Immerse yourself in AWS

OpsWorks_PDP_Header

The Cloud is becoming ever more central to all parts of higher and further education from central IT to research, teaching and learning. Amazon recognises that help is needed to find your most appropriate route through what can be a maze.

AWS immersion days will show you best practices for deploying applications, optimising performance, monitoring cloud resources, driving efficiencies, reducing costs and more. And you will meet AWS staff so you can start building beneficial relationships to help you as and when your institution changes and you need advice or help.

You can see more details and register here. If you can’t go to this one keep your eye on the AWS website for the next announcement.

 

10 Mistakes to avoid when choosing a cloud

cloud mistakes

The benefits of moving to the cloud are compelling but with a new cloud infrastructure comes a new set of challenges and risks that require a new way of thinking. From the very start, you will need an in-depth understanding of the new mindset that cloud technologies demand. If you don’t learn quickly you may well fall foul to one of these 10 mistakes.

  1. Leaping before you look – cloud is a means to an end: you want happy users using applications that meet their needs and your security and compliance needs. Make sure that this aim does not get lost in a complex, technical strategy.
  2. Assuming all clouds offer the same service – private, public or hybrid, the right cloud mix depends on your specific requirements as well as the applications and infrastructure you have already invested in. Don’t forget your requirements will almost certainly change. So when you choose your cloud supplier don’t think you have ‘found the one’. Choosing a cloud supplier and structure is not a marriage and you may well need to change suppliers, avoid being locked in.
  3. Becoming too stressed over varying performance levels – different suppliers will provide varying services levels for a given application. They will vary in different regions and for various set-ups. It is up to you to plan for specific performance levels and be ready to tweak them until you reach your goals.
  4. Expecting any application to run on any cloud infrastructure – cloud providers are not OS agnostic. If your infrastructure is heavily dependent on Windows Google will not be an option for you. Some legacy systems aren’t supported by any cloud provider. Do your homework in detail before committing to a provider.
  5. Forecasting the same cost distribution for all your resources across all suppliers – the more specialised your application the more likely your cost is to vary considerably across different suppliers.
  6. Assuming all suppliers work to the same SLA – every supplier will have their own SLA and these might even vary from service to service. Remember to read the small print very carefully before you sign up and pay particular attention to novation clauses.
  7. Not aligning 3rd party support across different cloud providers  – applications based on specific virtual appliances are unlikely to be supported to the same level by every cloud provider. Don’t leave it until an advanced implementation stage before you discover this, check the small print early on.
  8. Designing an application without considering your cloud provider’s unique characteristics – if you ignore these unique variables you are setting yourself up for an unpredictable project as far as cost, performance and later maintenance are concerned.
  9. Not leveraging the full potential of the cloud – choosing a supplier doesn’t mean you have to migrate all your applications in one fell swoop. Don’t forget that for each service and application you might choose a different approach, you just need to beware of creating an overly complex infrastructure.
  10. Ignoring disaster recovery and automated migration requirements – application downtime is always going to be a  challenge. It is up to you to ensure all your applications remain available through cloud outages and that it is easy to migrate to your chosen cloud provider from your existing set-up and legacy systems. It is up to you to  plan for Recovery Point Objective, Recovery Time Objective and automated migration requirements for the long term, some suppliers may help but not all, check before you sign.

Whatever route you take keep at the forefront of your mind that what you need and get today WON’T be the only thing you need tomorrow, remain agile and flexible to make the most of being on the cloud.

Share this with your colleagues and don’t forget that there is more advice and support on this blog.

Thanks to CloudEndure.com 

What does data egress mean for higher education?

Researchers are beginning to rely on cloud computing to help them drive through breakthrough science projects and they need to be able to feel confident about how much this is going to cost. Amazon recognizes this and last March they offered a discount for qualified researchers when they are downloading or sharing data. Amazon have written a useful post on their blog which makes the situation clear for researchers everywhere.

Amazon database

Setting up an Amazon Web Services account is straight-forward if you use the Jisc Amazon Web Services Portal and don’t forget that you will benefit from the speed and security of the Janet network.

We know the importance of your research and know that the Jisc / Amazon / Arcus partnership will keep you at the cutting edge of what you need.

 

Have you got a hybrid cloud road-map?

Hybrid Cloud in hand

Building a hybrid cloud road map

Cloud is a hot commodity in the IT community just now and we are all thinking that we should be migrating all or some of our IT infrastructure. The environment is rapidly changing and hybrid cloud is all the rage. But it can be hard to put a long-term hybrid cloud strategy in place.

