THE CHALLENGE: Whitman Gowdridge is a chartered independent insurance broker based in Leicester, providing commercial insurance to a variety of UK businesses. For the last 30+ years, Whitman Gowdridge has built a reputation for creating innovative and unique insurance schemes for a range of industry sectors.

In 2006, when Whitman Gowdridge needed IT support, a business associate recommended First Class Technologies (FCT).

With that one phone call to Richard Hinton, Managing Director of FCT, the start of the 15+ year client/supplier relationship began.

THE OPPORTUNITY: After a review of the existing IT systems, it became apparent that a few upgrades were needed in order to support the office and its 10 users.

THE SOLUTION: First Class Technologies’ first job was to review Whitman Gowdridge’s servers. These were refreshed over time to incorporate a new Microsoft Small Business Server in 2011.

As FCT reviewed and improved Whitman Gowdridge’s set-up to allow the business to work more efficiently with less downtime, improvements were made to the company’s overall IT infrastructure. FCT utilised a server with Network Attached Storage (NAS) for local and off-site backup, plus other features required by a modern 21st Century office, including wireless access.

Nick Gowdridge, Director at Whitman Gowdridge explains: “We’re delighted we were recommended to speak with Richard Hinton at First Class Technologies. We needed a team who could handle all the general hardware and software that is part of running a business, but that also had an affinity with the industry insurance-broking systems that we use as part of our day-to-day operations.

“The software we use has to dovetail into traditional software packages such as Microsoft Excel and Word, so the team at FCT helps us ensure this process continues to work seamlessly, as sometimes some of the software upgrades can cause some unexpected disruption to the processes!“

As part of the continuous improvements, 2019 saw Whitman Gowdridge migrate to Microsoft Office 365 to take advantage of the extra security, greater storage and new features that the upgrade offered. As a result, the business took the opportunity to undertake a complete network refresh, to set up a new server domain and upgrade the PCs from Windows 7 to Windows 10 so all users were working on a common platform.

In March 2020, when the worldwide pandemic hit and all Whitman Gowdridge staff had to suddenly work from home, First Class Technologies helped make that possible by ensuring everyone could remote access the server and work safely and securely.

IN CONCLUSION: Nick says: “I don’t know what we’d have done if we’d not had FCT to call upon during the 2020 lockdown. The First Class Technologies team made it possible not only for everyone to work from home using our existing hardware resources during lockdown, but also helped us keep the day-to-day business running by assisting us with other aspects of software and technology, such as sorting out how we could handle inbound communications and run virtual team meetings. The FCT team continued to support us throughout this difficult period. For example, once our staff started to return to the office for work, FCT helped us assess the operational logistics, such as reviewing the number and location of printers and setting up wireless connections so that everyone could continue to work safely. As a result of these IT improvements, our staff can now operate from wherever. Whenever they need access to Whitman Gowdridge systems they can connect, even from the other side of the world if necessary!

”Everyone at First Class is helpful, friendly and knowledgeable, which makes FCT a fantastic company to work with. We don’t think of them as an external supplier and, in fact, we often forget that’s what they are! If we have a problem, we just get on the phone and ring them as if they were our internal IT support team. Quite often, because of the clever monitoring systems they have access to, they’re aware of any IT problems before we are and, in most instances, are either well on the way to fixing it or have fixed it already! That’s what you call great service!”

Managing Director of First Class Technologies, Richard Hinton, says: “Supporting Whitman Gowdridge has been an absolute pleasure for First Class. We appreciate how critical IT is to the smooth running of the business, and over the years a strong bond and understanding between the two companies has developed. We know their staff and they ours, which cultivates a relationship based on mutual trust and empathy.”

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Award-winning Lichfield IT Managed Service Provider, First Class Technologies (FCT), helped to preserve the memory of more than 50,000 Allied WWII servicemen captured by the Japanese.

FCT, based on Britannia Enterprise Park, Lichfield installed touchscreen displays and a projector displaying the names of all the prisoners in the exhibit building at the National Memorial Arboretum, Alrewas, Staffordshire.

The work was carried out by FCT as part of its longstanding partnership, dating back to 2007, with the charity that runs the Far East Prisoners of War Memorial Building.

