Microsoft and the UK’s research and education network, Janet, have signed a deal that gives academic institutions access to Microsoft Office 365 and millions of academics fast and secure access to Windows Azure cloud.
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The peering agreement will enable organisations on the Janet network to use the Azure cloud for research, along with Microsoft’s Office 365 cloud-based productivity suite.
It will enable research data to be sent directly to Microsoft’s cloud platform via Janet without the need to use the public internet. This will make it more secure and reduce latency. More than 18 million students and university staff will have access.
With high volumes of data being transferred from universities to cloud platforms for analysis there can be significant latency and security risks when the public internet is used.
Paul Watson, professor of computing science at Newcastle University, which has over £20m of research projects supported by the cloud, said universities deal in huge volumes of data and are attracted to the cloud for analysis because they do not have to buy their own computer hardware.
"One of the major barriers holding back further cloud adoption is the time it takes to transfer large datasets from the lab to the cloud for analysis," he said. "This new link between Janet and the Azure cloud removes this barrier, and will allow a far greater range of research projects to fully exploit the benefits of cloud computing.
"The second concern is that data can be intercepted when it is on the public internet," he added.
Newcastle University currently uses the Azure and Amazon cloud for its research, but Watson said the deal between Janet and Microsoft will make Azure the preferred choice: "We have a relationship with Microsoft and use Azure already, but this will lead to more work in the Azure cloud."
As well as having access to unlimited computing resources through the Azure cloud for research, organisations on the Janet network will also be able to adopt Office 365 through the network.
“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,” Janet said in a statement.
Basem El-Haddadeh, director of IT services at Goldsmiths, said the fact that Janet and Microsoft have already agreed terms and conditions for the use of Office 365 will make it easier for universities to start using it.
“The work on Office 365 will save the sector considerable time and money in legal due diligence and speed up adoption of Office 365," said El-Haddadeh.