Selecting an ICT partner - Why Stone?

  • · Innovative cloud technologies
  • · Proven on-premise solutions
  • · Committed staff
  • · Proven specialist in the UK education field

Tibshelf invited suppliers to tender for the school’s ICT requirements, at the centre of which was the notion of ‘infrastructure first’. Priorities were:

  • · Infrastructure
  • · Single consistent user experience
  • · Anytime, anywhere
  • · BYOD
  • · Future-proofing
  • · Interactivity in the classroom

Brian explains: “For us it was all about the infrastructure. Our consultation ignited this vision of a single consistent user experience, delivered anytime and anywhere regardless of device. We knew the foundation for this utopia was the network and the wireless. We were not at all concerned initially with what hangs off the end of that. We wanted it to work like a tap. You just turn it on and it works. In fact, due to the strong BYOD element, and with an uncertain view of future budgets, our tender was written around not providing any devices at all.

“Our priorities also involved a level of future-proofing, providing a scalable platform on which to adapt to future curriculum requirements and changes in technology.”

Mark explains: “Audio visual was a big area for us. Ten year old interactive whiteboards do not move premises easily and our projectors were all due for replacement as they had been stretched beyond use.”

Once interested parties had sent back their tender responses, as Mark points out responses were varied:

“At one end of the scale, we had an education ICT business recommending we did it the same way every other school they supplied did it. On the other end of the spectrum, we had another organisation claiming if we adopted their cloud only ICT infrastructure model we could be up and running within 10 minutes.

“Stone Group sat nicely in the middle with a good blend of innovative cloud technologies with proven on-premise solutions. It was all underpinned by a healthy dose of innovation, while still giving us comfort that it was not so far on the cutting edge that support would be impacted.

“Stone Group’s people also proved themselves committed to what we wanted to do from the very outset. Some competitors were new in the education market and this presented unnecessary risk to the project as a whole as Stone were proven specialists in the UK education field.”

The solution - Hardware:

  • · Eight digital signage screens
  • · Two C-touch interactive displays
  • · Interactive touch boards in each classroom
  • · Over 40 whiteboards with eBeam interactive technology
  • · Lenovo Ultrabooks

Infrastructure

  • · Microsoft server technology
  • · Microsoft Hyper-V private cloud
  • · Intel WiDi technology
  • · Unified Windows 8.1 across all devices

With tight construction deadlines, Stone as the ICT partner had to begin work before construction on the school had finished.

Once budget was in place, things moved extremely quickly. Between the £14.9m funding being confirmed from Derbyshire County Council and the school opening to pupils was only 20 months.

Once Stone had been appointed, to ensure that pedagogy would be at the heart of the new ICT solution, the school once again engaged relevant stakeholders – governors, teachers, admin staff and pupils.

Brian explains: “During the second consultation, some of our faculty used it as an opportunity to introduce new techniques in the classroom. For example, one of our ICT teachers rotated his class around so that desks were facing away from the teacher. Chairs swivelled to front-of-room lecture style delivery, then when working on-task the pupils would turn 180 degrees – giving the teacher full visibility of each individual learner’s grasp of the subject matter. Double projection boards also allowed students to see lesson content regardless of their orientation.”

In PE, there are two C-Touch interactive large format displays. These are used in conjunction with touch screen devices to allow GCSE students to critically analyse performance and technique as conducive with Active Participant research.

Eight Digital signage screens adorn the walls throughout the school. Equipped with the latest Smart Signage Platform, the Samsung screens are powered by system-on-chip – meaning no PC players are required to power the screens. Management and administration is again undertaken from both within the school and anywhere with an internet connection using the cloud-based SignageLive solution.

Interactivity came in the form of interactive touch boards in each classroom, with eBeam Edges providing touch screen functionality for over 40 interactive white boards. Classes are inherently interactive while helping to keep costs down when compared with native touch-screen displays.

All teachers are equipped with the latest convertible Lenovo Ultrabooks, adding to the touch screen interactive capabilities. Access to the projectors powering the interactive touchscreens are all wireless, using the very latest Intel Wireless Delivery (WiDi) technology. Using this technology, we hope to see teachers presenting from anywhere in the room, giving students the ability to interact directly with the boards without moving from their seats.

