused many times and any changes are made only once then shared as relevant;
  • Near-time information sharing – I can update information once and it is shared in near-time with all of the relevant subscribing services;
  • Information sharing is controlled and secure;
  • Éducation sans Frontières!