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April 12, 2011

Microsoft Plans Cloud Computing for Indian Colleges

THE CLOUD evangelism of Microsoft, spreading the good news of computing in remote servers connected over the Internet, and imparting skills needed for it, now targets Indias future campuses.

The government envisages doubling of enrollment to at least 30 per cent by the end of 2020. It would require 700 new universities and 35,000 colleges, human resource development minister Kapil Sibal has stated.

“ We want to partner and work with these universities and colleges,” Pratima Amonkar, director — academia at Microsoft India said. Evangelists are on the job, preaching the good news and reaping new souls. India currently has 480 universities and 22,000 colleges.

Microsoft has partnered with 350 of them, training their faculty and students.

“ The new institutions are expected to come up in smaller cities and towns on the margins of the academic map. So it opens up the opportunity to provide cloud- enabled content to promote access and equity,” Amonkar said.

“ The learning becomes no different for a student in a small town,” she added.

Cloud computing allows content like lectures and audio- visual material to be stored far away and accessed online with fairly simple campus computers.

Then it allows massive number-crunching on the lines of weather modelling or aerospace design. It can promote virtual global communities too.

“ Use your existing skills in the cloud,” Kattayil Rajinish Menon, a lead evangelist for Azure, the Windows platform for cloud, exhorted at a recent meet. To the listing students and techies he promised “ worldwide reach”. “ No need to buy servers or storage, manage network…”, he added.

Converts countrywide are convinced.

“ The main advantage is that it can enable small devices like mobile phones to do specialist tasks,” Dr Pushpendra Singh, assistant professor at the India Institute of Information Technology – Delhi ( IIT- D), said.

At IIT- D some students develop applications that run in the cloud, while others learn its possibilities.

Singh finds it the right answer for emerging campuses.

Many are sceptical though. “ With only one percent of the nation on broadband, cloud computing is irrelevant for most citizens,” Sunil Abraham, executive director of the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore, said. “ In premier institutions in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore, usually the firewall blocks Facebook and YouTube because they cannot afford the bandwidth,” he added.

Abraham is unsparing: “ Microsoft is completely delusional if they think these institutions are going to adopt bandwidth heavy cloud computing.” Others say technology is just not enough.

“ Expanding knowledge depends on the solution architecture you create,” P. Vijayakumar, assistant professor at the Centre for Social and Organizational Leadership at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai said.

“ It means identifying clear phases for the use of whatever you create, making collaboration structures among academics, industries, technologists and a stress on process improvement with user feedback,” Vijayakumar explained. “ Only then you can scale up,” he added.

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