The hybrid cloud model allows you to deploy a combination of private and public cloud services. You can move workload between clouds using them at their optimum comfort level. Cloud bursting allows you to use public clouds if and when capacity demands spike.

Hybrid clouds are dynamic IT entities that can be challenging to deploy and manage. Having a robust road-map will help you mitigate oversights or unexpected industry changes that could cripple your hybrid cloud. It’s important to consider all the trade-offs and not loose site of some of the more invisible benefits.

What MUST be part of the map?

  1. FUTURE GROWTH

It is not impossible that you will be expected to expand the benefits of your cloud infrastructure. Don’t forget:

  • Public cloud may not absorb all growth, budget monthly OPEX to handle extra IT burdens
  • Data stores may remain in private cloud and CAPEX will be needed for on-premises expansion
  1. THE BUSINESS PARTNER RELATIONSHIP

Public cloud providers are business partners, you do not control their behaviour and the relationship may be finite. Have contingency plans to cover:

  • The provider going out of business – how are you going to get your data back and where are you going to store it in the short term?
  • The provider failing to uphold its SLA – how are you going to move your business elsewhere? You should have an up-to-date list of alternative suppliers and have had initial conversations to start building a relationship?
  1. NEW INDUSTRY OR GOVERNMENT REGULATIONS

We all know that there is a raft of official compliance to be managed and cloud is no exception. Perfectly acceptable cloud deployment today may not be compliant when regulations are introduced or updated. Make sure that you have a tried and tested process for introducing change and managing a compliance audit.

 

Three hybrid benefits you might be missing

  1. MAKING THE MOST OF CONTAINERS

Moving from one cloud platform to another can be complicated and expensive. Containers make it easier to move workloads between various cloud types. Containers encapsulate application workloads thus providing portability.

Moreover, you can use clustering services such as Google Kubernetes and Docker Swarm. Container clusters are easy to manage and work well with hybrid cloud computing where you might be using different types of cloud for different purposes.

  1. RESOURCE AUTOMATION

If you have multiple cloud platforms for various applications and services you may well be dealing with native interfaces and that can be complex and disorderly. With a Cloud Management Platform (CMP) resources can be managed from a single domain with good automation and controls.

Users will get one, simple access route into public and private clouds even when there are different interfaces . Institutions can benefit from other automation services to manage usage through policy-based approaches that work with many back-end cloud-based technologies in a single unified system.

  1. MAXIMIZING SUNKEN HARDWARE COSTS

You may have already bought rafts of hardware for part of your cloud strategy. If the strategy changes and you are under pressure to move entirely to public cloud remember to point out that you can’t recover those hardware costs. In many cases maintaining a private cloud as part of a hybrid cloud strategy will be more cost-effective. The hardware investment has already been made and a hybrid approach can help recover that value.

Cloud strategy is always built on moving sands and you will need to be agile to stay upright; having a proper understanding of the environment and some reliable, basic building blocks will help.

What benefit do I get from using Jisc procured services? 

What is procurement?

It is vital that when you are planning any new capital expenditure you properly plan the procurement, the benefits of doing so are clear:

  • All stakeholders will be included in the planning process and share the decision making
  • It allows you to properly manage expectations on timescale and outcomes
  • It will allow you to recognise the range of support you need to fulfil the ideal solution

However, procurement is not always a straight forward process especially if you are required to follow the EU Procurement directives. These directives will be required if you are spending in excess of £164,176 (this value covers the entire life of a contract – not just a single years’ worth of spend).

Procurement Process

As well as reaching the right decision on the technology or services you are purchasing you will need to:

  • Establish the correct procurement procedure to be followed, you may need external support for this.
  • Draft Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) or other advertisement, after Brexit this will continue to be the case until new legislation is passed and to-date there is no schedule on this.
  • You will need to draft procurement / contract documentation e.g. Pre-qualification Questionnaire (PQQ), Issue Invitation to Tender (ITT), draft terms and conditions of any final contract to all interested suppliers.
  • Manage and evaluate supplier’s tenders as well as feeding back to all unsuccessful tenderers.
  • Comply with your institution’s financial regulations or, in the case of major purchases, comply with EU regulations, after Brexit this will continue to be the case until new legislation is passed.

Procurement can be bureaucratic and time consuming and it is advisable to seek advice and support from a procurement specialist who can ensure that you select the most appropriate route.

How does pre-procurement help? 

