Case Study: Sydenham School adopts Thin Client Technology

Sydenham School was one of the first educational establishments to adopt a Thin Client Network. A few years on and it’s...

Sydenham School was one of the first educational establishments to adopt a Thin Client Network. A few years on and it’s benefiting both pupils and teachers

Sydenham School is a large comprehensive for girls in South East London. When IT co-ordinator, John Hobson, joined the school in 1996, he discovered that the IT department consisted of a number of computer systems, including Pentium PCs, Macintoshes and dumb terminals, linked together in four autonomous networks.

The school's IT curriculum consists of working with many current applications including Microsoft Word and Excel. Hobson quickly saw that not only was this impossible on many of the school's older systems, but that the mix of different platforms prevented pupils from working consistently on the same machine. Hobson sought to implement a strategy that would allow pupils to work on the same applications, on any computer, while maintaining the desired computer-to-child ratio of 1:9.

His first thought was to upgrade to a new computer system. When this proved to be prohibitively expensive, Hobson approached iNET Consultancy to design and implement a Thin Client Network. "It took about a year to find a supplier that didn't come in, see the Macs, and walk out the door," he says." iNET was the only supplier who stayed and came back for more."

iNET's Bruce Passey explains the details of implementing the network. "Our first task was to do an audit to ascertain exactly what computer systems we were working with," he says. "There were between 80 and 100 systems in all including 50 or 60 Apple Mac LC2s and 3s. We soon realised there was a lot of cabling to be deployed. We laid down fibres between all the main buildings of the school, creating a network backbone running at 100 Megabits a second."

The school's IT department now maintains a Citrix Network running on a server farm of Compaq 1600 servers, an Internet server and a UPS system. When connected to the network the native operating system of the individual client machine is bypassed. All applications are accessed from the school's server farm. As a result, it is possible to run modern applications, such as Office 97, on obsolete machines. Installing the Citrix network has also solved a number of cross-platform problems. Whether a pupil is working on a Macintosh or a PC, the same Windows-based applications are available.

John Hobson has noted many advantages for school and pupil alike. "It's a lot easier in terms of administration. I don't have to configure individual machines, it's all done centrally." The advantages for the children are also obvious. "Now the children have a consistent front end and a single user name. They have access to the same applications regardless of machine. They can start work in one IT room, continue it in another, and finish it off in the library if they want to."

Since the implementation of the Citrix Network the school boasts a computer to child ratio of 1:1. Bruce Passey details further advantages of the system. "The key benefits of the system are efficiency and return of investment. With Thin Client you can centralise technology and maintain control over it. For example, individual users can be 'shadowed' by the administrator. If there's a problem, it's easily traced."

During the past few months, work has been undertaken to allow the network to be accessed from many other points in the school. As well as Sydenham's two IT rooms, thin clients have been installed in many teachers' offices, allowing both pupil and teacher to access ongoing projects in exactly the same format.

Future developments include a system designed to allow local primary schools to access the Citrix network without establishing an IT department of its own. Instead, connections are made to Sydenham School's server farm and applications can be accessed from any platform.

iNET's ultimate goal is to implement a system at Sydenham allowing pupils to access the school's network from any location using an Internet browser. Using this system, pupils can continue working at school, at home or even on holiday.

By Richard Pitt

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