Managing Director, Richard Hinton, said it has been one of the most unusual, but rewarding projects the company has been involved in since taking on the technical support of the exhibit.

He said: “We spend the majority of our time installing, supporting and upgrading computer networks and audio visual solutions in schools and businesses so, for our staff, this was a unique project. We’ve been working with the Children and Families of the Far East Prisoners of War charity (COFEPOW) for around 14 years now. It’s given us a personal insight into how these men suffered so terribly. They were cruelly beaten, starved and forced to work as slave labourers, with thousands losing their lives.”

Richard continued: “It’s vital this story is not lost on future generations. One of our engineers, who is only 24, had never heard about what went on in the Far East. It was a sobering experience for him to learn about what happened in Japanese prison camps during his visits to the exhibition.

“COFEPOW has done an incredible job ensuring people will fully understand what these soldiers, sailors and airmen went through simply for serving their country. It’s been a privilege helping them keep the subject fresh in the minds of the public and we’ve been pleased to offer our services at cost.”

FCT set up two new touchscreen enquiry kiosks, enabling visitors to search for prisoners and locate graves from an electronic database. The names of the POWs are continuously beamed onto a wall by an enhanced powerful projector which gives a bright and sharp image.

The project also involved installing five new display screens featuring newsreels and footage of prisoners recounting their harrowing experiences. Each screen is operated at the touch of a button and the sound quality has been improved.

COFEPOW trustee, Keith Andrews, whose father, Robert was one of the prisoners of war, said: “The installation of the new equipment was done in time for our annual VJ Day celebrations on the nearest Sunday to August 15 when the Japanese capitulated, and September 2 when they formally surrendered. That was really important to us because we have lots more visitors then, including families searching for information about relatives who were imprisoned. We’re very grateful to First Class Technologies for waiving their usual rate. It’s comforting to know we can call on a local company for help.”

A total of 50,016 United Kingdom forces personnel were captured. Out of this number, 12,433 died (25 per cent) from starvation, diseases and mistreatment while under the control of the Japanese army between 1939 and 1945.

The FEPOW building is the only memorial of its kind in the UK and is designed to look like a typical Thai hut, complete with bamboo poles and jungle birdsong to create an authentic feel.

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THE CHALLENGE:  
Oxfordshire based Ace Training provides quality pre-apprenticeship programmes and apprentice training in brickwork, bench joinery, construction operations (groundworks), maintenance operations and site carpentry as well as introductory and part-time courses, OSAT and schools programmes.

When Ace Training needed to upgrade the systems at its Kidlington training centre, Managing Director, Adam Marsh contacted First Class Technologies for assistance.

 

THE OPPORTUNITY:  
Ace Training has suites of workstations for apprentices to use to develop their skills, including all the latest technology such as large screens and interactive white boards.

There are classrooms containing 12 PCs per room, each running Windows Thin Client.

First Class has supported the computer network infrastructure for Ace Training since 2007. During that time, FCT has deployed and supported servers to form a robust and resilient network, creating ICT suites with audio visual teaching aids such as interactive white boards and large format screens to enhance the learning experience of their apprentices.  

 

THE SOLUTION:  
In 2018, First Class Technologies remodelled and refreshed the network infrastructure, installing a new Dell Computers PowerEdge T440 server running a Microsoft Server 2016 operating system. The network incorporates three virtual servers for Terminal Services, File Server and Domain Controller (all Microsoft Server 2016), utilising licenses via Microsoft Open License scheme.

Moving forward to 2020 as part of a building refurbishment project, a new structured cable plant was conceived and designed using Excel Category 6 technology to replace an existing Category 5e solution that had evolved and extended over the years.  

The new cable plant not only tidies up the cable harness that had grown inexorably in the centre over the past decade or more, but is also capable of handling up to 10 Gigabits of data compared to 1 Gigabit for the original Category 5e system. Cables that adhere to category 6 specifications offer significantly lower levels of interference and near-end crosstalk, improving resilience and offering a future proof system capable of supporting new and emerging computing technologies.

