At Allerton Grange, the whole school community is committed to the principles of Aspire, Grow and Succeed. It is a good and rapidly improving school where every student is expected to aspire to be the best they can be through hard work and good teaching.
The school also recognizes that students achieve best when the school, students and parents work together and so the school is also proud of its relationship with parents.
Ian Thomson is IT Manager at the school and is supported by IT Technician Rich West. The duo had been spending much of their time managing the problems thrown up by the school’s ageing servers, desktops and laptops. They were constantly nursing the old servers and were continually running around the school to replace parts and keep things physically working.
“Although our servers were not out of warranty, they were nearly five years old,” said Ian. ‘Our wireless network was really slow and didn’t support Windows 8 or Windows 10 and the student desktops and many of the staff laptops were nine years old. Basically, the whole system was old and creaky and much of our time was spent firefighting problems.”
It was clear that the school needed to invest in upgrading the system and so, in early 2018 Ian approached the management to explain how a new system would benefit the staff and students and equally importantly keep the school secure. They agreed that Ian could develop a solution to resolve the problems.
Ian approached several companies including their current provider and described the issues that needed to be resolved, namely: new servers, a faster network, installation of Windows 10, an improved wireless and new kit for students and staff. Each provider gave a slightly different solution and price and these were taken to the school governing body which made the decision to give the contract to Stone.
The school had some experience of working with Stone previously. “We had laptops from Stone in the past and we were really impressed with their aftercare service,” he said. “In fact, they even helped us out on a non-Stone network problem – there are not many companies that would give you help like that if you were not paying for it. As well as their service, Stone was very competitively priced and so it was an easy decision.”
After being appointed, Stone attended several meetings on site with Ian and Rich and assigned a named project manager and technical consultant.
The school had to replace 500 desktop computers and laptops. Ian and Rich decided on the versatile StonePC Lite powered by 6th Generation Intel® Core™ i3 and i5 Processors to refresh they’re outdated desktop estate. The StonePC Lite utilises immersive Intel® HD Graphics to engage students, in a compact and flexible chassis with an array of connectivity options, making it easy to create the most effective workspaces.
And to update their laptops, the school chose a mix of sophisticated Stonebook Pro devices and ultra-lightweight Stone Cloudbooks to best meet the diverse requirements in education. The devices chosen featured powerful 7th Gen Intel® Core™ i5 and Intel® Celeron processors respectively, providing reliability and performance on the go for both the students and teachers alike.
The new kit arrived in June 2018 and was stored at the school ready for installation. Stone was able to carry out most of its work remotely, while Ian, Rich and another technician did the on-site work, although Stone was on site at various points.
The physical work necessary commenced on 24th July and 120 wireless access points had to be taken out of the ceiling and replaced with 78 new wireless points which are easier to manage for Ian and supported by the Stone helpdesk. The old server was replaced with the powerful yet cost-effective Stone Equinox, which makes use of the latest Intel® technologies and scalable platforms to deliver a hyper-converged cluster-in-a-box solution, at a fraction of the cost of most competing solutions.
The Equinox platform utilises Intel® QuickAssist Technology which speeds up critical workloads for staff, and features high-speed integrated Intel® Ethernet to lower power consumption and reduce costs to help the school operate more efficiently and with budget in mind.
“Stone built the network with us and did the all the ground work around building the System Centre Configuration Manager (SCCM) imaging,” explained Ian. This Microsoft device works with individual computers and then communicates back to the server. It allows the school to install specific software on an individual machine or group of machines and provides the IT team with the ability to intelligently and flexibly understand which computers need new updates and plug ins.
“The SCCM saves us a lot of work,” said Ian, “it is amazing how it can handle a request to install say, Flash Player for example, on any computer that needs it.”
The main issue for the school was not only to ensure the work was all completed during the summer holidays but that the system would also be available mid-August so that GCSE and A Level students could access their exam results.
During the holidays the staff were invited to test the software as it came on board and then give feedback – any issues were ironed out quickly although Ian had problems putting in the internet line on the new switches as it would not connect into the new core switch. Stone discovered that was a network configuration that was causing an issue at the firewall end of the internet line –and managed to sort it out. “That was typical of Stone,” said Ian. “Any set back we had was resolved very quickly and so it was not a problem for very long.
“With the exam results front of mind we tried where possible to run the old and new systems together. However, we found that wasn’t necessary, as when it came to accessing the new system on 16 – 23rd August the exam team had no problem just using the new system. That was a huge relief and gave us the confidence to use the new system entirely on its own which was all working perfectly by the time term started on 3rd September.”
As a Cisco Meraki preferred partner, Stone works closely with Cisco on a number of wireless solutions and recommended the latest wireless platform for its cloud management. The new updated version of Meraki now allows Allerton Grange to access its network in real time from literally anywhere in the world.
“The level of detail means I can log in and see which mobile phone or which laptop is connected to what,” said Ian. “It is just so easy to use and effectively means we can create a wireless network in seconds. It’s one of those tools that from an IT perspective you wonder how you ever managed without it.”
And it’s not just Ian and Rich that appreciate the remote wireless facilities. They too have direct access to the system from home which makes things much easier and faster for them. They also appreciate all the new versions of software such as Photoshop and Smart Notebook which they can access smoothly and efficiently.
‘The Deputy Head and Finance have been particularly complimentary,” said Ian. “They are really pleased with how straight forward everything was and they are especially pleased with how they can log a problem and it is resolved quickly. They say comparing Stone with our previous supplier is like comparing chalk and cheese.”
For Ian and Rich, the new system means they can get on with their jobs without having to be constantly firefighting problems thrown up by the old equipment. The school’s move from dated kit with Windows 7 to modern Windows 10 devices has also ensured that school data is secure and they have a future proofed system. “Windows 10 is a much more professional operation,” said Ian. “It is really instinctive to operate and so really easy to use. Our students demand the latest kit and so they love it. Staff like the way software is stored alphabetically making it much faster to find things.”
From a back-office perspective, safeguarding is a priority for all schools and as a strategic partner with leading internet security and web filtering provider, Smoothwall – Stone was confident in recommending the system to Allerton Grange. Embracing all the opportunities the Internet can provide enriches the learning experiences of students, however, with that comes a responsibility for ensuring the online safety of young people. As well as taking on board Smoothwall, the school has gone the extra mile in protecting students by also opting for Visigo a monitoring solution which goes above and beyond the safeguarding required by Ofsted.
Ian said: “Visigo offers advanced on-device monitoring and so protects any students who may be particularly vulnerable and therefore adds another layer to the comprehensive protection we already have in place.
“Considering the amount of work we have done and the complete overhaul of our IT system we have been amazed at how easy the changes have been to make. Thanks to the advice and support of Stone, we are confident that the tech at Allerton Grange is completely future proofed and read to embrace the exciting future we have ahead of us.”