Streamline network management

The school’s server infrastructure is based on the latest Microsoft technology and includes:

  • · Windows Server 2012 R2 as the backbone – 4 Hyper-V hosts, 7 physical servers, 40 virtual servers in all powered by Hyper-V private cloud
  • · Unified Windows 8.1 across multiple smartphone, PC and tablet platforms – Windows Server 2012 R2 remote access and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure functionality
  • · DirectAccess through Microsoft’s server platform – gives teachers and admin staff across the school seamless three-factor authenticated remote access

Mark explains: “With the Microsoft backbone, we now have resilience in the infrastructure that we’ve never had before. We now have high availability as standard, with failover in case of an issue. Crucially this means our pupils, teachers and admin staff are non-the-wiser in the event of a malfunction on one of our physical servers.”

“The benefits for Tibshelf are tangible and have been far reaching.” Mark explains: “We knew we had it nailed when we looked at the network logs and saw we had pupils logged into the school’s systems on Christmas Day!”

Consultation on the school’s BYOD scheme illustrates that in excess of 95% of the school’s students will use the BYOD provision.

Bearing in mind the school’s desire to future proof and ensure the latest technology was underpinning academic ambition, Windows 8.1 was standardised across all PC technology. Likewise, the VDI solution ensures that a consistent Windows 8.1 experience is available even on other tablet and smartphone operating systems.

Training and engagement

Putting in a new ICT infrastructure has required a change in behaviours for many teachers and staff, in order to mirror the innovation in the classroom.

End-user training sessions delivered by Stone started before the school’s move and continue to be part of the school’s commitment to CPD. For end users, sessions are focused on helping to familiarise all the faculty with Windows 8.1 and ensure that the nuances between each teacher’s pedagogical approaches can be accommodated. From a technical perspective, Tibshelf’s internal ICT support staff engage with Stone’s infrastructure specialists to ensure that they are fully abreast of the latest technology developments. This enables their staff to get the most out of the systems for the whole school’s benefit.

Formal end user training has been supplemented by peer-led learning. Mark explains: “Functionality such as the ability to add custom tiles pointing to specific folders and creating a bespoke user interface, is something that has spread from teacher-to-teacher. Word of mouth has enabled best practice to spread quicker than that of our formal training.”

Tibshelf is an early adopter of Microsoft’s Student Advantage programme, and will be giving all pupils within the school and up to 5 members of their family a free copy of Office 365 ProPlus to use on both BYOD devices and those used in the home.

Integral ICT

ICT within the school has gone from being difficult to introduce into lessons at all, due to a lack of provision, to now being integral to the vast majority of curriculum delivery. Mark explains: “As a network manager, during lessons I used to be able to wander freely around the building undertaking administration tasks. Now I get accosted on every corner as learning has truly gone beyond the four walls of the classroom at Tibshelf. Pupils are outside lessons, capturing content on digital devices and using the core infrastructure we have provided to further their personal development.”

Already offering a supreme level of support to the school, Mark’s network management team has benefited from new network management tools. Microsoft System Centre Service Manager 2012 R2 monitors the network and provides alerts, meaning the school’s internal helpdesk offers ITIL compliant processes.

Impero Classroom Management is deployed across the school’s estate, combining network management, desktop management and classroom management in one single consolidated solution.

Technical Overview

Core Infrastructure/networking

  • · Cat6 cabling throughout the school
  • · 10Gb Fibre connectivity
  • · HP Procurve Switching
  • · Meraki Cloud Managed Wireless

Server infrastructure & storage

  • · 7 high specification Stone Servers optimised for virtualisation
  • · Huawei OceanStor S5500T storage

End User Devices

  • · Over 250 x Stone NT310 notebooks with 8 laptop charging trolleys.
  • · 75 Touch screen Lenovo Ultrabooks for all teachers
  • · 2 x 30 Stone Ultra Small Form Factor Desktop PCs

Audio Visual

  • · 8 x Samsung MD40C digital signage screens with centralised Signagelive cloud management.
  • · In the auditorium, stepped seating. They have full audio visual stack, including 2 x projection to provide the ultimate in backdrop flexibility.