The Excel Cabling system was chosen by First Class Technologies as long ago as 1997 as the base end-to-end cabling solution. There have been tens of thousands of outlets created in the ensuing 24 years, in both commercial office, industrial and educational settings across the length and breadth of the UK.

The new Excel Category 6 cable plant radiates from a central communications cabinet to two satellite cabinets serving the suites of training computers. The cable plant supports both data and voice solutions for Ace, a system they depend upon to support developing technology needs into the 2020s and beyond.     

In 2020, Ace Training refurbished and expanded its facilities, adding in new teaching rooms and refreshing facilities. Later that year, whilst the UK was in national lockdown because of the pandemic, First Class Technologies was able to redeploy some of the student PCs with built in web cams in the ICT suites to allow lecturers to deliver training remotely. This worked well on a daily basis and allowed the business to continue delivering its services and keep trading despite working through a pandemic.

 

Project component schedule

Excel CAT6 U/UTP 24 Cable x 305M
2 off Excel Environ WR 6U 390mm Deep
1 off Excel Environ WR 26U 560mm Deep
4 off Excel CAT6 24 port 1U patch panels
76 off Excel CAT6 UTP modules
50 off Excel single gang bevelled face plates
76 off Excel CAT6 1M UUTP Low smoke zero halogen patch leads
76 off Excel CAT6 2M UUTP Low smoke zero halogen patch leads
3 off Excel six way Power Distribution Unit – horizontal
3 off Excel four way fan trays (communications cabinets)

 

IN CONCLUSION:  
Director, Vanessa Cover said: “The team at FCT is an integral part of our business which ensures our systems keep working effectively, our trainers can train, our delegates can learn and our data is kept safe. We’ve been delighted with and appreciate the service we’ve received from First Class Technologies. They’ve made some major changes to our IT infrastructure, but yet it’s been such a seamless transition that we’ve hardly noticed it happening around us. First Class Technologies has helped us build the strong technical platform our business needs in order to continue to provide our clients with the excellent service they have come to expect.”

 

Richard Hinton, MD of First Class Technologies commented: “We strive to build up longstanding relationships with our clients, to help them through the changing stages of their businesses – and especially the changes caused by the pandemic in 2020. Ace Training’s business changed dramatically when apprentice students were unable to visit the training centre during lockdown, and we were pleased to be able to support the team through it, to enable the business to continue growing and thriving.”

 

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First Class Technologies worked with Chartered Accountants’ Wynniatt Husey to upgrade their computer systems making working across offices, and from home, easier. Our Seamless Transition into the new system avoided costly downtime for the business.
Learn more about the work we completed and their thoughts on our service below.

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THE CHALLENGE:
Wynniatt Husey Chartered Accountants and Business Advisors has been providing businesses with accounting, VAT, tax and payroll services since 1983.

Wynniatt Husey’s management team regularly review the company’s IT requirements, knowing that efficient technology is essential to business success.

Aware that its current Windows 7 technology was due to lose support and security updates from Microsoft in January 2020, Wynniatt Husey started planning early in 2019, contacting IT companies to find one to help the business upgrade to the latest digital technology.

THE OPPORTUNITY:
Alan Durose, CEO of Wynniatt Husey had met Richard Hinton, MD at First Class Technologies (FCT) through business networking, and asked FCT to submit a proposal for consideration to help Wynniatt Husey bring its computer network into the 21st Century at its three offices in Rugeley, Uttoxeter and Stone.

THE SOLUTION:
FCT audited all three of Wynniatt Husey’s sites and had detailed discussions with Alan Durose and Rob Murdoch (Accounts Manager). The team then submitted a comprehensive plan to upgrade the technology, improve staff confidence in the IT infrastructure and provide the business with a robust and resilient network that had regular local and off-site backups for business continuity.

Richard Hinton was delighted when FCT were announced as Wynniatt Husey’s chosen IT partner, and the team set to work on the upgrade in time for the January 2020 changes.

The first task was to look at Wynniatt Husey’s three servers, which were running an end of life Microsoft Server operating system and similarly outdated Microsoft exchange server.

