Guest post from Gerald Haigh, freelance writer. Gerald writes regularly for the Microsoft Blog(s).

In the process of researching our forthcoming new Cost Saving eBook, I decided to catch up again with Steve Gillott, IT Manager at Wootton Bassett School. Steve, I remembered had virtualised his school’s servers some time ago, anticipating significant gains in cost and efficiency, and I wanted to know how things were progressing.

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Steve’s response was so complete that I got permission from him to use it as it stood. It’s an object lesson in what an imaginative and expert IT manager, committed to the core teaching and learning mission, can do for a school.

Steve Gillott writes

‘ I believe we were one of the first schools to virtualise our servers about four years ago, and at that point we reduced 13 physical servers to just 3 virtual host servers. The decision to virtualise came at a point when we were looking to replace the hardware for those servers anyway. Instead of spending all that money on hardware, we decided to invest in virtualisation after consulting with our Microsoft Partner, ClarITy http://www.clarityitadvisors.com/. Instead of spending £52,000 on new hardware, we spent £14,000, saving us £38,000 in hardware alone. We recouped the cost of the consultancy and much, much more from the savings on maintenance contracts on the 10 servers we didn’t buy. Over the next couple of years, we saved £14,500 per year on the maintenance contracts for the 10 servers.

This is just the financial side of things – we also benefit from high availability of the servers (if one of the cluster host servers stops working for whatever reason, Hyper-V silently migrates all the virtual servers that were running on that host over to the other two hosts, and we hardly notice anything has happened).

‘Four years later, and IT hasn’t stood still. We are now commencing on a project to replace our existing Windows Server 2003 network with a brand new one running Windows Server 2008 R2. After considering what we wanted to achieve, we will need to end up with at least 34 servers (Domain controllers, file servers, print servers, SharePoint Farm, Exchange 2010 Farm, Lync Farm, TMG, and all sort of other things) – quite a fair amount! We work on a four year replacement cycle, so our original virtual hosts are due to be replaced again this year. So, with the same amount of cash per server (£4000), we can buy much better hardware for some new virtual hosts - 4 Dell R720s at £16,000 – to run the 34 servers, which, if they weren’t virtualised, would cost us around £136,000 – a saving of £120,000!

Well, in reality they probably wouldn’t as the school could never afford to do such a project, but virtualisation has opened up this opportunity to do something that we want for a fraction of the cost that we would have needed to spend otherwise. Plus, I can almost pay for those four new servers from the £14,500 I’m still saving per year!

So, in summary, although it was a few years ago now, I’ve saved money from the original project, been able to replace the host servers this year with much better hardware to support running more servers than we did before, and that has allowed us to expand our network provision immensely! This can only benefit teaching and learning – something we would never have been able to do if we had not virtualised. I call that a win!’

And a win it certainly is, Steve. For us as well, because it enables us to share an excellent story, straight from an excellent school, that may well inspire others to do similar things.

Wootton Bassett School, in the Wiltshire town of Royal Wootton Bassett, has 1400 students aged 11 to 18.   At the last Ofsted Inspection (November 2010) It was designated ‘Outstanding’ in every category. www.woottonbassett.wilts.sch.uk/