Tuesday, 11 January 2011

BETT 2011 - International Conference

I stumbled across the programme for this conference and thought a few of the sessions looked not only relevant, but positively useful. Although the conference itself was rather low-key and not particularly packed, I wasn't disappointed by the sessions that had caught my eye.

My interest is in Cloud Computing, and not only that, but how you migrate to a cloud computing model from the traditional "servers and applications in school server rooms" model.

First there was a presentation by Daryl LaGace, who is Chief Information and Technology Officer with the San Diego School District in California, USA. The title of his talk was "Managing 140,000 Mobile and Desktop Computer Users with Reduced Operating Costs". The catch, though, was in the title. The solution was one based on delivering virtual desktops to users, so it is clear that the operating (revenue) costs would be less, but we know from our own BSF procurement process that if you want to deliver a virtual desktop to each of your users, then you need a substantial central server infrastructure which has a high price tag associated with it. It won't go away, either. It will need to be renewed on a regular basis. This is because you have merely shifted the processing to the private cloud, out of the school, not eliminated it. By switching to web apps, which are designed completely differently, the processing requirement will be substantially less.

Daryl explained that a decision had been made that all future content resources would only be purchased if they were web delivered, but the virtual desktop allowed legacy 'traditional' applications to still be available to users.

The second presentation was from Yuichi Fujimuru, Associate Professor at Naruto University in Japan. His title was "Secure and Low-cost computing for Education". To me this was more useful, because it seemed to focus on reducing ongoing capital costs as well as ongoing revenue costs. His solution was to build a private cloud to overcome data security issues which offered both Hardware/Infrastructure as a Service (H/IaaS), and Platform as a Service (Paas) but to blend these with the public cloud to deliver a wide range of cloud based web applications which can be made available to the community.

Both of the presenters were fortunate in that their respective solutions were able to lever economies of scale. With the demise of BSF and the fragmentation of local authorities' ability to act strategically on behalf of schools, it is unlikely that schools in the UK could ever benefit from this cost reduction unless there is a change of heart by the Government.

However, investment by the private sector in the kind of infrastructure being built by both speakers and then sold on to schools in more than one local authority area could definitely be a viable business model, but there would be enormous complications around connectivity and managed service arrangements.

If only BSF ICT had been more about innovation and driving down costs, rather than transfer of so much risk and driving up costs, then perhaps here in the UK we could have been ahead of the game in this area by now, and the Coalition Government wouldn't have seen ICT as such an easy target.

One more point I picked up from Daryl's talk was that they considered it wasn't worthwhile to buy extended warranties with low cost netbooks. Better to buy some spare for swap-outs. And he reported a less than 1% failure rate

The rest of the day's programme was patchy. Heppel of course was his usual omnipotent self, and there was a disastrous performance from the head honcho at SSAT. All in all, though, not a waste of a day.