Salford City Academy has been an academy for 10 years. As a trailblazer of the academies movement, the Academy, which is part of United Learning, has long been at the forefront of innovation and harnessing the power of technology to improve teaching and learning.
With over 600 students, ranging from Year 7 through to Sixth Form, Salford is on a fast track expansion programme owning to a recent glowing Ofsted and an exciting programme of change. With a simple, yet powerful ethos ‘The Best in Everyone’, the Academy has a core value of openness and collaboration and actively encourages people to work together to achieve their goals.
Craig Seed, Network Manager at Salford, explains it is this continued drive for togetherness that drove Salford to evaluate how technology could enable this transformation more rapidly:
“Our starting point for the IT strategy was the Academy’s vision. We’re really fortunate to have a Principal who’s helped forge a solid vision for the Academy and we used that to construct a 5 year plan. To fit in with the collaborative culture within the Academy, we really wanted to build a technology platform that enabled students and staff to work together whenever and wherever they liked.
“This required us to think about how to design a powerful technology platform that could enable mobility and meet all of the curriculum requirements across the Academy.”
In practical terms, the 5 year plan sensibly started with building a resilient server infrastructure that could operate as a strong backbone on which more mobile devices could be used in classrooms collaboratively. Craig identified three main challenges that were to be overcome:
“Firstly, resiliency was a key thing to address. We were really conscious that when we had issues previously there was an impact on the ICT service within the Academy. Secondly, we also didn’t have any meaningful facility for staff to be able to work outside of the Academy securely. Thirdly, the way we handled backups was not optimised. There were too many all-nighters when we had to recover data that had been lost.”
To wrap it all up, all of this had to be addressed in a way that was easy to manage. Craig’s team consists of 2 people including himself, which means every minute of the day is precious and building systems that are automated and simple to administrate was crucial to keeping the Academy firmly on its road to success.
When it was time to engage with potential technology partners to help the Academy on their journey, Craig turned to colleagues in the wider United Learning community:
“I spoke to our advisors at Head Office and also other Network Managers within Academies at the Trust and Stone kept coming up in recommendations time and time again.”
After a tough selection process involving tender submissions and a presentation to a panel comprising of representations from both Salford and United Learning, Stone were selected as the partner of choice for the Academy. Craig explains:
“We found that Stone’s converged platform offered the best blend of value for money and high performance when compared to other suppliers. The Integrum is easily manageable and something that just works. There’ll also be big savings to be had on energy costs for our Academy as it’s a converged platform, which is obviously something that switched us on massively.
“Stone were 100% committed to getting us a solution that worked. This included a post-deployment health check to check that the installation and configuration had been completed to the highest possible standards. No one else offered us that and it made it feel like more of a partnership.”
With deployment over the summer, Stone’s engineer was on-site at the Academy to deploy the solution. He adds: “Craig from Stone was excellent. He worked really well with our other contractors. We had a print solution going in at the same time and he was more than happy to collaborate and even help those guys out too. It was lovely to see everyone working together to improve our Academy.”
Stone deployed Integrum, the converged infrastructure platform to host the Academy’s key services in the main building. As Craig says, by consolidating storage and compute power into a single appliance, Salford has seen big efficiency gains across the board:
“My technician and I are really happy as there have been performance benefits all over. Little things from the server reboot times going from 5 minutes to 30 seconds . We recently went through a load of updates on the server and this was done loads quicker than it used to be.”
Part of the disaster recovery strategy included Stone’s BCDR Appliance (Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery), which is used to host offsite Domain Controllers, Enhanced Management and Monitoring services based on System Centre 2012 R2 in the separate Sixth Form building over the other side of the Academy’s campus. Stone deployed Stone Recovery to provide a simple way for the Academy to make backups and restoring them in the event of a problem.
Craig explains: “The resilience and simplicity of the Stone solution is extremely impressive. In our tests, we have found that the Integrum is extremely easy to backup. Recovery is also lightning fast. This gives us comfort that in the event of an issue we’ll be able to get back up and running with our core services quickly and effectively. By hosting a Domain Controller and a SIMS mirror in the Sixth Form, we can keep the lights on within the school in the event of an issue affecting our main server infrastructure.”
RemoteApp was deployed to allow secure access to the network from outside of the Academy, with a plan to go to DirectAccess following a Windows 10 upgrade later this year.
In order to roll out such upgrades and deploy new devices, Stone installed System Centre Configuration Manager (SCCM). “This has provided a more streamlined way of centrally administrating the computing experience across the Academy.” Craig adds.
The impact on Academy life has been significant across the board.
“Our teachers love it. They’re delighted they can securely access SIMS and other productivity apps from home.
“Students are commenting about the speed of the network and how quick the systems responds when they load their files up. This gets them on task in lessons faster and means they are more productive. We know that Windows 10 gives even more in this department too, so that’s another development for us all to get super excited about.”