Last week I attended a Cloud Computing event themed on the use of Microsoft’s Azure platform in education. The words ‘Microsoft and Cloud’ when used together probably stir up negative closed platform sentiment and ‘oh no it’s .NET’, but this is a misconception. Of course you can run Microsoft’s technologies on Azure but you can also run practically any language in the compute environment, e.g. Python, Ruby, PHP and Java through the use of well documented SDK’s. You can also host Linux distros through Azure’s Virtual Machine service, many community based images are available from Microsoft Open Technologies VMDepot – pretty far from a closed cloud eco-system. There is currently a big restructuring effort being undertaken by Microsoft to shift their identity as a Software company to a ‘Devices and Services’ company, cloud computing is firmly at the centre of this restructuring.
The event included talks by Microsoft and companies who use Azure in their businesses, with several live demos of deploying cloud services. An interesting approach was presented by Steve ‘Planky’ called Pop-up Labs – a useful way to give Computer Science a quick hands on of Cloud Computing. Kenji Takeda of Microsoft Research gave a great talk on how cloud computing supports Data Intensive Research at their prestigious Microsoft Research Cambridge centre. Kenji presented his thoughts on the ‘big data’ movement and the challenges faced, hinting that the next big thing is Data Genomics with cloud computing massively bringing down the costs of genome mapping, leading to scientific breakthroughs in areas such as Medicine and Meteorology.
The evening prior to the event myself and other UK academics were invited to a meal with Microsoft’s Lee Stott (Technical Avengalist), Ashwin Karuhatty (Director of Academic Programmes) and Marjan Badiei (Azure in Education Programme Manager) to talk about our use of Azure in our academic programmes, with a view to developing case studies. We had a good discussion around how the academic pass impacts and supports student coursework and how it could be improved, for example having a pass issued for the duration of their degree. In particular fellow Northerners Adam Hughes and Dominic Langmead at Chester University are doing similar work to Lincoln in some of their degrees programmes, as such we plan to meet to share our expertise in improving the student experience with Azure tools. UCL’s Dean Mohamedally also discussed their approach to integrating cloud computing across all their Undergraduate and Master’s Computer Science programmes, great to see that other universities are working hard to implement cloud computing into the curriculum. Dean also arranged for some of their Master’s students to demo their projects at the event.
As usual, I pressed upon the importance of craft beer after the meal and duly escorted them to the Euston Tap to sample a few of the ‘best beers available to humanity’, several halves of Magic Rock Brewery Cannonball were consumed.
At LiSC we use Azure in our Social Applications Development module with students issued an academic pass to support the creation of cloud-connected mobile applications. We also plan to use it in our new MSc module ‘Mobile and Connected Devices’, where cloud services will be used for sensor data storage and scalable REST Web Services, using open data standards. Azure academic passes offer the full cloud experience for students to use as they please to support their coursework, including running a number of virtual machines which they can install either MS or Linux operating systems.
If you want to find out more on how Microsoft UK Faculty Connection is supporting HE then follow their blog which is managed by Lee Stott.