A major FE college radically improves its level of IT support for learning, leadership and administration with the aid of Microsoft technologies, particularly Microsoft Hyper-V for server virtualisation.
South Tyneside College is a large Further Education institution on two sites in South Shields, on the North East Coast of England. It has about 11,000 students enrolled on a full range of courses. A strong and historic specialisation in Marine studies means that the college draws students from around the world as well as from the local area and across the UK.
IT at South Tyneside
In the FE environment, a high quality user experience of IT is essential for success and growth. At South Tyneside College this is recognised by the creative and forward looking deployment of a range of technologies in which Microsoft products strongly feature, including Hyper-V for server virtualisation,
The importance of that user experience is well demonstrated by the annual student enrolment process. At South Tyneside College between three and four thousand students will enrol between the last week in August and the second week in September.
Head of IT Services Craig Scott explains how this works.
‘All our enrolments are entered into our student records system in real time, with the student sitting in front of a member of staff who is typing in their details, putting them on the correct courses. Obviously during this two to three week period, reliability and performance are key factors. Big delays or technical problems during enrolment can lead to students walking out the door and enrolling at another college.’
Clearly, then, the very wide range of users – administrators, managers, students, teaching staff and others, within College and beyond – expect, as of right, a level of service that’s fast, unobtrusive, reliable, consistent and responsive to rapidly changing circumstances. Meeting those demands from a new data centre brought on line during the Summer of 2012, Craig Scott and his team deploy and support technologies that include Microsoft Desktop Applications which are in constant use across 2000 desktop and portable device. There are also numerous business applications fundamental to the efficient working of the College, such as Microsoft Exchange, SQL Data bases, and proprietary finance systems and student records (including pastoral records).
Most importantly, however, all the College’s mission-critical business systems are provided within a private cloud, hosted by servers virtualized with Microsoft Hyper-V, chosen after initial experience with both Microsoft technology and VMWare.
The South Tyneside College Virtualisation Journey
The College’s ambitious and innovative move of its IT infrastructure from a large number of single-purpose physical servers to a fully virtualised environment has been achieved over some five years by the College IT team, led by Head of IT Services Craig Scott . The aim, throughout, has been to stay ahead of growing demand and expectations with the best and most cost-effective user experience.
Craig and the team embarked on virtualisation technology in 2006/7, using two Microsoft Virtual Servers, and one VMWare server. Then a year or so later along came Windows Server 2008, which came with Hyper-V. Craig and his team installed this on a spare server and in the course of exploring its features they found it to be the best option – more efficient, easier to use. The fact that Windows 2008 and Hyper-V included Windows Failover Clustering further confirmed that Microsoft’s Hyper-V route was the one to take. So within six months of the release of Windows Server 2008, Craig had migrated eight existing virtual servers, including Exchange and SQL Server, to a Windows Failover Cluster hosted on two physical servers.
From that point, there was steady progress, The upgrade in 2009 of Windows Server 2008 to 2008 R2 brought a new version of Hyper-V, which was now installed on a Windows Failover Cluster grown to five servers, to which all existing virtual servers were now migrated. The process continued through the rest of 2009 until by December the failover cluster had expanded again, to seven servers into which fifty physical servers were now migrated.
The year 2011 brought pressures on funding, and the familiar need to achieve more with less. Reliability and efficiency could not be compromised however, and by now, experience showed that Hyper-V was well up to the task, so Craig and the team decided to establish a second seven-server Windows 2008 R2 Failover Cluster running Hyper-V. This now gave the College a remarkably robust IT infrastructure. As Craig puts it,
‘Once this second cluster was established we effectively replicated a lot of our existing application/front-end servers for business critical systems and used Windows Network Load Balancing to balance the traffic between them on the two clusters.’
The Current Picture
The position now, into the beginning of Academic Year 2012- 2013 is that both of the ‘production’ seven-server Hyper-V clusters are located in the new data centre – a compact installation taking up less room, using less energy than a large number of individual physical servers.
