“Hey! Hold on! Our existing system is not that intelligent. These guys are thinking outside the square and thinking about what schools really need. Maybe we should talk a bit further.”

A BTG led seminar over at Meadowbank School back in around 2009 was what really impressed Robert Douglas, Director of ICT at Howick College, and the benefits he saw were immediate!

“Also Steve (Harris – Director BTG) took us for a quick tour around the school and showed us how they set it up, and I really appreciated the intelligent design and the thoughtfulness he put into putting that school together. That really got me interested!”

Unhappy with their existing Novell operating system, the college had been considering the switch to a Windows system. Initial issues to consider were that SAN’s were underperforming, operating at only 50% capacity, configuration jobs had been half done, and there was no monitoring taking place.

With roll numbers of 1900+, Howick College sits in the top 20 largest school rolls in New Zealand. To put that into perspective, NZ comprises in excess of 2500 primary and secondary schools. Howick’s up there with the largest, and prides itself on being an innovative school fully committed to providing the widest range of academic and co-curricular opportunities for all students.

The key phrase “an innovative school” means that, Howick’s ICT environment has to be current, safe, fast, well planned and well executed. Easier said that done! This meant adapting 40 year old buildings for 21st century technology.

“Try retrofitting technology into a school design where one power point per class room was considered to be all you needed”, says Robert.

The BTG Action Plan

The BTG team worked closely with Robert Douglas at Howick to come up with “the plan”.

“It was 6 weeks of intensive work, but the last time I went through a project like that we then had 12 months of intensive pain. We went through 6 weeks of basically ripping the guts out of everything and putting it all back together brand new. We had a few glitches, but it all came together well and that was very, very impressive. I put that down to the BTG team. They really worked through all the issues and knew what they were doing. They pre-planned a huge amount of it, so when they walked in they knew exactly what they were doing and they put it together”, according to Robert.

The BTG solution included

  • Physical infrastructure upgrade including SAN re-configuration, VMware implementation configuration, etc.
  • Novell to Windows migration (during summer school holidays).
  • Network infrastructure like switching, routing, wireless etc.
  • Citrix VDI solution design and implementation.

Howick College runs around 400 PCs – about 120 are provisioned and the remainder are running FAT. Add to the mix about 100 laptops and numerous ‘student owned’ mobile devices, which means a well organised IT environment becomes hugely important.

Unlike industry where it’s common practice for one user to use one computer for an entire day, within the school system every computer is rebooted and restarted every hour = potential for boot storms. Similarly a teacher will often send an entire class to one particular website at the same time. These issues present the need for strong Networks. Networks are all important within schools, and BTG understand the need for high speed and good quality data transfer.

According to Nikolai from BTG, “Howick still had some of their old PCs and they wanted a system that was easier to manage, to avoid a 2 hour rebuild via their internal IT guy when a PC goes down. BTG went in with provisioning, which basically means that all the computers run off a single common image so the kids can do whatever they like to it. Once rebooted it picks up the same image and carries on going. It runs over the network essentially.”

SNUP (Schools Network Upgrade Program) is a great program for schools funded by the Ministry, and BTG have been hugely supportive of schools implementing SNUP.

Howick are also fortunate to count Vodafone as a good friend of the school. Vodafone wanted to see what a school would do with ultra-fast broadband, so they gave them some.

“And that really made it clear to us when we got the ultra-fast broadband how compromised it was by our existing network, because we couldn’t get it around to all parts of the school, so that’s where the network upgrade’s important. We also have a BYOD program in place which we have started small. We found students were already using personal devices at school and it makes sense to let them utilise this technology in their learning”, says Robert.

BTG have worked really hard with Howick to control their costs using a flexible approach and for that Robert is really appreciative. Cost containment is paramount.

“We have enterprise level IT on a budget. We need a good partnership.”

The Future of IT within Schools and Changes in Learning

Robert ascribes a quote from Howard Baldwin, then Head of e-learning in the Ministry of Education – “Schools are becoming pen and paper islands in a digital sea.”

“It’s a lovely quote and so true. Schools, if they are not careful, will become irrelevant. You look at how kids learn these days – they want to learn the guitar, they go online and find a YouTube clip. Kids learn all the time, it’s just not directed learning.”

“All this interactivity… it’s serendipity learning.. You can capture the moment where students actually want to discuss and learn. Students like ‘instant on’ technology. We need to embrace the fact that the students are online.”

The challenge now lies for schools to consolidate infrastructure, solid networks, fast broadband, Ministry funded SNUP, and associated security risks – schools have external and internal security threats – etc, in order to manage this inevitable shift in learning.

Robert on BTG:

“The thing about BTG that I really like is that they are an IT company. They are not an education specialist. They bring a fresh perspective to IT. We want top end IT. We want people who understand IT. I can tell them how we want to deploy it. That’s my job. BTG’s task is to find solutions that work for us in our unique environment”, explains Robert.

Visit www.btg.co.nz for more information on Schools as a Service.

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