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Filmsforlearning goes global with Windows Azure

As mentioned in previous posts, I have a variety of ‘out of hours’ dev work that keeps me busy and proud. The latest piece of work was the migration of the educational film site Filmsforlearning.org to use Windows Azure blob storage.

Filmsforlearning is run by a community of UK teachers that see the making of films as a key technique to provide a compelling learning experience. As Confucius said:

Tell me and I will forget

Show me and I will remember

Involve me and I will understand

The site did use Silverlight Streaming (SLS), a technology beta that gave way to IIS Smooth Streaming and the capabilities of Windows Azure. Original we built the site with a team from Altius Consulting and design agency Universal Pixels (now PullDigital). For the last couple of years I’ve been maintaining and developing the site. Being a coder, my UI skills are pretty rubbish, so most of my work has been ‘in the back end’; building our automated encoding mechanism that runs in a hosted VM (using Expression Encoder 3 via code automation).

With SLS being turned off at the end of January it was time to complete the migration to Windows Azure. So I transferred the 600+ films quite painlessly from the SLS repository to the new Windows Azure blob store, using both Cloudberry and Cloud Storage Studio tools (thanks to the small broadband pipe, it actually took a whole weekend to complete).

I enabled the blob store with the current CTP Content Distribution Network, enabling local caching of the video content in POPs across the globe. Although the video delivery mechanism has changed from true streaming to progressive download, the performance of video playback is unchanged, maybe it is even better.

I found this whole activity mind blowing. Here I am, working away on my little lappy, stuck out in the sticks with a basic UK broadband connection, using a remotely hosted virtual machine, globally CDN’ed storage and my simple .Net skills; to make a solution that can be and is used by a worldwide community seeking to improve the educational experience of children everywhere. Truly awesome – software changes the world :-)

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