In addition, underlining the emphasis on reliability, there are also five servers, again running 2008 R2 and Hyper-V, in an auxiliary server room across the campus. These servers host ‘cold’ and ‘warm’ standby virtual machines for all critical systems. As Craig says,
‘We’ve been able to facilitate this via Microsoft Data Protection Manager 2012 which we use to back up all the virtual machines from our production clusters and restore them in a dormant state to our standby Hyper-V servers. In the event of a serious issue with one or more of the servers in the primary data centre we can bring the cold or warm standby virtual machine hosted in the auxiliary server room into use within five to ten minutes.’
It seems that the more experience that Craig and the team have with Microsoft technologies, the more they’re able to put them to work for learners and staff at the college. Their deployment of Microsoft App-V, for example, means that Microsoft desktop applications do not have to be installed on desktops, but are available to users on demand from the virtualised servers via a browser. As a result, any application is available on any PC and when there are short notice room changes, for example, the necessary software for the class is still available. It’s a classic example of ‘Software as a Service’ (SaaS) running in a private cloud.
Then there is extensive use of Microsoft System Centre as an invaluable platform for managing the network. Microsoft System Centre Virtual Machine Manager is used to manage all the virtual machines, and Microsoft System Centre Service Manager and System Centre Orchestrator are used to streamline the work of the IT Helpdesk. In fact positive experience with System Centre has led to its replacing the open source Request Tracker (RT) that had been in use for the helpdesk, enabling some issues to be handled automatically – as Craig says,
‘Again helping us to deliver more with less and increase reliability and efficiency.’
Reaping the Benefits
IT managers know that users want a system there when they want it, instantly, all the time, any time, The record shows that Craig Scott and his team are achieving exactly that for learners and staff at South Tyneside College. In Craig’s words,
‘Hyper-v and our private cloud have really helped us to deliver the levels of reliability and performance we need. The combination of Hyper-V, Windows Failover Clusters and Windows Network Load Balancing allowed us to achieve 99.95% average availability on our critical systems and services last academic year (the equivalent of 59 minutes and 57 seconds uptime out of every hour). ‘
Most would settle for that. But, adds Craig,
‘This year we’re aiming for 99.99%.’
The academic year in a further education college makes widely varying demands on the IT network , not all of them predictable. At the start there’s the enrolment process already described, followed by initial assessments of new students by online testing, and later in the year will come a programme of examinations.
This is where South Tyneside College’ virtualised IT environment shows its strength because of the ease with which virtualised servers can be moved around to add or reduce capacity in response to demand.
Without that level of flexibility some activities either just couldn’t happen, or would have to wait for the acquisition of new physical servers.
‘There are massive benefits in this,’ says Craig, ‘There’ve been times when we’ve been involved in collaborative projects with other colleges, only to find they’ve stalled because they were waiting for new hardware, where we’ve been able to get a new virtual server up and running in half an hour.’
And still to come?
As the future brings college expansion and growing user expectation, South Tyneside College’s IT team seeks constantly to exploit developing technologies. Plans include –
Moving mail accounts currently hosted on Google, to Office 365.
It’s estimated that this will be trialled in the Spring of 2013, with a full migration in July/August.
Using the cloud for disaster recovery. Craig Scott says, ,
“We’ve got some funding from the Association of Colleges to look into cloud based disaster recovery solutions, and will evaluate Azure as a possible option”
Developing the use of SharePoint. Craig Scott says,
‘We use SharePoint for our intranet and document management solution, and plan to develop the electronic document management side of this further this academic year’
In the immediate future (before Christmas 2012) there will be trial deployments of Windows Server 2012 particularly to evaluate the enhancements to hyper-v and other new features such as data duplication. Following on, consideration will be given to upgrading one of the Hyper-V clusters from Windows Server 2008 R2 to Windows 2012.
More with less
Our education blogs have many examples of virtualisation with Hyper-V as a cost saver, because it can radically cut spending on servers, maintenance and energy use. In each case, however, there have also been considerable efficiency gains and it’s clear from the experience at South Tyneside College that in an enterprise-scale installation what matters most isn’t so much cost saving as cost-effectiveness -- the radically improved service to a large and varied population of users.
‘More with less’, as Craig Scott puts it.
Ergo have come up with a great tablet that can be used in education environments, with lots of nice features for teachers. The Ergo Hybrid is the first model in the new range of sleek, slim, Windows® 8 compatible Tablets.