 If you choose a pre-procured service, such as Amazon Web Services, Google Apps for Education or Microsoft 365, you can be confident that we have been through a rigorous procurement process and contracted the very best terms and conditions for the sector.

You will:

  • NOT be tied down by complex and lengthy processes
  • NOT have to spend money and time on expensive legal support
  • NOT have to source procurement support if you do not have it in-house
  • NOT have to justify your approach to senior management; Jisc is a trusted procurement partner.
  • Benefit from the sectors buying power (economies of scale). Jisc is more than likely to achieve better value for money than procuring the same services on your own.
  • Have in place a robust audit trail of procuring services in line with legislation and gaining value for money.

Rather than regretting the day you ever started a complex procurement procedure with anonymous multinational companies, if you choose pre-procured services you can rapidly be signed up and benefitting from improved efficiency and value for money.

Can Jisc help if you do choose to do a procurement?

If you do need to do a procurement yourself we have a useful guide to help you with the journey.

https://jisc.ac.uk/guides/selecting-technologies

 

On-premise vs cloud; what’s more cost-effective for your apps?

Cloud and Apps

It is very easy to be lured onto the cloud by the concept of only paying for resources when you use them; moving your budget spend from CAPEX to OPEX is an attractive way to manage stretched budgets.

Do a triage first

But … it’s not as straight-forward as you may like and you need to be careful. Some applications aren’t suited to run in public cloud for either technological or financial reasons. You will need to do a careful triage and properly understand your application portfolio and analyse where they best sit. Ultimately much of the cloud vs on premises decisions come down to whether the application is designed to run in the cloud.

It’s not just about cost

It is important to dig deeper, look beyond the cost savings, why else are you moving to the cloud and is this the best thing to do? There are some useful Cloud cost analysis tools such as CloudCheckr and Cloudability  that will help avoid any surprises.

Remember that a change in platform will almost certainly require a change in culture. You will need to work into your implementation plans resistance from colleagues as well as technical hiccups. Granularly tracking resource use may throw up some unexpected budgetary considerations that will need careful management across your institution.

What’s the next level?

It’s going to take a while, but over time people throughout your institution will better understand and have more expertise to use cloud services at scale which will result in cost optimisations you didn’t expect to be possible. And you never know, one day the apps themselves will seek out the most efficient platform.

You can read more about this at TechTarget and finesse your cloud usage.

Research Council UK Cloud Computing Group survey

Regulatory and legal use of the public cloud

The cloud is becoming an ever more central resource for research and education. The Research Council UK (RCUK) Cloud Computing Working Group is keen to find out about users’ views on regulatory and legal use of ‘public cloud’, Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure to name but a few.

The data will be used in a short report that will inform a dialogue with cloud providers, research funders and government.

We need your input

The survey should not take you too long, you can find it here. Your details will not be shared beyond the working group and the resulting report will be an anonymised aggregate summary of the findings. It is important that cloud users voices are heard properly and this is your chance to contribute your experiences.

 

 

Ignoring the cloud or not having a cloud strategy will not be an option for CIOs

Cloud images

Gartner (technology analysts) believe cloud-first in software design and planning is gradually being augmented or replaced by cloud-only and this applies to both private and hybrid cloud scenarios.

‘More leading-edge IT capabilities will be available only in the cloud, forcing reluctant organisations closer to cloud adoption’ – Yefim Natis, vice president and Gartner fellow

These findings are based largely on commercial businesses. As teaching and research institutions begin to reap the benefits of working on the cloud it is becoming increasingly clear that the pace of change is speeding up. According to Gartner the commercial SaaS market alone is expected to grow 37% globally by 2020. IaaS and PaaS spending is set to grow to a point where it represents 27% of overall IT spending; the educational market place is likely to follow suit.

With this pace of change it will be important for organisations to build a robust cloud strategy allowing for flexible, agile change. There is an interesting article in Computer Weekly which gives food for thought for institutions managing their move to the cloud. There is some interesting research from Insight on 2016 Cloud trends which also suggests the same embedding of the cloud in a range of business types and sizes.

cloud-trends-2016

Jisc knows that you will be starting from a range of different points and we are here to support you from whichever standpoint you come.

 

Learn more with AWS webinars

Extend your knowledge base with AWS webinars

Extend your knowledge base with AWS webinars

Keep up to speed with Amazon webinars

Applications on the cloud develop at a rapid pace and it is important that you keep up to speed. Amazon are helping. They offer a selection of live online presentations covering a broad range of topics at a range of technical levels so you should be able to find something that helps you.

