This week I've written a few blog posts about Moodle, the open source Learning Management System. Part of the reason is to demonstrate that the worlds of Microsoft and Open Source are not mutually exclusive, and another reason is to demonstrate that there are plenty of ways to implement a learning management system that complement your existing ICT infrastructure. So far this week, I've talked about Moodle/Live@edu integration, installing Moodle on Windows Server, the Moodle Add-In for Office, and installing Moodle on SharePoint (and why it's better on SharePoint). So what about going a step further, and removing the need for on-site servers for Moodle, by hosting Moodle on Windows Azure?
The normal implementation model for Moodle is to install it on your in-house infrastructure - setting up Windows or Linux servers in your data centre, and managing them as part of your IT system. But that requires an up-front capital investment in the hardware, setup etc. So why not just use Moodle hosting in the Cloud? It means you don't need to run your own servers, and can scale the system out to support students as and when you need them (rather than having to buy big lumps of hardware capacity in advance of your actual usage).
With Windows Azure there's a cloud-based service which allows you to switch on (and off) capacity as you need it - and you simply buy the capacity you need, when you need it (just like your other utilities, like electricity and water).
There are two projects currently available for hosting Moodle on Windows Azure, both on CodePlex (Microsoft's open source project hosting site, which hosts over 200,000 projects currently):
- The MoodleAzure project on CodePlex gives you Moodle version 1.9.9, and has been modified to allow you to run as many instances of the web role as you may need - allowing you to rapidly scale up the implementation to reach tens of thousands of students instantly.
- And the Moodle 2.0 for Azure project, released in March, gives you an installer for the latest version of Moodle - 2.0, and comes from the Laboratório de Tecnologia da Informação in Brazil.
And because both of these projects are on CodePlex, there's a community of support on the site for advice as you start to implement and use them (there's also a whole forum on the Moodle community website for Windows users)
Somebody has already setup a demo Moodle hosting site using the Moodle 2.0 system on Windows Azure, and made it available as a public site, so that you can see it running in exactly the same way that your users would. It's only a demo site, with a very small amount of content, but it gives you a good idea of what it can do for you and your students. You can find the Moodle 2.0 on Azure home page here
What does this all mean for Moodle and Microsoft users?
The upshot of this (and everything else I've written this week) is that if you're using Moodle, or somebody within your institution is or wants to, then you can do a bunch of things to integrate it into your existing ICT infrastructure, and which help to improve the experience for your students and teachers (as well as reducing the cost for your ICT budget). This can range from hosting Moodle, to integrating Moodle to your email or portal system. And there's plenty of support across the Microsoft and Moodle community for implementing these projects.