The BYOD Club

Being England's oldest Catholic school doesn't stop St Edmund's College from being forward thinking, as headmaster, Paulo Duran explains

We recognise that technology has become an increasingly vital component to our pupils’ education. Today, most children at secondary school age either have access to, or own, personal mobile devices such as tablets, Smartphones or laptops.

With that in mind, we decided to review the IT provision that we had at the College. Over the years we’d built up over 580 desktop PCs for our pupils to work off, both for ICT lessons as well as for homework, essay writing and general research. Not only was the cost of managing these desktops becoming increasingly expensive and time consuming for our IT team, but it wasn’t giving our pupils the flexibility, or access to modern mobile devices, that they were becoming accustomed to in their personal lives.

Our main objective became to enable pupils to access the school’s network from any device – either in the classroom, boarding house or at home. To achieve this, we approached RivaNET, an IT reseller which specialises in IT network management in education.

Bringing flexibility and new ways of working to pupils and staff

Our IT department advised us that we needed to change our IT environment from a physical one – i.e. individual desktop PCs which all ran their own software – to a virtual desktop infrastructure. Having researched several players on the market, our IT team selected a virtual desktop solution from VMware called VMware Horizon View, which enabled us to greatly reduce the number of physical desktop PCs which we were running, and provide ‘virtual’ portals which our pupils and teachers could either connect to via their laptops, or their mobile devices. This new solution also enables our pupils to access the school network and our educational software from any classroom, their nearby boarding area or even from home. Not only does this provide a lot more flexibility, but it’s really increased the levels of pupil engagement within the lessons, as the children love to be able to work from these modern devices.

Improving internal processes

The VMware roll out has also provided a range of benefits in the day-to-day running of the College. My IT team has calculated that the increased efficiencies of the virtual desktop estate and the reduced maintenance of the PCs will save us around £63,000 over eight years. The ‘thin’ PCs (essentially a computer terminal which provides a graphical user interface) consume less than 20% of the energy of the original physical PCs, while the hardware lasts a lot longer as there are fewer moving parts. We also applied a similar ‘virtual’ overhaul to the College’s servers, which enabled us to reduce our server numbers from twenty down to just three. This greatly contributed to the above energy savings and also gave us a much more reliable network to run our educational software and general college systems.

VMware Horizon View also enables the College’s IT team to manage every virtual PC easily from one central point, meaning that troublesome desktops are refreshed within minutes and new software can be deployed almost immediately. This includes a recent migration from Windows XP to Windows 7 which was important to achieve quickly as Microsoft ends support for the operating system this April. Using VMware Horizon View made the whole process so simple, with the operating system upgraded by one person in a matter of hours, whereas it would have taken two technicians months before.

Implementing VMware’s virtualisation software has enabled us to completely change the way we deliver services to pupils and teachers. Transforming our IT network from physical to virtual been seamless. As well as the compliance and environmental savings, we’re really excited about how we’ve changed learning throughout the school and it’s clear to see that the pupils are seeing some extraordinary benefits, both within the classroom and boarding houses, which is truly invaluable.