Building School Networks for the Future – with System Centre and Hyper-V


One of our (many) friends over at EduGeek has recently done some work with Marine Academy Plymouth taking over their systems in May 2011. We have now a series which charts the process of systems modernisation from analysis, to planning, then implementation before finally evaluation. This first article will deal with a summary of that analysis; and the ones which follow will cover Stuart Wilkie’s (IT Manager) decisions and how he put them into practice.

Marine Academy Plymouth is the UK’s first Marine Academy. It’s a state-funded specialist secondary school with three sponsors - University of Plymouth , Cornwall College and Plymouth City Council

The Marine theme is not just about Marine Science. One of the common questions (and EduGeek had a few at a recent open evening), is why “Marine Academy”? You immediately think, do I need to grow fins, have a boat, swim even…? Well actually it’s none of those things. All the careers that we currently pursue from a land-based concept can feasibly be accessed in association with the sea and marine. Careers in areas such as engineering, tourism, medicine, catering, building and agriculture – just to start with!

Marine Academy Plymouth’s focus is to help to prepare and develop the students’ career opportunities, for today’s traditional jobs and for those that we don’t yet know about, we will achieve this through a commitment to high standards and to sustainability.

“A modern, reliable, environmentally friendly computer system is key to the Academy in so many ways. Everything we do here has to embody our ethos and beliefs and ultimately empower the learners of tomorrow.”

Standardisation and a stable platform are the key to the success and development of any system – at least that’s what the experience of time tells me.

The systems at Marine Academy were a bit of a mix at the start with a wide variety of hardware manufacturers as well as specification. Dealing with the inequality of accessibility would be key to ensuring the consistency of the learning experience.

The system itself consisted of surprising few servers for the scale of the clients – all 600+ of them! The server platform was powered by two DCs, Exchange, Capita SIMS (Student Management System) and ISA all of which relatively new. There were also a selection of older servers performing legacy file sharing and testing roles such as WSUS (Windows Server Update Services) and the free imaging and management platform “FOG”. The problem was the DCs were also the DFS, directly connected to the SAN , contained all the User Data (everything from Home folders to Profiles and the traditional Staff and Student shared folders) and the legacy servers were exactly that – legacy. There was no redundancy within the system, and the ability to perform any maintenance, or failure, would render parts of the network inoperable.

imageThe majority of the teaching staff had been issued with laptops, a throwback to the Government “Laptop for Teachers” scheme. There was a wide variety of sizes and specifications. A quick glance at these, and their age/condition presented an issue. Consistency of delivery for one, and secondly, Devon and Plymouth as Local Authorities were insisting on implementation of encryption of all mobile devices which left school and college sites.

Largely, the desktop fleet was in a good way. Marine Academy has 6 main ICT Suites plus clusters for Technology, Science and Arts. ICT Suites had largely been refreshed the previous year with high not being realised due to downgrading to the older Windows XP Operating System. The administrative and support workstations had also received the same refresh which was slight overkill based on their use. The remainder of the machines comprised of large fleets of either “custom build” dual core machines, older Celeron small form IBMs or RM All in Ones. The majority of classrooms had a single workstation installed to be used with the Interactive Whiteboard and AV facilities available which fell into one of the latter two ranges.

Returning to the headline intentions, consistency of learning experience, reliability, stability and core to the Academy ethos, sustainability, the question lies, how could it be done?

Key development intentions:

  • More power was required to bolster the Server Platform to give the failover and resilience, as well as the   flexibility to develop.
  • Security of Laptop Fleet for Curriculum Planning and Delivery, and a decision on the future of laptops or workstations for the “teacher point” in classrooms
  • Workstation modernisation, in those areas which had been “left behind”
  • Consistency of learning/delivery experience, by ensuring that no matter where learners were working – their settings and files followed them, and the environment they were working in was always the same.

Coming up in the second article in the series, there will be details of how we designed the new server system, what choices we made and why plus the start of the implementation process… so stay tuned!

imageStuart’s “alter-ego” is TheScarfedOne and as well as being the IT Manager at Marine Academy Plymouth, he fits in being part of the staff team at, with whom Microsoft have a close relationship. is the community for ICT Support and Development in Schools, with a worldwide following. His blog can be found at here

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