Unless you’ve been hiding in a cupboard somewhere, you might know that Windows 8 was launched on Friday 26th October 2012. Windows 8 is helping bring about a new era of technology both inside and outside of the classroom. Windows 8 has been re-imagined for learning and is optimised to bring learning to life, enabling students to consume, collaborate, and create in new and exciting ways.
Ergo are embracing Windows 8 with this new tablet that seems to meet the needs of teachers in the classroom. With a price of only £599 (+ VAT), it’s cost effective too.
There is a dock available (with keyboard and additional battery for £75), which enables teachers to be mobile and have more functionality if they need it. With a longer battery life as well, it means that teachers can use their tablets for a full working day without having to charge it.
The tablet has a large screen which provides easy access to programs, which is important for teachers to find apps quickly. There is full support for touch, mouse and keyboard, so teachers have a choice of how they want to work.
If you’re worried about your confidential information, the Ergo Hybrid table has enhanced security with Trusted Boot, so you can be sure that your data is secure.
Here is a more detailed spec of the tablet:
Following the recent release of Microsoft Surface, we were really keen to find out how Surface is working out in an education environment. We interviewed Ian Mills from Bolton Metropolitan Council and Mike Richardson from Stockton Borough Council. Both these guys work in local authority roles that support schools with the use of IT. Here’s what they said after some time exploring the new Microsoft Surface device:
Surface is a really easy out of the box tablet, the manual is tiny manual and its simple to set up and start using. I was really impressed with the touch interface, having used an iPad in the past, I felt the Surface touch element was really good.
I have other Windows 8 devices including a home laptop and a work laptop. I love the way that Windows 8 brings all those devices together. I really like the remote desktop app, so I was able to use Surface as a primary device. I am working on Surface now in place of my laptop – I haven’t used my laptop for days! Initially I was concerned about not having Outlook, but the Mail app allows me to do everything I want across all my email accounts.
I’ve had some interesting feedback from schools too. The kickstand has been very popular because it means that the pupils don’t have to hunch over the device like they did for the iPad, which was causing their posture to suffer. The kickstand is also robust so it’s perfect for schools.
Microsoft Office on Surface is a huge advantage for teachers and pupils, as it allows them to easily create all the documents they need to. The battery life was also brilliant, lasting for the whole school day.
I actually gave my Granddad a Surface and a Kindle Fire to play with, to see which would be more suitable for him as a Christmas present. He couldn’t understand how to use the Kindle at first, but he was able to start surfing the web immediately with the Surface device.
One of my favourite features of Surface included the ability to print. I connected to my wireless HP printer at home immediately for really quick and easy printing. I also liked the multi-tasking option to ‘’snap’’ to multiple apps running simultaneously to the screen.
Something else I liked that will be key for schools is the flexibility, particularly with the saving to areas. The ability to save work on a school network or Skydrive will be great for schools.
I was able to run my wireless mouse and keyboard straight away using the USB which was really impressive. This will give different working style options for schools, as well as the touch screen option. The solid design of the tablet and the kickstand is also absolutely ideal for the school environment.
I think that OneNote is excellent for the classroom, and I really liked the Skype app too.
I gave Surface to a 6 year old, and she was able to access all the apps and games easily and said the Surface was her favourite device.
Another big deal for schools is the ability to use Flash sites. This means there are hundreds of playable games that can be accessed from Surface. Some sites do need to be ‘’whitelisted’’ by the IE team for them to work though, but most games are easily accessible.
The start screen is something else I really love, it’s so simple but displays so much information on the front screen. I like the information that is fed to you from the LiveTiles, which has encouraged me to look further into the live information being displayed on the tiles.
I think overall Surface has a fresh design and the wow factor.
Both Mike and Ian interact with schools on a daily basis regarding IT and so they really understand the benefits that Surface RT can bring to Education. They also mentioned that they are really looking forward to Windows 8 Surface.
In Windows 8, for the first time we have an operating system which is multilayered and capable of running on a range of devices from traditional laptops to tablets. It is culturally relevant to young people, slick to use and integrates with some of the best of breed cloud productivity applications (including Microsoft Office 365 for education). Combined with appropriate pedagogical processes, good leadership and sensible network management, perhaps we have finally reached a time in our short history where technology can have that transformative impact on young people and students that it deserves.
