Archbishop Ilsley Catholic School in Acocks Green, Birmingham, has over 1,200 pupils, yet manages to remain true to its central ethos of looking after every one of them as individuals. Headteacher Glen Alexander says, “We have a saying here; ‘Everybody counts or nobody counts’. We consider each person as special and unique and we recognise and respond to their gifts, their needs and their aspirations. We care for all individuals, celebrating achievement and providing support.”
The school’s ICT Operations Manager John Swain echoes this philosophy; “The quality of a school’s ICT and the strength of its network is not only essential to good teaching and good lessons, but also essential to allowing individual students to succeed and to reach their full potential.”
John was very keen to increase the efficiency and capacity of the school’s servers and started discussing Virtualisation options with his Novatech Account Manager Tom Gregory to plan for a smooth transition when they approached the end of their operational life.
“I get on very well with John and he mentioned it was something they were planning on doing, so I recommended that they should look at a VMware virtualisation setup utilising centralised SAN Storage and a NAS back-up solution.” That led to deeper, more technical discussions with Novatech’s server team and an unusual plan was hatched. With most clients the installation of new servers, the migration of their systems and data, and the shutdown of the old server array happens in one delicate, and sometimes fraught, project over a holiday. John favoured a more measured approach and together with Jamie Wilson, Novatech’s Technical Director, decided to build three new virtualised servers, install them, test them and get to know them, before even thinking about migrating from the system that was functioning in situ.
Over a period of 3-4 weeks John tested the new VMWare solution and experimented with different operational scenarios, all with the support of Novatech’s teams, but with the safety net of not being ‘live’ on the school’s network. Once John was happy, and again with Novatech’s help, he slowly began the careful migration of individual operations and data from his old servers to the new virtualised array. The full migration took just over 2 months but this methodical approach enabled John to manage a complex transition without any serious headaches and without the school experiencing any downtime or loss of productivity. Archbishop Ilsley now runs a lean, energy-efficient network with three virtualised servers with an integrated SAN and a NAS in a separate location for automated back-up.
“We didn’t need to rush this project. We did have the complication of migrating from one MIS to another during this period but we were fortunate enough that we had a working, albeit ageing, system which meant we could plan properly and get everything right the first time. In fact we did most of the migrating mid-term with no downtime for our staff & students. Tom, along with the technical guys, answered all of our questions and I had confidence in them to do a quality job from the beginning.”
The project also helped to facilitate another important part of Archbishop Ilsley’s role within the local education community, assisting their feeder primary running on different systems. This is a relatively new idea, but schools are increasingly pooling their knowledge in an ever-changing ICT world, with the most proficient now offering assistance to others through on-site help desks to resolve problems. It is an arena in to which the school has stepped, buoyed in turn by the support it gets from Novatech.
"“Working with Novatech is a truly collaborative experience. They have listened to what my team and I wanted to achieve for the school and then have gone to great lengths to find the right solution. Like most ICT professionals, I find that choosing the hardware is often the easy part, but finding a supplier who’ll support it – and us – throughout the whole procurement and installation process is much harder. Because I also help to look after a wider network of local primary schools the support element becomes even more important, and that’s the real strength of our relationship. I’ve enjoyed working with Novatech. They are a highly skilled and friendly group and I’m hoping we can work on more projects with them.”"