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LEAP is a recently formed Multi Academy Trust comprising three secondary schools (Brinsworth Academy, Dinnington High School and Eckington School) along with two primary schools.

Achieving excellence is the overriding ambition of the LEAP Multi Academy Trust, placing students at the centre of everything to create a culture of success and a love of learning which enhances students’ achievement and their personal, social and emotional development.

The Trust believes a high quality educational experience is an entitlement for every student and effective ICT is core to that philosophy.

The challenge

As a recently formed Trust, a key priority is integrating what were independent standalone schools into one Trust.  Existing servers in the schools were approaching end of life and needed updating, and so it made sense to use the opportunity to implement one platform that would join the school estate.

Chris Ash and Steve Twiss are joint IT Managers for the Trust. Chris said: “If the schools had retained the same IT systems, not only would it have meant maintaining several networks, but there would also have been little opportunity for collaboration between colleagues. The CEO was keen to take a holistic approach so that the Trust had IT in common.”

This was going to be an expensive process for the Trust and so it was important to get it right. Once the Trust had approved the capital outlay, Chris and Steve developed the specification to put out to tender.

“The system spec was quite generic as we wanted a good response,” said Chris. “The better the response the better the choice for the Trust. However, we were very clear that we wanted a truly hyper converged server as it would be a lot simpler for us to manage in house.”

Stone Group won the tender, not just based on value for money, but due to their extensive experience in the education sector.

Chris said: “It was immediately apparent that Stone were acutely aware of how the education system worked. Their knowledge was far superior to the competition and they were fully aware of the pressures we operated under.”

As part of the due diligence process, Chris and Steve visited Stone headquarters and had a tour around the research and development facility.  They were able to see several servers in action, as well as meet the team who would be building their servers and looking after the Trust. They also spoke to several other schools who had used Stone, so they could ask questions and discuss their experience of working with Stone.

The solution

The Stone Equinox is a cost-effective hyper-converged virtualisation platform and service designed for the evolving education sector. It uses the latest Intel® technologies and industry leading Hyper-V / Storage Spaces Direct Microsoft Platform, to deliver a future-proof solution, at a fraction of the cost of competing solutions.

Chris said: “We bought four platforms, one dual node Equinox for each secondary school and one three node version that is kept in our data centre in Manchester.  We were impressed with the Stone system which is a true hyper-converged system as we requested – and yet it came in at half the price of the big brand competitors.  However, it wasn’t just the price, Stone seemed genuinely interested in what we were trying to achieve as a Trust. Others were just selling us a product.”

The project took around six months, from receiving the order to deploying the solution. The main cluster was installed in the Manchester data centre, and Stone experts met Chris and Steve there to enable them to install the system together to ensure a complete knowledge transfer.

“Stone worked alongside us all the way,” said Chris. “They talked us through the installation in Manchester so that we could do our own installation in the schools. It was a really easy process but we knew the Stone team were on hand should we need them.”

  • The Trust found the transition period simple.  The hardware is now installed in the secondary schools and Chris, Steve and their team of four, are now busy configuring the system to meet the Trust’s requirements.

    “The Stone Equinox has really delivered for the Trust,” said Chris.  “Even though it is very competitively priced we expect the system to have paid for itself over the next five years thanks to the energy savings alone.”

    The previous system involved several servers consuming a lot of power and therefore energy to keep them cool.  The Equinox solution incorporates a high-speed Intel® Ethernet to help reduce total system cost and power consumption, and with far less servers in-situ than previously, the Trust expects to see a major saving in energy.

    As well as faster data compression, workload optimised performance and enhanced security to protect data, the Equinox installation has allowed the Trust to feel like one school rather than several different ones.

    “It’s great that colleagues can now share data and collaborate between schools,” said Chris.  “Staff can simply log in at any site and access all their personal data. The shared domain name and email address helps us all to feel part of one family and is allowing us to develop common Trust practices. We now look and feel like one big organisation which is exactly what we wanted to be.”

    The Equinox platform is easy to operate in-house although the Trust has the peace of mind provided by Stone’s virtual reporting and health check system. This allows Stone to monitor and maintain the equipment remotely and fix any issues, thus making them the ‘eyes of the system’ and allowing Chris and Steve to concentrate on their day job.

    “At the beginning of this process we were keen to create a true partnership with the chosen supplier,” said Chris.  “It was immediately apparent to us that Stone also wanted a productive and mutually beneficial relationship for the long term, and we are already looking to Stone to help with future projects within our growing and ambitious Trust.”

The Stone Equinox® platform has made our lives so much easier - and the installation couldn’t have been any easier

It’s already clear that Stone want the same things we do and I am confident we will develop a long-lasting partnership

Chris Ash, IT Manager

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