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Archive for May 23rd, 2014

Guest Post: Building Cost-effective, Flexible and Scalable Education Resources using Google Cloud Platform

Posted by Brian Kelly on 23 May 2014

IWMW 2014, the 18th annual Institutional Web Management Workshop takes place in Newcastle on 16-18 July. The workshop fee is only £350, which includes 2 nights accommodation.In a series of guest blog posts speakers at the forthcoming IWMW 2014 event have been providing an introduction to their talks in order to stimulate interest in their ideas and solicit feedback and comments prior to the event – an example of ‘flipped lectures‘ which can provide opportunities for more considered reflections on new ideas provided at a conference.

In today’s guest post Sharif Salah, Senior Systems Engineer at the University of Portsmouth introduces his talk on “Building cost-effective, flexible and scalable education resources using Google Cloud Platform”.

Sharif will give his plenary talk on the second day of the IWMW 2014 event, from 09.00-09.45 on Thursday 17 July 2014.


Building cost-effective, flexible and scalable education resources using Google Cloud Platform

This will be my first time attending the IWMW event, and I’m grateful to fellow speaker Martin Hawksey who highly recommended the event to me. I’m excited and fortunate to be both attending and speaking this year. I first met Martin in 2012 at the annual European Google Apps for Education user group meeting #GEUG12 where we were also both speaking. At that time I had been working with Google Apps for a little over three years and there was a sense that the Higher Education community was growing relatively comfortable with the principles and concepts behind Software as a Service (SaaS).

In fact my colleagues and I at the University of Portsmouth had begun to explore the use of other types of cloud technology to extend the capabilities offered by the Google Apps services. For example, we built a largely cloud-based student portal primarily using Google Sites and then used Google App Engine to provide bespoke functionality such as the delivery of assessment results, that was highly specific to an education context and wasn’t readily available as part of Google Apps. In 2012 Google App Engine was often described as a Platform as a Service (PaaS) that allowed developers to deploy application level code without having to worry about the burden of looking after the underlying infrastructure. Today Google App Engine is part of a growing collection of tightly integrated services that make us Google Cloud Platform and include additional services for storage, compute and data analysis.

I’ve continued to build on my knowledge of Google Cloud Platform and earlier this year it led to Google awarding me entry into the Google Developer Experts (GDE) program for 2014. A large part of our activities as GDEs relates to both community engagement and public speaking, and I spend a lot of my time volunteering help with colleagues from both the education and business communities make the most of their introduction to the cloud.

One big shift I’ve observed in recent months within the cloud community is that the model I describe above with clear demarcation between SaaS, PaaS and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) layers is hindering the way that we build and architect our IT services in HE and other large enterprise environments. All too often I find that developers try to shoehorn their requirements into one model or another. However it’s often the case that one layer of the cloud model doesn’t provide enough flexibility, at other times it comes at the cost of too high a management overhead. Google Cloud Platform is helping to define a new way of working across cloud boundaries and this in itself presents us with new challenges as we try to learn to use the new tools effectively. One big theme of my talk will be to share my experience of working across these layers in the process of building hybrid cloud solutions.

Perhaps more importantly for this audience I also look forward to the opportunity to share some of the work we have undertaken at the University of Portsmouth to build new services for our students that might not have previously been possible or practical prior to the availability of cloud services. Over the past year we’ve experimented with the use of Chromebooks for exams, Google Compute Engine to deliver Linux resources for teaching and research as well as the operational use of Cloud Storage for the delivery of content as part of student-facing services. Higher Education is a unique environment that brings with it challenges and opportunities that often don’t apply to the world of business and this is particularly true of cloud services.


Biographical details

Sharif SalahSharif Salah has worked with Google technologies since early 2009 when he began a role as a Google Apps technical lead in Higher Education. Along the way this has given him the good fortune to be involved in evangelising extensively and affecting change and progress on the adoption and integration of Google Apps, Cloud Storage and App Engine both internationally and locally. More recently he has become immersed in and advocate on Google Cloud Platform, open source software as well as mobile app development and strategy.

Sharif is a frequent public speaker and spends time working with both education and startups on making the most of their move to the cloud. He is a Google Developer Expert for 2014 and a Google Qualified Developer for Google Cloud Platform.

Contact details:


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