Wynniatt Husey’s staff had been noticing some performance constraints, which the experienced FCT team realised was due to the servers needing more capacity. Some of the other legacy, operational and maintenance issues that required attention were affecting performance, and there were improvements to be made regarding the company’s licensing and back-up procedures.

FCT started the upgrade by installing two new Microsoft Hyper-V hosts so the business now has six virtual servers to spread the load, with each application/service having its own virtual server.

Wynniatt Husey’s network is now running the latest version of the software, Microsoft Server 2019. It’s also running the current version of Microsoft Exchange, which is more secure.

All Wynniatt Husey’s servers are now monitored remotely by FCT’s experienced team to enable them to spot issues before any have to be reported.

FCT helped Wynniatt Husey replace all its old Windows 7 PCs, and resolved some other ongoing issues, so the whole business now operates more efficiently on Windows 10.

As well as traditional Microsoft Office software, there are two other key software packages used at Wynniatt Husey, namely IRIS accountancy suite software and Virtual Cabinet document management system software. FCT worked with the developers at both these companies to ensure access and use of these key tools weren’t affected during the upgrade, to guarantee a seamless migration.

In addition, FCT rolled out Veeam backup to a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device for onsite and replicated offsite backup.

FCT also installed a secure remote desktop gateway to allow easy and safe remote working, which was extremely beneficial as the IT refresh was completed just as the Covid-19 pandemic hit the UK marketplace.

As a result of all these improvements, users have noticed a discernible increase in IT performance since the upgrade, allowing them to work more efficiently with less downtime.

FCT hasn’t just helped with the technological aspect of Wynniatt Husey’s IT, but also the internal strategy element too. Over the years, some IT responsibility had been passed to one of the members of Wynniatt Husey’s staff, affecting his day-to-day role with the acquired additional IT responsibility. With the FCT team on board, that additional workload has been able to be taken away, giving him the time he needs to concentrate fully on his own job within the practice.

IN CONCLUSION:
Alan Durose says: “We’ve been delighted with the service we’ve received from FCT . They’ve made some major changes to our IT infrastructure, but yet it’s been such a seamless transition that we’ve hardly noticed it happening around us. FCT has helped us build the strong technical platform our business needs in order to continue to provide our clients with the excellent service they have come to expect.”

Richard Hinton comments: “We’ve really enjoyed working with Alan and the team at Wynniatt Husey. The pandemic has added a few additional challenges to the project but nothing insurmountable for our self-motivated FCT team! We quote our projects based on each company’s IT requirements rather than the number of staff they employ, and we’ve really enjoyed helping in excess of 40 employees across the three Wynniatt Husey sites. We’ve been pleased to be able to support Wynniatt Husey through this crisis, applying additional software updates to ensure the practice gets the best possible return on investment, and we know the team has appreciated the extra support and service we’ve been able to offer.”

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The Lichfield Garrick is a modern purpose built theatre at the heart of the community in Lichfield, Staffordshire which hosts over 400 performances each year.

First Class Technologies has worked with the Lichfield Garrick theatre for a number of years, saving the theatre time and money by allowing the staff to work more efficiently and improving flexibility.

When Garrick Executive Director, Karen Foster was searching for a new IT partner, First Class Technologies came highly recommended.

FCT replaced the IT infrastructure with a suite of up to date PCs running Microsoft Windows 10, and all data was migrated onto an Office 365 platform using MS SharePoint to facilitate file sharing and Exchange Online for email.

As the partnership developed, the Garrick’s WiFi network was upgraded to ensure that all public areas were bathed in a strong signal.

FCT partnered with Guest WiFi to install a customer-engagement tool into the existing WiFi network, allowing the Garrick to encapsulate customer data and build relationships with its clientele, including the ability to capture consent in order to be able to use the data acquired to promote forthcoming events.

Karen Foster says: “We were recommended to speak to FCT and we’re pleased we did. The team has helped us to make significant cost savings, and also helped us to save time in many ways, through system efficiency and reduced IT downtime. Having a more robust IT infrastructure gives us more business assurance.

“It’s important for us to contribute to the local economy and partner with Lichfield businesses where we possibly can. Working with FCT has brought us into the 21st century, looking at the most modern ways of working. It’s making a big difference and is helping the public-facing team welcome our patrons with the knowledge that they can rely on our new technology to process their bookings quickly and efficiently.”