Take a look at this video to see what you can do with Windows 8 in education.
The final version of our Microsoft in Education Infographic is now available to download or view in full below.
From helping teachers to connect and share best practice with peers to creating more emotional connections with learning through our gaming technologies, Microsoft is committed to helping students and educators throughout the world realise their full potential.
With this in mind, our new Infographic offers an overview of some of the products and programmes that academic institutions are embracing to help raise attainment and transform the delivery of teaching and learning.
Did you know all of the 8 things about Microsoft in education covered in the Infographic? Let us know in the comments below.
Originally posted on the Next at Microsoft Blog.
A great addition to the Windows Store last week – the official Khan Academy app. For those not familiar with the Khan Academy, it’s an online phenomena that enables you to learn almost anything. For free. It's the focus on a story on Forbes.com titled One Man, One Computer, 10 Million Students: How Khan Academy Is Reinventing Education that notes Khan Academy videos have been viewed more than 200 million times int the past two years.
The Windows 8 app includes the Khan Academy’s complete library of over 3,400 videos covering a huge number of topics, including K-12 math, biology, chemistry, and physics, the humanities, finance and history. To quote from the app itself
Spend an afternoon brushing up on statistics. Discover how the Krebs cycle works. Learn about the fundamentals of computer science. Prepare for that upcoming SAT. Or, if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, learn how fire stick farming changed the landscape of Australia. It doesn't matter if you are a student, teacher, home-schooler, principal, adult returning to the classroom after 20 years, or a friendly alien just trying to get a leg up in earthly biology; Khan Academy's materials and resources are available to you completely free of charge. Head over to khanacademy.org to learn more.
Spend an afternoon brushing up on statistics. Discover how the Krebs cycle works. Learn about the fundamentals of computer science. Prepare for that upcoming SAT. Or, if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, learn how fire stick farming changed the landscape of Australia.
It doesn't matter if you are a student, teacher, home-schooler, principal, adult returning to the classroom after 20 years, or a friendly alien just trying to get a leg up in earthly biology; Khan Academy's materials and resources are available to you completely free of charge. Head over to khanacademy.org to learn more.
The app allows you to download videos – either individual or entire playlists to watch offline and integrates with the search and share charm as you may expect.
Bill Gates is a big fan so what’s not to like? Go grab it.
Excerpt from our Windows 8 in Education eBook.
Windows 8 comes with a number of Apps as standard, but you can also download a growing selection of Apps from the Windows Store. Remember that as long as you have logged in, your Apps will follow you around to whichever device you use.
Key Apps that come built into Windows 8 include:
Internet Explorer 10:
Internet Explorer 10 is a new browser, built for Windows 8, that is fast and fluid and perfect for touch.
This helps you manage your contacts (and classes). It links duplicate contacts and also allows you to quickly see your contacts updates on Twitter and Facebook. For the educators building personal learning and support networks on services such as Twitter, this can be a great support for CPD.
Messaging provides a powerful unified communications tool that links seamlessly to Windows Live Messenger and Facebook, and offers teachers and lecturers an easy way to collaborate. Students, of course, will take to it like ducks to water!
This is a highly efficient example of its type, proven in Bing Maps, and now with the additional seamless efficiency of Windows 8. As well as a geographical resource, Maps is a wonderful tool for enhancing stories that include journeys and adventures.
This is a great looking App, with forecasts and statistics in graphics and figures against an atmospheric background. Wonderful for climate study and also for a wide range of data handling projects using Office tools within Windows 8.
The full Windows 8 in education eBook can be downloaded via our SlideShare account, or alternatively, can be viewed in full below.
Guest post by Gerald Haigh
It was really good to be at Shireland Collegiate Academy for the UK launch of Microsoft’s Shape the Future project earlier in November. Katie Hook has already very efficiently described the event here, but that gives me the opportunity to say a little about what was happening in the classrooms leading off the main hall.
In one, for example, a teacher was demonstrating Microsoft ‘Pivot’, for data analysis, in another, students were showing cross-curricular project work with ‘One Note’ and in yet another, students and family members were using the family portal.
