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Essex County Council has just completed the rollout of Live@Edu to 487 schools. This was a large and complex project involving the migration of accounts and mailboxes from a third-party hosted Exchange 2007 environment to the new Microsoft cloud email service. Mark Reynolds, School Business Manager for the south spoke to Gordon Kerr and Rob Rainey from Essex, to find out how it went.

Gordon explains how they went about it:

“6 of the 487 Schools were Secondary, but the majority were Primary Schools who previously used our ESCI environment for staff email. Rather than just starting again, we made a commitment not only to set schools up on the free service, but also to transfer their existing mail, contacts and calendar. We exported from Exchange 2007 to pst's and then used a third party tool (Full Armour) to transfer the mailbox data into Live@Edu. We used PowerShell to provision all the domains and everyone kept their existing email addresses. With this number of schools, we could not send someone to all of the schools to handle the local re-configurations and the schools often don’t have any technical staff in-house.”

During the project, they experienced significant challenges with the sheer range of different technology being used by their schools. In particular, they found many schools were still running IE6 and therefore found themselves having to support schools with a range of issues that were not specifically related to email. There were also large numbers of schools who wanted to use the full Outlook client rather than the web client (OWA) so Essex recommended they upgrade to either 2007 or 2010. A lot of these challenges were dealt with by a network of local support providers in Essex, who Rob decided early on would be key to a successful project:

“We held an IT support evening for local IT providers and invited the engineers along for a series of training sessions and workshops. First we showed them what schools would be getting, then explained the migration process and also discussed how to support them after the migration. Our initial pilot was run in October with 10 schools and we then did our first big batch in December to test the process. When these 60 migrations were complete and we’d learnt a lot about the technology and our processes, we could plan the rest into phases between January and March.”clip_image004

As well as doing a lot of the technical work, Rob also found time to write some extremely good end-user guides, which were “98% visual”. They were geared at local school administrators, who would often not be IT people. The guides were all made available on the County website and included in the welcome packs that were emailed to schools before their migration.

We then asked Gordon what the schools think of their new email service:

“They like the familiar Outlook interface, they like the large mailboxes, and the fact that Shared Calendars are supported in the 2010 OWA interface is a massive bonus for them - as OWA 2007 didn't support that. Many schools have started off by giving Live@Edu to staff first, but are starting to move pupils on also. Lastly, schools really like that it worked with their iPhones and Android phones really easily.

It was a big project and bound not to be completely smooth, but we got through our hiccups, working across multiple organisations - with a big dollop of Microsoft help. Overall it has been a big success, and has been done within the timescales.”

Lastly, we asked one of the Essex schools about their experience so far. Neil Finbow (ICT Strategic Lead Officer for Children’s Support Services) told us:

“As a practitioner I found the whole move to Live@Edu quite smooth and easy. The help.outlook.com help pages are comprehensive and very user-friendly. There were a few times that I had to delve into the internet for more answers and pointers to take me where we wanted to be, but on the whole the migration and setting up of 300+ staff was quite easy and with very few teething problems. I must, however, add that a certain amount of prior knowledge of exchange server was a great help to me. I now look forward to adding our students”.

So thanks to the hard work of Gordon and Rob and the Schools Broadband/ESCI Team, 487 schools in Essex are now benefitting from free Microsoft cloud services and have been empowered to do more with less. If you have not yet discovered Live@Edu, you can read all about it and sign yourself up for a test domain here.