Case Study Summary: Curtin University

University Controls Costs, Streamlines IT, and Improves Education with Cloud Platform

Posted 3/7/11

***content provided below is extracted from a Microsoft case study
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Software and Services
Windows Azure
Microsoft Live@edu
Microsoft Visual Studio
Microsoft Silverlight
Microsoft SQL Azure
Microsoft ASP.NET

Vertical Industry

Curtin has designed its degree programs to help prepare students for the workplace immediately upon graduation. The university recognizes the importance of technology in an increasingly internationalized business world, so students not only study the latest technologies, they also use them as part of their education. Realizing that the days of static, text-based learning have passed, Curtin created a dynamic web-based tool for students and staff called iPortfolio.

“iPortfolio is a personal learning space,” explains Heath Wilkinson, Director of Business Systems at Curtin University. “Students capture and upload learning materials—articles, photos, videos, and more—from within their courses and from external sources. They then use iPortfolio to reflect on these materials, journal about their learning, collaborate with peers, elicit feedback, and even develop an electronic portfolio to present to prospective employers.”

Maintaining iPortfolio data for all current and former students presents a huge storage challenge,” notes Wilkinson. “We need high-quality, highly reliable, highly scalable storage that can be managed easily and cost- effectively, but the SAN can be expensive and difficult to expand. We needed an alternative storage strategy that we could implement without compromising functionality and performance.”

Curtin began investigating the Windows Azure platform as a replacement for the existing Oracle and SAN system in early 2010. Windows Azure offers a highly scalable cloud-based environment for hosting, development, and service management, with a pay-as-you-go cost model and a worldwide network of data centers.

With cloud-based storage, Curtin has eliminated the need for an expensive and difficult-to-scale SAN. “Previously, if we hit storage barriers, we had to take time to work with the infrastructure team to provision new SAN hardware,” says Wilkinson. “The per-gigabyte cost of SAN storage can be extremely high, but we now have easily scalable, highly reliable storage with triple backup protection at a fraction of the previous cost. And because we can use and pay for Windows Azure storage on demand, as we need it, it’s easy to meet our ever-increasing capacity needs and predict what our ongoing costs will be.”

By moving to hosted storage and computing resources, Curtin has also reduced ongoing infrastructure support costs. “We have eliminated the need to worry about things like hardware maintenance, disaster recovery, and data backups because it’s all done for us,” says Wilkinson. “That not only saves us money, but also allows us to move our IT administrators onto projects that really add value for students and staff.”

“The technologies that work with Windows Azure will enable us to add new features like video and audio blogging and audio feedback for portfolio items,” says Wilkinson. “We are definitely able to offer a richer and more reliable media experience. We’re planning a Windows Mobile phone application so that students can capture their learning anywhere, as it happens, on their mobile phone. It’s Windows Azure that is making these things possible.”

Heath Wilkinson
Director of Business Systems, Curtin University