The theatre now also has the reassurance that, should any computer crash occur, the team can quickly call on local experts for help. FCT is on standby before and during performances virtually every day of the year to ensure the show goes on.

Richard Hinton, Managing Director of FCT, says: “In simple terms, we’ve helped the Garrick move from the computer equivalent of a giant room full of hundreds of files to being able to press a single button and have everything at their fingertips. This doesn’t just include making the box office booking system much slicker, it covers all the financial documents for shows plus all the diaries and scheduling. We’re delighted to have established this relationship with the Garrick.“

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The Challenge:
Lichfield based Rycroft Associates LLP is one of the UK’s largest independent brokers covering the trade credit insurance needs of over one billion pounds of clients’ insurable turnover, offering a nationwide credit insurance service via a network of associate partners throughout the UK.

The company recognised that it was falling behind the times in terms of its IT infrastructure, so started a search to find a reliable and affordable IT partner to assist the business with upgrading to the latest digital technology, and help with remaining abreast of changes and increased efficiency.

The Opportunity:
Steve Parsons, Associates Partner at Rycroft Associates, was recommended to speak to First Class Technologies (FCT) by a trusted associate and, at the first meeting, was impressed by the knowledge and dedication of the team.

Steve says, “They just seemed to understand what we needed in terms of IT support for the business, presenting sensible solutions at the right price.”

The relationship started from there and Rycroft Associates appointed FCT in March 2016.

The Solution:
First Class Technologies identified a number of IT projects that needed attention in order to increase Rycroft’s IT security and operational efficiency.

Firstly, Rycroft needed a centralised point for the storage of all company data, ensuring the availability of back-up copies (should the business ever need to restore data from an earlier point in time) if an unplanned event occurred. FCT installed a Dell T20 server on-site, complete with an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). In addition, a CloudBerry back-up solution (which automatically backs-up the server once a day) was installed to ensure no loss of important data. As well as data being backed-up on Rycroft’s network, the system allows back-ups to the cloud so that, even in the event of a complete disaster, the server can be restored to new hardware to allow the business to be up-and-running again in a new location within just a few hours.

The Rycroft team also needed new hardware to replace the mix of home-grade and self-built PCs that existed around the office. These were replaced with Dell and HP hardware, giving peace of mind with manufacturers’ warranties and easier maintenance if required.

Each machine was built to a standard Rycroft specification, ensuring every employee had access to all necessary software, as well as giving the added advantage of allowing the team to hot-desk and work from each other’s machines if required. Office 365 software was installed to ensure everything stayed secure and stable, and the systems have since been upgraded from Windows 7 to 10 to keep Rycroft using the latest versions of technology.

FCT uses a live monitoring system that allows the team to be alerted of any issues on their dashboard screen at FCT HQ. Should an alert appear, an IT support person can call one of the Rycroft team to ensure everything is still working as needed and nip any potential issues in the bud.

To stay safe from the increasing threats of cyber security, FCT supplies Rycroft with BitDefender Antivirus, which is also managed and regularly checked by FCT’s monitoring system.

After taking time to understand Rycroft’s business and how the team members work, FCT also implemented a secure Virtual Private Network (VPN), to allow staff to work from home when required, as the VPN connects staff into the network to allow them to work as if they were actually at their desks.

Rycroft’s Lichfield office is in an old bakery which is a beautiful building but the thick walls and steel beams caused issues with the WiFi signal. As the router provided by Rycroft’s Internet Service Provider (ISP) was not powerful enough to cover the whole office area, FCT installed an Ubiquiti WiFi access point to provide an enterprise-level WiFi service at minimal cost, allowing the team to enjoy access to the WiFi from anywhere in the office.

Rycroft has taken a support contract with FCT, allowing the team to call for IT help whenever required, with no limit on the number of calls made or IT tech time used. For the team at Rycroft, it provides peace-of-mind that they can call with any queries or problems, no matter how big or small, to ensure everything continues working as required.

