Living the dream…

I remember being at primary school some years ago when our head teacher at the time, Mr Francis, announced he was moving on to a place called Pastures New. I thought “I wonder where that is?”.

Living the dream…

Very soon I’m about to find out, for I too will be going there. I am exceptionally honoured, nervous and excited to have been offered a job with Microsoft’s UK education team as the Live@edu Deployment Specialist!

I am leaving my current role to build on the experiences and skills I gained while I worked in education – joining an amazing team of people to help academic institutions across the UK make the leap to using Live@edu – a hosted suite of email, productivity and collaboration tools offered to schools, colleges and universities for free.

This blog, my Twitter account and any other social outlet for my thoughts will still continue, but expect me to be a lot more vocal about the fantastic stories that tools like Live@edu enable people to tell.

Big shoes to fill!

My predecessor, Ben Nunney, is moving on to a role within Microsoft as an Academic Developer Evangelist – a job I know he’s going to be amazing at – but in leaving he has left some mighty big shoes for me to fill. He was the first-in-post and I feel that in recognition of his excellent work I may yet be known simply as “Ben 2.0”.

DIY is the road to thrift…

As I’ve written before, I’ve had experience of working in two very different schools. One a staunch supporter of RM and its Community Connect management tool, the other a distinctly ambivalent RM customer preferring the more vanilla approach to network management (the only RM product was SmartCache 2).

In the time that I’ve been away from the education ‘front line’ a lot has changed. Microsoft have really reimaged themselves and have churned out some utterly fantastic pieces of software; the poisoned chalice that is network management no longer needs to be bittersweet.

FIM 2010 logo 1 

Microsoft Identity Lifecycle Manager 2007, and its successor Forefront Identity Manager 2010, provides full management of a users’ identity across heterogeneous systems for the duration of the users’ life from inception to termination. This means that users of your system can have more control of their identity within your establishment, and that you as an IT manager can have more consistent and accurate control over a user across systems without having to worry about duplicating changes, or even worse: missing some.

The road to thrift…

So what’s my point? Well, schools currently have the choice of a wide range of management tools from a variety of providers each offering essentially the same idea: centralised management of as much of your network as possible from a single console; everything from user provisioning and management through to software distribution and security policy configuration. Establishments are shelling out literally thousands of pounds every year – thousands of pounds of tax payer money – to fund the licensing and support costs of the aforementioned management tools.

I would opine that in reality it may be significantly cheaper to spend a fraction of your yearly outlay on support and licensing costs on full and comprehensive training of the IT staff and the move from expensive third party management systems over to native Microsoft software that can handle 99% of the tasks offered by these other systems. The 1% of tasks that the third party tools offer as their ‘value added’ can be done using the time and money saved by training the staff in the use of products such as FIM 2010.

Not everyone is a fan of closed sourced traditional software makers, and many would say that Google and other vendors offer many services that are comparable to (in the case of Live@edu) or better than Microsoft’s offerings. My response: the learning curve from Microsoft-Microsoft is small. The curve from Microsoft-open source is sometimes huge and expensive, and ultimately will it benefit the education of students in the long term?

In summary…

pound-coins3Schools spend thousands of pounds every year on expensive third party management tools that promise to make the management of your large network that little bit more bearable. Microsoft offers tools, some free, that do nearly all of those things for a significantly lower total cost of ownership albeit with bigger training implications.

In these times of reduced budgets, cuts and redundancies surely it would be prudent of decision makers to critically re-think their approach to network spending and make that leap from the spend-thirst to the spend-thrift?