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The Gladys Aylward School
IT SUPPORT FOR EDUCATION:
Doherty Associates helps to keep the Gladys Aylward School at the forefront of technology.“Now that we have far fewer issues cropping up day to day, we’ve got time to focus on the new projects that are putting our school at the cutting edge of technology.”
Trush Patel, Network Manager, Gladys Aylward School
The Gladys Aylward School is a large, mixed comprehensive school providing the full range of educational courses and opportunities for pupils aged 11 to 19 years. Gladys Aylward is at the forefront of many of the new and exciting developments in education, and IT is absolutely essential to the School’s capacity to meet the needs of students with different abilities and interests. With 700 computers, plus a vast range of technologies including bespoke educational applications and interactive whiteboards, the IT department must ensure that all resources within the School’s network are working satisfactorily. They are also responsible for planning projects so that potential future technological needs are met.
With 1,400 users, and only three members of staff in the IT team, Gladys Aylward chooses Doherty Associates for project consultancy as well as ‘third line’ helpdesk support. Having previously worked with a number of partners, Trush Patel, Network Manager at the School, was looking for a supplier with experience in the sector:
“I used to work for a global consultancy firm and can say with conviction that technical environments within education can be very demanding. Our daily tasks vary from password resets and switches going down through to attempts to compromise our network. Our educational applications are complicated because they are only upgraded when the syllabus requires them to be, whereas in an office environment, PC or OS upgrades can all be done in one go. We are also under financial pressures. We need a supplier that understands that.”
Trush was referred to Doherty Associates by a leading reseller, and was put in touch with an educational specialist account manager. “Our account manager at Doherty came from an educational background. He understood that you can’t charge schools the same as you would a business. We don’t have the same demands as a multinational company, so why should we pay the same fees.”
The first large-scale project that Doherty Associates conducted with the School was the implementation of the Altiris Client Management Suite, which is now a critical part of their operations. The internal IT team use it to offer remote support to PCs and users across the School. Without it, they would only be able to work on the PCs when they are not in use (for example in breaks or at the end of class), and walking across the School’s large site would use up precious time. As Trush explains, “Remote support is the reason we can survive with only two technicians. It’s enabled us to be much more productive in the time we have and means that our users get a quicker response.”
The School uses Altiris Deployment Solution to deploy software and patches, rolling out in a few hours what would otherwise be a whole half-term break’s work, and even upgrading their wireless network using the automation tools. “With Altiris, we can do rollouts whenever we choose to, and they work. It consistently does what it says on the box, which is a rarity when it comes to educational products.”
The School also needed web-monitoring software, but was intimidated by the price tag of some of the market-leading brands. They chose BrowseReporter, which operates in stealth mode to track the browsing activity of students. BrowseReporter cost only 10% of the alternative product considered, and has proved itself to be a very powerful tool.
Systems Healthcheck and Third Line Support
Members of the IT team at Gladys Aylward were impressed by the expertise of the Doherty Associates engineers, and decided to ask them to carry out a full systems ‘health-check’, to ensure that their IT was functioning at top capacity. As Trush reports, the School was impressed when they compared that check to the one that their previous supplier had conducted: “The tick list, in terms of what the engineers were looking for, was much greater. They were able to look at, and resolve issues that our other supplier hadn’t necessarily noted. With the previous people it had been a case of “we’ll put the system in”, whereas with Doherty it was about putting the system in and then making sure it was operating correctly.”
The School therefore decided to move their third line support contract to Doherty Associates, so that they could call the Doherty Associates helpdesk whenever issues that the in-house team cannot resolve crop up. Whereas their previous supplier would send them hyperlinks to forums that suggested possible fixes, Doherty Associates’ engineers are all CRB-checked and can log into the Schools’ systems remotely to solve issues immediately.
As Trush reports, since they started working with Doherty Associates, “We’ve never had an issue that Doherty have fixed that’s returned, because they take steps to make sure it won’t come back. That’s very impressive. There have been so many improvements that I wouldn’t be able to record them all. Our only trouble now is that expectation is a lot higher than it was before.”
Trush and the rest of the team continue to look to Doherty Associates for advice and project consultancy. They recently approached their account manager because they had 13 physical servers that they wanted to consolidate through ‘virtualisation’, in order to reduce the costs of the hardware as well as operating overheads including electricity and air conditioning. Virtualisation would also substantially reduce the time it would take to restore the School’s systems in the event of a disaster.
Their previous supplier had insisted that a VMware Virtual Infrastructure solution would be preferable, because they had no experience with Microsoft Windows 2008 Hyper-V. Doherty Associates, however, had already conducted several Hyper-V upgrades and the team was therefore able to advise Gladys Aylward of the benefits of the Microsoft solution. With VMware, the School would have had to purchase licenses and send their staff on specialist training courses, all of which would have proved to be very expensive. The Hyper-V consolidation went ahead and the School now has only 8 physical servers, all running at optimum capacity.
Virtual Learning Environment
When the School decided that they wanted a Virtual Learning Environment that would place the School at the forefront of technology - not just in the borough, but across the whole country - they approached the Doherty Associates development department.
For further details of the state of the art VLE that Doherty Associates is in the process of implementing, please contact a member of the team on 0208 987 1150.