When it comes to any malfunctioning technology, FCT is on the ball with break-fix support. If they get a call from Rycroft to say that a piece of hardware has a fault, FCT can usually be on-site to review it within 2 hours, and a replacement can usually be organised for the next day should the equipment be unrepairable.

Finally, FCT’s structured cabling keeps Rycroft’s unique office looking tidy at all times, blending the necessary wires and cables seamlessly in with the characterful aesthetics of the old building in a way that is easily manageable by FCT should any changes be required. For example, when Rycroft had a new phone system installed, no new cables needed to be run in the office because of the existing structured cable plant that was in place.

In Conclusion:
Steve Parsons concludes, “We’ve been using FCT for around 4 years now, and, as a business, we wouldn’t want to be without them! At the first meeting, Managing Director Richard Hinton promised they’d deliver excellent service, and they’ve been true to their word. The team has never let us down – they are the perfect service company. They’ve brought Rycroft Associates into the 21st Century in terms of technology, getting us where we needed to be one step at a time, so we didn’t feel overwhelmed with all the changes.

“It’s great to have just one point of contact to deal with all our IT queries. Most of the time, FCT phone us as their monitoring system identifies a problem before we’ve even noticed! All the people in the office have FCT’s number to hand, so if there are any problems, or if they receive a suspicious email they’re not sure about, they just contact the IT team. FCT has even come to the rescue of some of the directors when they’ve been working at home – nothing is too much trouble. We call FCT just like we would an internal IT department – in fact, most of the time I think we forget they’re not our in-house provider as we get on with them like colleagues, which is the sign of a great customer/supplier relationship.”

Richard Hinton, MD of First Class Technologies comments, “FCT strives to establish close partnerships with our clients. Typically, one of our engineers becomes the first point of contact to encourage the development of a trusted relationship, thereby enabling us to have a better understanding of a site and the client staff so they, in turn, have confidence that, when an issue arises, it will be promptly sorted. Whilst Rycroft is still a reasonably new client, this process is already well-established, and we’re really enjoying working in conjunction with the team.”

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First Class Technologies upgraded a computer network of 500 computers at a secondary school in a deprived area – giving pupils valuable tools and skills to improve their future job prospects, with a pool of laptops used by the students aged 11-18.

ICT support specialists migrated classroom PCs at Washwood Heath Academy from Windows 7 to Windows 10 and updated other essential software.

First Class Technologies won the contract after a competitive tendering process, completing the project on time and to budget.

The upgrade is crucial for the 1,400-plus pupils at the academy as it enables them to keep up to speed with the latest technology.

Nearly two-thirds of the students speak English as a second language and live in a part of the city where 57 per cent of children are growing up in poverty.  The Windows 10 upgrade means students in a disadvantaged area are using more advanced software than most UK schools.

The up-to-date system would help prepare the youngsters for working in an IT-driven economy and also allow them to work more efficiently. FCT Managing Director Richard Hinton said, “Upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 10 will benefit the pupils greatly. They will be learning how to use computer programmes and systems commonly found in the workplace and at home. The vast majority of businesses we partner are running Windows 10, so it’s essential the pupils know how to use it when they leave school.”

Robert Bruce, FCT Project manager added: “Many schools are still running Windows 7. Washwood Heath Academy is in a disadvantaged area, but as far as their computers go they now have a head start. We’ve also installed the latest version of Microsoft Office and updated the servers to create a state-of-the-art platform. This will give them a leg up the employment ladder later on. Day to day, they’ll notice a massive increase in the processing speed of the computers and they will be able to use all the latest apps in class as well.”

First Class Technologies routinely works in schools, providing technical expertise and ICT solutions in the primary and secondary sectors. This was the latest of many contracts the firm has won at Washwood Heath Academy. Previously it has extended the structured cable plant, installed many interactive white board and projector solutions and more recently Smart Touch Panels. In addition, ten years ago the company designed an original wireless network to give staff access anywhere on the campus to information about pupils, including details of academic performance, medical records and any truancy patterns.

Washwood Heath Academy’s strategic ICT manager praises FCT’s friendly and efficient service. Acting Head, Lynn Petrie said: “The advanced system will help our students in a number of areas of the curriculum including maths, English, writing and communicating. We have gained an excellent reputation locally, nationally and internationally through our academic success. We want the best for our young people and we are proud to be at the forefront of IT education. This will be a great asset to all our pupils.”

