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Using Windows 7 BranchCache to speed up education networks

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Using Windows 7 BranchCache to speed up education networks

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I had the chance to visit Warwickshire last week, and to meet up with Chris Page and the rest of the local authority education IT team. The reason for the visit was to catch up with their work on rolling out Windows 7 to their schools, as they’re part of our official Windows 7 Technology Adoption Programme (TAP) – which is a scheme we run for all new major technologies. Customers on the TAP programme get earlier access to product releases and additional technical help, in return for agreeing to be amongst the first to roll our new product releases to their users. Normally it is commercial customers involved in the TAPs, but we’ve been quite lucky to get some educational customers involved too.

In Warwickshire the local authority provide a wide range of ICT services for their schools, and are deeply engaged with both the technical and learning strategy for ICT in the county. In a contrast to some authorities, where it is mainly primary schools using the county services, they also support quite a few secondary schools, and in many take an active part in the management of the ICT.

Being involved in the Windows 7 TAP has given them quite a bit of leeway to experiment with the new products being launched this summer, and they’ve learnt a fair deal as they have been:

  • virtualising their SIMS systems, using Terminal Server
  • deploying netbooks on Windows 7
  • deploying Apples dual-booting on Windows 7
  • building flood-wireless networks, for up to 250 laptops in a single room (a big one!)
  • virtualising their data centre servers

I think some of this could do with a more technical write up than I could manage (yup, on my list to get organised!) but there was one idea I came across that I simply hadn’t considered before, and that may be of interest. In one of their new secondary schools, they’ve deployed Windows 7 using the BranchCache feature. This is designed for businesses where they have a number of physical branches in different places – it basically creates a duplicate temporary file store locally, but maintains the security and currency of the main network servers. Although I’d realised the potential for multi-site schools, in Warwickshire they’ve also used it with a single-site school. It has been designed to help them to improve network and workstation performance in situations where there is a high student:PC ratio. In each of four main blocks there will be a BranchCache, and when all of the students in a classroom start downloading the same lesson file from their VLE, or the same web page, then the BranchCache will serve a cached version. And hopefully serve them faster.

It remains to be seen how much faster it will help the network to run (the builders haven’t yet finished the last coat of paint, so the installation hasn’t been put in yet), but it’s a use for BranchCache I hadn’t considered.

You can find out more about BranchCache through this TechNet video, or read the BranchCache Executive Overview

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