Just now, though, I want to home in particularly on a room which had been taken over by a year six class from a Shireland partner school, Victoria Park Primary Academy, where ‘Shape the Future’ is having a very visible effect. There, with their head teacher Andrew Morrish, the children were using their RM Minibooks, bought under the Shape the Future scheme, which has made one-to-one computing affordable for the 120 children in years five and six at Victoria Park. The children were clearly excited at being at the event and keen to show their minibooks off to visitors.
This was obviously something to follow up, and so I arranged to speak to Andrew in his school a little later, when things had calmed down a bit. Victoria Park, like Shireland, is in a richly multi-ethnic, multi-lingual area, with a very high level of deprivation, and the children need great commitment, skill and devotion from their teachers if they are to reach their considerable potential. As we chatted I learned that Andrew took over Victoria Park seven years ago. Then, it was in Ofsted ‘Special Measures’. Since then it has significantly been turned around and was designated ‘Outstanding’ at the last inspection.
‘It’s been achieved primarily by putting the children at the centre, as independent learners, and the role of ICT in that has been key,’ says Andrew. ‘But we were never able to afford a one-to-one ratio, so when ‘Shape the Future’ came along we jumped at the chance.’ The children use a range of software, including ‘OneNote’, ‘Songsmith’, ‘Kodu’ ‘Publisher’ and the Office suite of which ‘PowerPoint’ is a favourite. ‘They love PowerPoint,’ says Andrew. ‘They’re very confident with it, and use it a lot, and I’m keen to develop Kodu for programming and storyboarding apps.’ ‘OneNote’ , he says, is particularly useful for the cross-curricular projects that make up much of the classroom work in humanities and arts subjects. ‘They used to record everything first in one book, then produce a really lovely best book. OneNote has replaced all that they can put it all together and include multi-media clips.’
One often overlooked advantage of equipping all children with technology is that it irons out some of the inequalities around homework. Children in the same class can have very different experiences of homework. Some will have a quiet room, with a computer and parents ready to support them. Others will be trying to find a space to work in the middle of a busy family life, with parents who feel unable to help. Helping parents to have confidence is part of the answer, and that’s been very successful at Shireland and at Victoria Park.
Where each child has a personal device, though, a lot of the other inequalities fade away. ‘They don’t need a table and a chair, they can sit at the bottom of the stairs, anywhere. It helps the parents, too, because children don’t need to ask for help, they can sort things out for themselves by trial and error in a way you can’t do with a worksheet that’s either right or wrong.’ One of the knock-on effects of providing devices for years five and six is that the netbooks that were previously used in those years have been passed to years three and four. ‘There’s not enough for one-to-one, and they can’t take them home, but it quadruples the provision in those years, and as a result the whole of Key Stage Two is very ICT rich.’ That raises the question for Andrew of how far you go down the age range with one-to-one. ‘Do you reach a point where it’s not the best use of your budget? That’s something for us to think about.’
It’s still early days for the one-to-one project at Victoria Park – year six had their devices in mid September, year five in mid-November – so there won’t be anything to report for some time in terms of measured outcomes. There are visible effects on motivation and engagement, though, and there’s every expectation that attainment will follow.
Meanwhile, the children are taking to their minibooks with zest and enthusiasm. ‘They’re fiercely proud of them,’ says Andrew. ‘And they were quick to personalise them with screensavers and wallpaper.’ The only small worry he has is that they don’t come with a safe carrying case. ‘I don’t like the idea of the children openly carrying them home on dark nights, but perhaps RM will come up with an answer to that.’ How could they not? I ask myself.
Microsoft IT Academy is our Membership Program that provides Institutions with discounted curriculum learning resources and exams. IT Academy helps Institutions deliver Microsoft Qualifications to their IT Staff, Teachers and Students respectively. The Microsoft IT Academy Curriculum offers today’s students the hands on skills and experience that they will need to succeed in their education and their careers. With Microsoft Certification, students can validate those skills and pursue a career path in business or technology.
Did you know that you can add IT Academy to your current Volume Licensing Agreement e.g. EES, OVS-ES, and School Agreements, at a special discounted rate?
IT Academy program members receive attractive price reductions on Microsoft certification exams aimed at enabling skills development and certification for their students and staff.