The latest project was planned with the guidance of Joanne Lea, Washwood Heath Academy’s strategic ICT manager. Joanne said: “I wanted support in migrating our PCs to Windows 10 from a company that had done it before and has a lot of experience in the school environment. I found Robert Bruce, the engineer who led the project to be friendly, personable and very efficient in carrying out the upgrade and ensuring my IT Technicians know how to maintain the new set-up.”

Technical specifications of the project:
• Upgrade 3 x virtual Domain Servers from Windows Server 2008 to the latest
version, Windows Server 2016
• Build new Windows Server 2016 Physical DC Server
• Upgrade AD to Windows Server 2016 functional level
• Replace Windows Server 2008 Print Server with Server Windows Server 2016
• Build Windows desktop deployment solution
• Implement 2016 Group Policies for Windows 10
• Configure and test Classroom station types for Windows 10 deployment
• Configure & test all Windows 10 related GPOs for student profile lockdown

Deployment Solution
Washwood Heath Academy requested a tool that could deploy Windows 10 efficiently and with the least amount of manual intervention.

First Class Technologies implemented a new Windows Server 2016 solution based on Windows Deployment services. It built, customised and prepared a ‘one-size fits all’ master image which can be deployed to every PC in the school. This simplifies the management of the network and means students have the same experience wherever they are in the school. A solution has been put in place to streamline licence management for Microsoft Windows and Office products, reducing the manual input required from IT staff when classrooms and PCs are deployed with the image.

This applies to all classroom PCs and a pool of 10 student laptops. There is also scope to extend it to staff laptops when staff return from the summer break.

The project has been an opportunity to upgrade from 32-bit to 64-bit Windows and increase the RAM on each PC which will greatly increase computer speed, allowing students to work more efficiently.

The deployment solution (including KMS activation management) will allow the school’s IT staff to easily upgrade and manage all PCs simultaneously – or individual computers if required.

Washwood Heath Academy’s domain servers and print server have been updated to the latest version of Windows Server, to help keep the school’s network secure as it will benefit from the latest updates & support from Microsoft.

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Computers, internet use and digital equipment over the last 10 years has developed at a rapid pace. Many schools that are committed to providing the latest technology and facilities for students are often left unsure as to the most cost-effective and appropriate solutions for the school’s ICT infrastructure.

However, for a school in Stoke-on-Trent, the valuable advice they’ve received from a specialist ICT provider has supported them for over 10 years to access the latest technology and benefit from cost-effective IT solutions.

In November 2016, this school, The King’s Church of England Secondary School and Sixth Form, opened the doors of its new £14 million building, boasting exceptional facilities including dedicated computing suites; high spec science laboratories; Wi-Fi throughout the school, a community hub and expansive technology areas with 3D print and design rooms.

As a state-of-the-art educational facility, The King’s School (formerly Clough Hall Technology School) is equipped to deliver high quality education for over 700 students in a modern learning environment.
This recent modernisation is indicative of the school’s long term commitment to continually ensure students are provided with the best possible equipment for learning; a commitment that has been supported for over 10 years by school ICT specialists, First Class Technologies.

2006 – The King’s School Selects Expert ICT Support

As a specialist technology school in 2006, a significant challenge for the school was to ensure that it continually invested in the latest technologies to provide students with the tools that they needed.

In order to achieve this, it was important for the school to identify expert ICT technicians that they could rely on for long-standing technical support and advice.

Therefore in 2006, the school engaged the ICT services of First Class Technologies due to their proven track record in the education sector.

The first task would be to help the school migrate their existing network from a propriety operating system, to a standard Microsoft platform.  Over subsequent years, the school benefited immensely from the Microsoft solution which adequately served its purpose and provided a sound, reliable and resilient core platform for additional developments to be built on as required.

From that point forward, the school’s own ICT department would also rely on First Class Technologies to provide expertise and an external perspective whenever it was required.

