Sunday 15 May 2016

Microsoft starts the 'race to the cloud' for EDU.

Microsoft has fired the gun on the “race to the cloud” by altering the way it licences its products to education in the UK.

The broad strategy was outlined in a policy document issued in January but the fine details are only just becoming clear.

For the last twelve years schools have been licensed through schemes as OVS-ES or EES. These heavily discounted concessions have encouraged IT administrators to install local server software such as file and print, SQL Server, Exchange, Hyper-V, SMS and Remote Desktop at a fraction of the price paid by business users. Unsurprisingly this strategy has been hugely successful and has resulted in the majority of UK schools being completely dependant on Microsoft products for both teaching and administration.

Unfortunately Microsoft has become a victim of it own success because as Redmond attempts to persuade education to adopt Office365 and Azure the on premise licencing discounts are acting as a massive disincentive.

Although schools might consider moving to the public cloud the agreements they are holding with Microsoft are currently delivering all the services they require and are already budgeted for. So as exciting as the cloud might seem most schools have decided to stay put and take advantage of Microsoft’s generosity.

Which is fine except they can’t anymore. Well not without finding a lot more money.

This is because over the next two years Microsoft are phasing out the licencing discounts for on premise software to encourage schools to look to the cloud.

The existing allowances will be withdrawn after July 1st 2018 and replaced with ‘something else’ and although Microsoft are guaranteeing a continued academic discount it will not be as generous. Some sources have hinted that the costs are likely to increase by about 20% for all on-premise licensing to bring the UK in line with other European educational schemes.

For schools starting a new agreement the increase will be phased in. From July 1st 2016 discounts will be reduced to approximately half their current level and further reduced to one quarter after July 1st 2017.

Schools renewing an agreement will be unaffected by the changes up until July 1st 2018 after which they will be presented with the new pricing structure, whatever that might be.

The idea is to place a premium on locally installed software in order to make Office365/Azure appear as a cost saving option.  It’s a classic carrot and stick approach.

The carrot is quite attractive and will include new offerings for Office365 such as Classroom, Forms, OneNote and cloud PABX.  Microsoft are also making concessions to allow the direct transfer of some existing licensing to Azure and will offer Azure AD Domain Services to reduce the dependency on local hardware.

The message from Redmond is clear.

Microsoft is encouraging schools to move to public cloud and is signalling a clear timescale for the transition. The local server option still exists but it will cost you more and going forward and if you want features such as Classroom you need to be using Office365.

For new schools the most efficient licencing strategy will be a cloud first approach. The principal platform will be Office365 backed by Azure with local servers only employed for specific roles.

The good news is that although there are many technical and governance issues to be resolved, education has been given two years to sort it out.

On your marks….

Friday 6 May 2016

Show me the money - Oh, here it is!

As education starts to make increasing use of Software as a Service (SaaS), how are schools going to meet the cost of subscription services ?

The freeium model gives teachers the power to experiment with software without any upfront fees or additional investment in server hardware and although an astonishing amount of functionality is given away for nothing not every feature is free.

Rather than starting again with SaaS wouldn't it be cheaper just to keep what you have already paid for?

Trying to run a simple budgetary comparison is difficult because so much is hidden in 'overheads'. To get a clear view of the bottom line for locally installed software you'd need to include;

  • Energy costs for running (heating) and then cooling onsite servers.
  • Costs for storing and securing onside servers.
  • Costs for offsite backup services.
  • Money reserved for the hardware and software refresh cycle.
  • Money spent on maintenance contracts and site insurance.
So as schools move towards cloud services you might expect to see savings on a utility bill or the cancelling of a server maintenance contract but let's not pretend this is going to make a big difference.

Lets get straight to the main event.

Exactly how much money does your school spend each year to print paper?

The results of this question can be frightening. It’s not uncommon for a medium sized school in the UK to spend £40 - 50K every year on printers and print consumables. This level of annual revenue could lease a high-bandwidth internet connection, a set of  modern mobile devices and a huge amount of subscription services.

Crikey - never mind the kids, it could give me a down-payment for a Telsa S!

But students have to print so where’s the saving? Actually it might come as a surprise to learn that they don’t.

The reason why the requirement to print is so entrenched in schools is because there has never been a fully functional collaborative tool that could be used to replace it. The promise of the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) came close but it didn’t replace the desktop productivity suite that has proved so efficient at converting electonic data to sheets of paper.

In other situations printing has been used to solve the remote access problem. The annual cost of printed documents taken home and then disposed off (very securely of course) could probably fund a classroom device set on it’s own.

That’s why the educational offerings from the big SaaS players such as Google and Microsoft are so important. For the first time all the bases are covered.

Adopting Google G Suite for Education (GSfE) with it’s built in collaboration and workflow tool Classroom has the capability to replace the requirements for student printing. The mantra should be  -  “Don’t print - share”.

Where schools have tried this approach it does work. Many schools and districts in the US that have adopted GSfE no longer allow students to print or they provide a very restrictive service. The sky has not fallen in and the school still functions.

Think of student printing as a immature habit that needs to be broken.

Even better - show me the money.