As part of the IT Academy Program subscription, members receive free Digital MOAC Courseware from Wiley on Office and MTA curriculum, Free Teachers Certification Starter Kits (10 MOS, 20 MTA) New Welcome packs with USB keys, posters etc and enhanced ELearning and EReference Libraries, including Office 365 and Windows 8 content and more…
Microsoft Certification Road Map
The Microsoft Certification Roadmap is designed to help members choose their certification and career path. It provides a guide to Microsoft certifications in the following areas:
· MOS (Microsoft Office Specialist) an industry recognised qualification that enables students to tap the full functionality of the Microsoft Office programs and ensure students leave with skills that will increase their employment opportunities.
· MTA (Microsoft Technology Associate) for students looking for a career in technology, the MTA certification validates core technology concepts in infrastructure, database and development.
(MTA exams and classroom content are included as benefits within the Microsoft IT Academy program subscription)
· MCP (Microsoft Certified Professional) supports the IT Staff professional development and goes toward their CPD points.
· Customisable lesson plans Downloadable and customisable lesson plans help you save time on class preparation and hone in on which topics are most important for a given technology.
· Tool to create online courses The Microsoft Learning Content Development System (LCDS) is a complimentary tool that enables you to create high-quality, interactive, online courses and Microsoft Silverlight Learning Snacks.
· Course completion certificates Access to a customisable course completion certificate. Just download the certificate, add your school logo, insert the course and student information, then print and distribute. Course completion certificates are a great way to recognize the achievement of students that take and pass your course.
· Marketing resources to promote your IT Academy Unlimited access to marketing materials to promote your IT Academy and special offers within the program.
· Digital Literacy course Online courses to help you and students develop a fundamental understanding of computers and the essential skills you need to begin computing with confidence.
· Academic pricing on Microsoft Official Curriculum Advanced-level members receive academic pricing on Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC) textbooks, designed for three- to five-day courses, seminars, and workshops.
· Academic pricing on Microsoft Official Academic Courseware All members receive academic pricing on Microsoft Official Academic Course (MOAC) textbooks, designed for semester- and quarter-based courses.
· Academic pricing on Microsoft Technical Certification exams All members receive academic pricing on Microsoft Certification exams for students, educators, and other staff members.
· Discounts on E-Reference Library subscriptions from Microsoft Press All members receive a 60 percent discount on annual subscriptions to the Full E-Reference Library, which is the complete collection of E-Reference Libraries for Microsoft Press.
· Discounts on Microsoft Certified Trainer memberships All members receive a 25 percent discount on enrollments in the Microsoft Certified Trainer program for qualified educators.
IT Academy is a great example for Institutions to showcase their commitment to their Student Learning, by enabling the institution to be a certified Microsoft IT Academy Centre that up skills their IT staff and supports their Teacher learning plans and empowers students to boost their employability potential.
For Further Information on how to sign up for IT Academy please contact the Education Team at firstname.lastname@example.org or alternatively contact your reseller.
Case study provided by Crimson
University College Falmouth is embarking on an ambitious implementation of Microsoft Dynamics 2011, starting with core business to business processes and marketing activities and eventually providing an holistic approach to the overall requirements of the institution.
The first phase of the project is being sponsored by Dr Jeremy Richards Head of Innovation, and will deliver a solution to manage business relationships for University College Falmouth’s new Academy for Innovation & Research (AIR) – a European Regional Development Fund supported project to stimulate innovation in the Cornish Economy. Dr
Jeremy Richards says “This CRM system will enhance substantially our ability to manage relationships with the business community and improve the effectiveness of our communications.” The second phase of the project sponsored by Jeremy Whitaker, Director of Marketing & Student Recruitment, will initially focus on event management, including open days, exhibitions and performances and will then move on to deliver a solution to enhance and support the fundraising and alumni strategies. Jeremy Whitaker says “The focus of this project is to deliver efficiencies in core processes and most importantly to improve the visibility of relationships across the institution’’.
Sharepoint 2010 to Integrate to CRM 2011
As part of this exciting project UCF will also be looking to Crimson to provide consultative support on a cross University implementation of SharePoint 2010 for a number of key functions, including document management and a number of key internal staff intranets and portals. The integration of the two core products and Crimsons extensive knowledge of both solutions will be hugely beneficial in terms of functional delivery and budgetary control.