Windows Azure for Education

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This article talks about how any computer science teacher can use Windows Azure for educational purposes for free for classes that include practical work of students.


In our training center (I’ll tell you more about it some other time), we try to build work on the basis of minimal effort. Not for everyone in our team, work in the training center is the main one, so the logic is obvious.


As you know, education (including higher education) in Russia does not keep pace with technology. If there are exceptions to this rule, then they only confirm the existence of the rule. What is the problem? The problem, of course, is complex and ambiguous, but that is its root.

Administration of computer classes of an educational institution is an extremely complex process. It is complicated because it often requires costs (admins do not always work for buns). Consider the standard situation.

The computer class usually uses Windows XP (because a bunch of old software that is used in the educational process is compatible with it); it’s good if users work without admin rights (which is not always the case when working with the old sotf), otherwise some harsh system of images is usually used (that is, if the computer was programmatically broken, it will be quickly rolled back).

And imagine that a new teacher wants to take a Linux course using the example of any popular distribution. What will he face?

There will be many problems. Even if we cross out the nagging of admins about "Why do you need this," there will be enough problems to support the second system, reinstall it, and so on until the pulse is lost. Well, if the teacher himself is qualified enough, what if not?

Returning to Reality

We faced a similar problem. We have Windows 7 in our classroom and didn’t want to create a multiboot or put another hard drive (for us this does not allow the form factor of the system unit). Therefore, the idea of ​​Windows Azure came to my mind quite by accident.


Why is Windows Azure good for education? Well, there is the opportunity to work with virtual machines (it is still in preview mode, i.e. beta), which is well suited - we take and deploy any Linux image there, and work quietly for ourselves. If a student suddenly “breaks” the OS (rm -rf / or makes a mistake in / etc / fstab), then the operating system simply deploys.

How to work? Well, at first we thought about a free demo account for three months, but the solution was different.

One more problem

So, what was wrong with the demo account? Well, in general, the problem was that he needed not only a mobile phone number for verification (some of our students didn’t have a mobile phone, yes, it happens), but also credit card details, from where the dollar will be written off.

Not all students are cardholders, and it is especially difficult when you conduct an elective, where anyone can come. It is not a fact that a person will have a credit card with him, through which you can make payments via the Internet.

The problem was solved quite unexpectedly - at the summit on launching Windows 8 in Moscow, the guys from the Windows Azure team shared a story about academic access to Windows Azure - it is called Windows Azure Academic Pass. Just for teachers and students.

Field Test

There, at the summit, I sent an application for this Academic Pass, received a letter in response “will be in 3-5 business days”, and then the end of the year came and I was suddenly not up to it :)

After the end of the New Year holidays, I remembered that 3- 5 working days kind of passed and wrote a second letter. An hour later, the long-awaited Academic Pass was with me.

What's inside?

So what is an Academic Pass? This is an opportunity to use the service for 5 months (the semester usually just lasts 4 months, 1 month is left for the student to pick independently).

Windows azure

2 virtual machines (Small)
35 GB of storage space
50,000,000 transactions

SQL Azure

Two 1GB databases (Web Edition)
250,000 Service Bus messages
750 hours Service Bus


8 GB inbound
8 GB outbound

Hosted services

10 websites (Shared)
10 mobile services (Shared)

For education, it seems to me the very thing. Rather, I’ll say otherwise - we had enough :)

A spoon of tar

Of course, not everything is as joyful as I say - there are some problems. And I’ll tell you right away about them so that you don’t have to bang your head about them.

Problem one

Students must have a Live ID. And this is far from always the case. Most likely, they do not have this Live ID and were not supposed to. Therefore, it will have to be registered. But do not hope to do this in the first lesson, since the registration limit is 3 accounts from one IP address.

There are two ways out.

1. Students must register for themselves a Live ID from their mobile phone or from home in advance. The bad thing is that at the crucial moment, someone will surely forget the password and drag out the lesson.

2. Registering a Live ID pack yourself is the most convenient. True, there are no tools for automated mass registration yet.

And the restriction of 3 Live IDs to one IP address can be removed, you must write in support. But this time, consider this.

Second problem

Academic Pass activation takes some time. Those. sometimes this can happen within 15 minutes, and sometimes within 24 hours. Therefore, the Academic Pass must be received in advance and distributed to students, or activated yourself (also in advance).

Problem three

Virtual machines (as a service) are still in preview mode, i.e. beta. This means that official support in case of problems will not help, but will send to TechNet forums. Can something go wrong? Yes, I had an example - suddenly someone broke repositories for Ubuntu (on Windows Azure they have their own). Technical support didn’t help, but replacing Canonical repositories with standard ones worked fine.

Where to talk?

Well, the main question - how to get it? It's simple, you need a minimum of knowledge of the English language.

Step 1

We go to the address and fill out a simple questionnaire (I will immediately give an example of filling, it is better in English, of course).

  • Full Name: Ivan Ivanov
  • Email:
  • Country: Russia
  • University: (here the name of the educational institution in English) MSU
  • Course name: (the name of the course we want to read) Using Linux as Web-platform
  • Course description: (course description, up to 4000 characters) A short course for beginners; primary goal - learn Linux basics and understand the configuration on LAMP server.
  • Course start date: (estimated course start date): 2013-03-01
  • # of students: (number of students) 20
  • Please note that this is not the number issued by Azure Pass, this is the number of students attending the course - it may differ from the number of Azure Pass!
  • # of Passes Requested: (the number of Azure Pass requested)
  • Course URL: (address of the website with the course, if any)

Step 2

In response, you will first receive a letter confirming receipt of the application, and then a letter with a Word document (Windows Azure Offer for Academic Institutions) will come. Its essence is this: since Microsoft gives you a paid resource for free, according to the laws of some countries this can be perceived as a bribe. Therefore, this letter will indicate the volume of services provided, their market value (based on Microsoft's pricing for Windows Azure), as well as the need to explicitly agree that you want these services and that this is not a bribe.

This letter must be printed out, signed with the head of the educational institution or department (I also set the seal for greater authenticity) and send the scan in response.

Step 3

At this stage, you should receive an Excel file with promo codes, which will be exactly as many as you indicated in step 1. Now you need to attach them to the Live ID, with which you will be logged into Windows Azure. To do this, go to the address, select the country, enter the code and click Submit. Next, the system will confirm the validity of the voucher and ask you to log in with Live ID to complete the connection.

After you log in with Live ID, a small questionnaire will open, in which you will need to indicate the name and surname (they will be automatically pulled up with the Live ID), phone number (it can be the same for everyone), as well as the name of the institution.

Here the unexpected thing is that if there are students with the same name, surname and institute, then the system will say that this cannot happen. I just added the number 1 to the name in this profile and it worked.

Step 4

Now you need to wait for the message from the Windows Azure team, and it is the process from 3 to 4 steps that can take from 15 minutes to a day. It is advisable to do this in advance.

Step 5

You can log in to Windows Azure with a Live ID and use a subscription.

To summarize

Our goal was ultimately achieved - we held an elective, and the students got the opportunity to study for several months after the elective.

I am sure that the use of Windows Azure in education will simplify the life of many teachers - they no longer depend on what software they have in the computer class. The very concept of a computer class is changing - now these are just computers with Internet access, no more.

I would be glad if someone can cover a similar application of other cloud platforms - I think that Microsoft is not alone in this matter.

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