Back in January 2010 in a post entitled “Save £1million and Move to the Cloud?” I reported on an announcement that the University of Westminster have saved £1 million by migrating to Google Apps:

As a result, 25,000 students and staff at the University of Westminster now use Google Apps Education Edition — saving the university £1 million in the process“.

I suggested that if the UK HE sector were to follow this approach this might result in significant savings across the sector. I did acknowledge that there were risks, but these can be addressed, especially if there was centralised coordinated activities to address legal and technical issues. I made my views on whether such a move was desirable:

In an opinion piece entitled “The one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for higher education” published in yesterday’s issue of the Times Higher Education University of Bath vice-chancellor Glynis Breakwell argued that “universities should stop assuming that everybody has to do a bit of everything“. We need to stop assuming that we need to host commodity services such as email, I feel.

 Yesterday it appeared that such coordinated activities have taken place. As summarised in a tweet from @janetcloud:

Over 18m students and staff to benefit from faster, more secure cloud-computing following agreement between ourselves and Microsoft…

janet cloud videoA news item on the Jisc Web site entitled Over 18 million students and staff to benefit from faster, more secure cloud-computing described how:

More than 18 million students, staff and researchers at institutions across the UK could start to benefit from a faster and more secure connection when using their institution’s cloud-based IT services, thanks to a new peering arrangement being signed today between Microsoft and Janet, the UK’s research and education network.

This new agreement enables improved access to infrastructure and application services such as websites, virtual learning environments and research projects.

and went on to explain how:

The alliance agreement also means any UK education institution can benefit from standard terms and conditions on Microsoft’s cloud-based productivity software suite Office 365, negotiated by Janet.

The press release has been picked up by publication such as Computer Weekly (“Microsoft and Janet deal brings cloud to millions of academics“), TechWeek Europe (“Microsoft Plugs Azure Cloud Data Centre Into Janet Network“), Public Technology (“Janet connects with Microsoft’s Windows Azure Cloud platform“) and Cloud Pro (“Windows Azure to power Janet education cloud“) . These initial articles are based on the press release, with little additional commentary. It will be interesting to see how this news is received more widely.

From my perspective I welcome this announcement. I am particularly please the Janet are negotiating licence arrangements on behalf of the sector. As explained in an FAQ on Cloud Services for Education Agreements:

We have managed to negotiate exclusive amendments to Microsoft’s legal documents for Office 365, and carry out due diligence on Google Apps (currently ongoing) and Office 365 for the sector as a whole. One of the universities included in the test group estimates this work could save each institution up to £20,000 so it has a significant value.

A concern I would have is that the agreement would result in a Microsoft monoculture across the sector. I would also like to see a central deal provided for institutional access to Google Apps. In addition I would welcome such sector-wide deals being negotiated for other popular Cloud services, such as Dropbox. I am aware that some institutions are wary of such services, and use data protection issues or the fact that “the data is hosted in the US” as reasons why such services are not provided within the institution. Having a trusted and well-respected organisation such as Janet to address such issues in negotiations with the service providers can be beneficial to users across the sector.

And, of course, the fact that institutions need to pay a nominal institutional fee of £500 per year may address the concerns of those who argue “If You’re Not Paying for It; You’re the Product“. But perhaps that’s too much to expect! More seriously, I’d welcome comments on whether this deal is to be welcomed or not. If you’re rather not leave a comment a poll is available below.

Note that a 46 second summary of the announcement is available on Slideshare and is embedded below.

[slideshare id=17169600&doc=janetcloudservicesforeducation-markmcmanus-130313163033-phpapp01-video]

[polldaddy poll=7119958]

View Twitter conversation from: [Topsy] | View Twitter statistics from: [TweetReach] – []