When Network Manager Paul Roberts was recruited three years ago to introduce a new strategy and discipline to William Allitt’s use of ICT, he soon realised he was going to have to ‘think outside of the box’ to deliver everything the students and staff needed within the limited physical space available.
William Allitt School is a specialist college for performing arts and science in Newhall, Derbyshire. With just shy of 1,000 students, the establishment is a bustling and vibrant place which crams a lot of creativity between its walls.
The school had wanted to bring more sophisticated multimedia resources online to add a new dimension to the students’ learning experience, but structural limitations were restricting its capacity to escalate its IT facilities. Not wanting to make a drama out of a crisis, Stone provided the Derbyshire school with a comprehensive end-to-end solution including storage, backup and recovery, virtualised servers, Windows 7 devices, a three or five-year warranty on all equipment and a full recycling service.
His post was a new one; and the situation he inherited was less than ideal. “There were three curriculum servers, two administration servers, one of which is an electronic portal which allowed the teaching staff to access the Management Information System (MIS) to complete reporting tasks when offsite. There was no structured layout of the infrastructure or mapping of the network; and as such, no one knew exactly what was there as it hadn’t been documented – indeed, it had all been in the technicians’ heads.”
Processes were far from reliable too, with backups performed on the existing curriculum servers, rather than in a separate central location. Meanwhile, some of the network switches were not configured properly
No jobs for a jobsworth
When Roberts joined the school, it had just engaged with education ICT specialist, Stone, to provide maintenance support for its existing IT systems. After considering his options, Roberts decided to extend this relationship.
William Allitt’s old technology provider was proving to be increasingly inflexible in helping to support their installed management software, which was quickly becoming an obstacle to the school’s progress.
Roberts adds, “Our previous supplier was charging a day rate for an engineer’s time even if they had only been out to us for 15 minutes; they didn’t like it when I then insisted they stay for the full day. I did look at another provider I’d worked with before, but the costs were prohibitive. The more I saw of Stone, the more it became evident that this was the partner we needed.”
After a period of time settling in it was decided that the goal was to consolidate the school’s existing infrastructure, which would include an upgrade to a predominantly vanilla Windows Server 2008 architecture over a period of time. “I wanted to create an IT experience that was more like the ones students were used to at home, with a Windows 7 front-end and a security log-in to control access,” Roberts explains.
At the same time, he wanted to take advantage of the upgrade project to exploit the latest server-virtualisation technologies, allowing consolidation of physical servers and greater flexibility in the management and allocation of network
The school also wanted to ensure a student to computer ratio of no less than 3:1. “Because this is an old school building, there is no real scope for expanding the IT rooms,” Robert says.
“We overcame this by introducing mobile classrooms – a ‘trolley-service’ that would enable systems to be easily moved from room to room and set up very quickly in a second location, all of which would be managed via an internal booking system. We have an ongoing programme of upgrading these systems and we look forward to the benefits that using the latest technology will bring to the school.”
Stone immediately proved that it could meet William Allitt’s requirements, not least on cost due to Stone’s commitment to providing such a broad range of own-branded and big-name equipment. “Our budget is a lot less than I have had access to in the past, so we’re completely replacing the Ranger network with our own Vanilla network, keeping some other aspects of the Ranger suite,” Roberts explains. “The maintenance costs of the old infrastructure were proving to be too high.”
Stone has worked with the school for the last two years, planning and equipping the new environment in a way that is affordable and sustainable. As two of the school’s old servers approached their end of life, Stone worked with Roberts to plan a virtualised server environment, harnessing the built-in functionality initially of Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008, to then be controlled centrally by Microsoft Systems Centre Essentials (MSCE) – in addition to incorporating an intelligent S2600 Storage Area Network (SAN) solution from Huawei Symantec Technologies.
“The Huawei Symantec storage solution from Stone gives us more capacity to cope with the growing demands of courses like Media Studies, where students are frequently required to create and store large video files on the system, without impacting on network performance” Roberts says.
The new infrastructure is also a lot more reliable, including centralised backup in addition to the virtualised server environment. “Network downtime will now be minimised, as any rebooting will be seamless and centrally managed,” Roberts notes. “If one virtual server goes down, there is another waiting in the wings so we can bring our learning-critical systems back online quickly and without disruption.”
Roberts adds, “The result is resilience and high availability, as well as scalability to cope with the growth in demand as the school moves forward with ICT. Whether for file or print management, email or working with large multimedia content, there will be no loss of productivity during the school day.”
William Allitt has sourced 99% of its IT equipment from Stone, including the company’s latest own-branded desktops, servers, storage, mobile, software licences and cabling, plus a comprehensive maintenance and support package. “Not only have we been able to source everything from a single UK company, they were the only supplier to offer a five-year warranty across all of the products supplied,”
Roberts comments. “This was a great incentive to choose Stone, and indeed the support has been second to none. If we make a call one day, an engineer will be out within 24 hours. At my last school, we never knew when an engineer would come out – it could have been a day or a week!
“Stone’s phone and remote support is excellent too,” Roberts adds. “We can usually get an engineer straight on the phone and often the problem can be sorted out there and then, which is invaluable. Stone’s approach to customer relations is poles apart from our experience of our previous provider. I had no hesitation about renewing their contract earlier this year.”
Now that the server virtualisation project is complete, William Allitt wants to begin working with Stone on a desktop virtualisation initiative, starting next year. “We’re keen to continue with this end-to-end supply and service relationship,” Roberts says. “Stone delivers every time, on time, and often at very short notice. I’m very happy with the partnership, so don’t need to look anywhere else.”
‘Cradle to grave’
Further cementing the relationship, Roberts was impressed when, on a visit to Stone’s UK-based manufacturing, distribution and recycling facilities, he was shown around by the company’s Corporate Director. “I’ve seen the whole operation now, from where orders come in to where the recycled equipment goes,” Roberts says. “I don’t think you’d get such an open, transparent experience with any other company.”
Roberts notes, “There aren’t many suppliers that can offer such a complete end-to-end service either, when you think what it includes. With a simple phone call to our account manager, Stone will take away and recycle any equipment they replace. This saves us time, money and hassle.”
Roberts is proud of what he has accomplished over the last three years with Stone’s help. Visitors from a neighbouring school recently expressed their envy at the equipment William Allitt’s students and employees now have at their disposal. Roberts adds, “At one time, we were supposed to merge with the other school, but I suspect they now wish they could merge with us!”
If plans to rebuild the school do materialise, Roberts has no doubt he’d invite Stone to equip the new premises. “We’d have an opportunity to do everything from scratch then,” he concludes. “If it happens, Stone will be first in line for the work so we make sure we get it right first time.”