Partnerships for Schools choose SQL Azure and Red Gate Software SQL Development Tools
Cloud–based Free School Kit website aids new school groups in data gathering
The UK organization Partnerships for Schools chose to host their newly–developed Free School Kit website in the Cloud using SQL Azure. The site helps parent and community groups who want to set up a new school. While building the site, they found Red Gate's SQL development tools were a must–have resource.
Karl Hoods and Richard Anderson from Partnerships for Schools spoke to Red Gate's Michael Francis about their experience developing the site. Karl is the Head of Information Systems, and Richard is the Lead Developer.
Karl explained what Partnerships for Schools does:
Partnerships for Schools is the government's capital delivery agency for schools. Part of the new government's education reforms includes the Free School policy. These are essentially parent–promoted schools. The Free School Kit started as an internal tool for project reporting and data gathering.
Part of the process of setting up a Free School is establishing support and therefore showing demand and presenting a rationale for the new school. It became obvious that the Free School Kit would be a useful tool for the public to combine sets of data which, traditionally, were only separately available on various central and local government sites.
I lead on the development of the Free School Kit and oversee the website's requirements. I liaise with our senior management team over the direction in which we take the application.
To the Cloud or On–Premise
Richard then discussed why Partnerships for Schools chose to host the Free School Kit website in the Cloud using SQL Azure, rather than using the more traditional non–hosted on–premise alternative.
One reason was speed to deployment. Our deadlines were tight and moved around quite quickly.
Another driver was cost. A traditional hosted route would have been expensive in terms of hardware particularly as we didn't fully know what the demand would be from launch. We really wanted something that we could put in an infrastructure like SQL Azure, which we would then be able to scale up or down depending on needs.
We wanted to be able to take advantage of the flexibility of the Cloud. In SQL Azure we don't have to worry about patching resilience.
Karl related the problems that led Partnerships for Schools to use Red Gate's tools:
I think one of the stumbling blocks was that the Microsoft data transfer CTP isn't publicly available, so without Red Gate's tools we would have had to have written detailed packages or integration services to move the data from one place to another.
We work very much in a Microsoft development environment, and the Cloud was just a natural extension of what we already use for our internal purposes, so we wanted something we could easily deploy. Red Gate's development tools enabled us to do just that.
Richard went through their processes, and how Red Gate's software has helped:
Over my career, I've used Red Gate tools quite a lot, and with this current project we've used SQL Data Compare, SQL Compare and SQL Source Control. We used the schema comparison tool SQL Compare quite extensively to move our database from an internal server to the Cloud. We also used SQL Data Compare because, at the moment, Microsoft hasn't got a solution for replicating data from an internal master database to the Cloud based one.
Karl gave some more detail:
The Red Gate Development tools have extensive use day–to–day. We use them all the time to synchronize schemas and they are used extensively in database administration as well. The Free School kit is part of our IT strategy of self–service models for users to access data from across different data sources internally.
We certainly see the tools that we've purchased from Red Gate as being able to deliver that strategy as the Free School Kit is a bespoke development based on publicly available data.
Life without Red Gate SQL Development Tools
The development and administration experience would have been substantially lengthier without the SQL Development tools from Red Gate, according to Karl:
For this project it would have been a good two weeks work to write the ETL package and integration services to move the data and the database itself in comparison to what's changed. Plus there's an ongoing element of being able to do that as well.
However, with the Red Gate tools, the work which we have described was done instantly over the web so it was more or less an instant return. One minute with your tools rather than two weeks without them.
I'd definitely recommend the Red Gate SQL Development tools. As far as I'm aware Red Gate's are the only tools that support the Cloud extensively and I have a long history of using your tools in a development environment.
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