Come September 2013, the Warren School will have moved from eleven standard 2003 server hardware to a next-generation virtualised infrastructure that can enable staff and students to bring their own devices in the future – such as tablets and laptops – and use the school network securely.
With over 1,200 students, the Warren School in Essex has outgrown its current IT infrastructure, with both teaching staff and students struggling with confined system resources across legacy servers and limited storage capacity.
“Our IT infrastructure is about nine years old and predominantly consists of Microsoft Server 2003 or Exchange 2003 servers,” says Andrew Szymanski, network manager at the Warren School. “It has served us well but it is reaching the end of its life.”
Future-proofing school IT
The legacy IT was already feeling the strain when Szymanski joined the school 18 months ago. “The budget was very tight and we were still exploring the best ways to go about the upgrade,” he says.
When the IT team managed to secure a budget for the infrastructure overhaul, it wanted to take a strategic approach for a future-ready IT system.
“We could have just fitted some SAN and NAS boxes to overcome storage problems and then upgraded to Server 2008 and be done with our work,” says Szymanski, but that was not a long-term solution for an institution where students have started using their personal computing devices and where the teachers and staff bring their own software products.
“The problem with a simple server upgrade is that the IT is still limited and a couple years later, we could face similar problems,” he says.
Virtual infrastructure lends flexibility
In its current infrastructure, one piece of software is loaded to a particular machine and restricts its use to that machine alone.
“When teachers bring their software, it takes us time to check, approve and distribute it to several PCs,” Szymanski says. “And doing software upgrades on individual devices is another logistical nightmare.”
Having a consolidated virtual infrastructure will help the school overcome its problems.
The IT team selected two Fujitsu Primergy servers that will enable the transition from physical desktop computers to virtual desktops and provide a flexible and future-proof way to manage IT in education.
Cutting out the middle man
“We considered many vendors but we wanted to work with a company directly, rather than having to work with a distributor. And large companies including Dell and HP would all supply IT products only through distributors.”
The institution will still use a couple of legacy servers to run some old software applications, but the rest of the servers will be replaced with two high-performance servers.
Consolidating servers will yield cost savings and bring IT efficiency, according to Szymanski.
“What we currently have are 8-year-old servers based on old technology consuming a lot of power. The new consolidated infrastructure will consume less power and help us in the school’s green initiatives,” he adds.
Desktop virtualisation and BYOD strategy
In addition to replacing its legacy servers with Fujitsu servers, the school has also selected the Fujitsu vShape 25 package. The high-availability package targeting medium businesses includes NetApp SAN and Brocade switches and will help the IT team build desktop virtualisation that can deliver up to 25 virtual machines (VMs).
Using VMs, the IT team can move computers and resources around the school at the click of a button. Also, applications usually limited to computers in particular departments – such as an art and design package or piece of maths software – can be delivered instantly to anywhere in the school and provide a more flexible use of classrooms.
Staff and students can gain remote access to files and applications, improving how students submit homework.
While the new infrastructure has already been configured and installed, the IT team is currently testing it. The consolidated infrastructure will be ready for users when the next academic year begins in September 2013.
“The idea is to keep the look and feel the same for front-end users but to make sure that the background is robust, efficient, virtual and future-ready,” Szymanski says. “They will also have more storage resources.”
The new infrastructure will also enable a bring your own device (BYOD) programme for staff and students. The school is even having its wireless network upgraded in April as part of its BYOD strategy, which will be rolled out in a year’s time.
“Enabling students and staff to use mobile devices in the school is our long-term plan but secure access is crucial for that and we are exploring how we could secure the school’s sensitive applications and the devices,” Szymanski says.
“But by offering our staff and students remote access and by enabling them bring the devices they want to use, we’re not only improving the way we work but the satisfaction of our staff and students.
“This has been a big learning curve and we hope our upgrade serves as an example to other educational institutions that are facing similar problems."