They are covering all the buzz topics at the moment: security, storage, big data and more; you’ll learn about products, solutions and best practices.

You can see the entire series here and you can sign-up with Amazon online.

From virtual reality field trips to interactive carpets – reporting from the Google in Education Summit

In June we hosted our first Google in Education Summit at the Jisc offices in London. This event brought together colleges and universities that use Google Apps for Education and related products to discuss their experiences, and how they would like to see Google for Education products develop. Senior staff from Google were on hand to hear from institutions, and to present on recent developments in the Google for Education product suite. We also took the opportunity to do a little “future gazing” and imagine how a few of Google’s current R&D projects might translate into future products for teachers and learners.

Google for Education – institutional experiences

Yousef Fouda describes Warwickshire College Group's use of Google tools

Yousef Fouda describes Warwickshire College Group’s use of Google tools

Kicking the Summit off, we heard how Warwickshire College Group and the University of York had used the cloud-based collaboration tools of Google Apps for Education to save money and work more efficiently. For example, Warwickshire College Group had saved over £50,000 a year by encouraging staff to try Google’s Hangouts conferencing tool as an alternative to face-to-face meetings. The University of York used Google Apps with some 3,500 staff and 18,000 students, and had made extensive use of Google Forms and Apps Script to automate routine tasks.

Liz Sproat describes Google's vision for education

Liz Sproat describes Google’s vision for education

Liz Sproat, Google’s Head of Education for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, advised Summit delegates that Google Apps for Education now had over 60 million users around the world, with particular interest being shown by schools and colleges. Liz updated the group on recent developments including a radically updated version of Google Sites, Android compatibility for Chromebooks, and Expeditions virtual field trips.

Evolution of existing Google for Education products

We structured the Google in Education Summit as a highly interactive event. Delegates were able to provide feedback about their experiences with Google for Education products and services, and share their ideas about future developments of these tools. Delegates were particularly interested in Classroom, which many felt had the potential to replace long established Virtual Learning Environments like Moodle and Blackboard.

Jisc and Google were encouraged to explore Classroom integration with Jisc’s new learning analytics pilot service, which aims to provide students with a “Fitbit for learning”. Delegates were also keen to see plagiarism detection services such as TurnItIn and Urkund integrated with Classroom, and suggested a large number of small incremental usability improvements to Google for Education products.

An example of the usability improvements discussed at the summit was the suggestion that Google Apps administrators should be able to apply for extended YouTube video posting rights for all of their users – at present a separate request needs to be made for each user that would like to post long form YouTube videos.

From the research lab to the classroom?

My day job is as Jisc’s resident futurist, and so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask summit delegates to consider the potential teaching and learning applications of a few of Google’s current R&D projects. Several particularly interesting new technologies are being developed by Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group:

  • Project Soli. Ever felt frustrated by small screens on phones and smartwatches? Soli turns any surface into a controller, so you really could have an interactive carpet, table top. Delegates felt that Soli had huge potential for transforming learning spaces, and helping educators to make learning more inclusive.
  • Project Ara. A modular smartphone that can easily have components swapped out and new ones added. What modules could your students imagine? Could learners from the maker generation then could go on to build them, as a piece of project based learning?
  • Project Jacquard. Can you picture interactive clothing that creates a “personal area network”? Project Jacquard lets you create it by weaving conductive yarn and sensor grids into clothes.

It is too early to tell whether the likes of Soli, Ara and Jacquard will ever make it out of the lab and onto the production line. However, we have just seen the launch by Lenovo of the first Tango enabled consumer smartphones. Developed by ATAP, Tango is a 3D scanning sensor that gives apps positional awareness of their surroundings, so for example you could hold your phone up to watch a virtual dinosaur pace your living room carpet. Delegates felt that Tango would a very effective way to explore adding Augmented Reality to hands on teaching in areas such as Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine (STEM) subjects and vocational training such as car maintenance.

In the words of author William Gibson: “the street finds its own uses for things”, and it will be fascinating to see what teachers and learners alike discover that they are able to do with these new tools and technologies. Delegates were, however, keen to emphasize that technology should always be viewed as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.

There is a terrific podcast where hear from colleges and universities about how they are using Google tools, as well as Liz Sproat, head of education EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) at Google, about the latest product and service developments.

If you can see yourself exploiting these new technologies for teaching and learning or research, why not get in touch and let me know how you would use them – I’d love to hear from you.