2011 – Realising the Power of Virtualisation

Although the existing Microsoft platform had served the school well for over 5 years, a large increase in computers throughout the school now meant that by 2011, the school required 11 servers to support several hundred desktops across the campus.

First Class Technologies identified that the school was suffering from ‘server sprawl’, with parts of the system becoming obsolete and many servers reaching capacity and consuming high resources from the school.

A key consideration for the school was a need to balance the required financial investment in advancing the incumbent technology against budget restraints. On one hand, the school had to manage the ever-increasing challenges around budget cuts, and on the other hand, it needed to invest in the latest technologies.

The school turned to First Class Technologies for advice and to explore various options for overcoming the server sprawl, including how to keep costs down and continue to introduce the latest technologies and improve efficiency.

The traditional option of investing in 11 replacement servers and additional ones to cope with their need for extra capacity wasn’t an option; the costs involved would have considerably exceeded the schools budget.

After taking all factors into consideration, First Class Technologies recommended consolation of existing servers by implementing a virtualised solution that would be based on just four physical hosts. Two of which would be the schools existing Dell Power Edge servers upgraded to suit purpose and two additional Dell PE servicers along with an associated Dell SAN (Storage Area Network).  At the core of the new network would be a VMware virtualised platform.

This virtualisation based solution proved to be an ideal resolution to the issue faced by the school and offered a number of key advantages.

The main benefit would be the cost savings; instead of replacing numerous servers, this option meant that they only had to invest in 2 new devices. Furthermore, long term savings would also be achieved because of the system’s ability to cope with expansion (a virtualisation platform is specifically designed to consolidate storage).

Another key advantage of introducing a virtualisation solution is its ability to dramatically improve disaster recovery.  Due to the clustered nature of virtualisation, all platforms are linked to a central system that has the ability to dynamically manage any failure.  Because no single server holds just one specific application, should one server crash the other 3 continue running and as a result there is no user downtime.

In addition, the virtualised solution is cloud based, therefore it has capacity for growth without the need for continually introducing new hardware.  This will eliminate any future server sprawl and enable expansion as required with minimum financial outlay.  This was a solution designed to cope with considerable growth at limited cost.

First Class Technologies implemented the virtualisation system during the summer months to minimise disruption.  The entire process took just a few weeks to install and resulted in only half a day of downtime.  They also worked with the school’s own technicians to further drive costs down and at the same time educate them on the solution.

2016 – Expanding into State-of-the-Art Technology

The school’s trusted long term relationship with First Class Technologies helped to support them with their redevelopments and expansions; including the installation of hundreds of broadband-ready computers for students, interactive whiteboards and projectors, as well as upgrades of the dining facility equipped with biometric cashless vending.

So, when a grant was received by the Education Funding Agency to enable the school to move to a purpose-built, state-of-the-art educational facility, First Class Technologies were once again asked to support the complex technical move. Following a quick and seamless transition, along with continual network support, The King’s School complex was ready for its grand opening in November 2016.

Regarding the technical services and support that has been provided by First Class Technologies, Business Manager at The King’s School, Richard Norris comments:

“Like many schools we are facing a number of challenges at the present time.  It’s absolutely vital for us that we continue to invest in our technologies if we are to give our students the best possible learning experience and to help us continue to attract the best staff.”

What impresses me most about working with First Class Technologies is their ability to understand our needs and recommend solutions that address those needs, working alongside and in consultation with our own technical staff. I believe that this understanding is in part attributed to First Class Technologies’ vast and proven experience of working within the education sector, which has a unique dynamic and which presents a number of specific challenges.”

“The First Class Technologies team are incredibly supportive and helpful.  They are reliable and on the rare occasions that we need to call on them, they react swiftly and professionally. The most important attribute for any supplier is design solutions which are, to the extent possible, future-proof and which are cost-effective.

I would recommend First Class Technologies without hesitation to other educational establishments.”

Long Term ICT Support Provides Additional Benefits

For many schools that are dedicated to keeping apace with the continual changes of the digital world, the challenge of finding expert advice and services that can meet specific needs without exploiting the delicate educational budgets can be rare.

That’s why when First Class Technologies work with educational establishments such as schools and universities, they work closely with the departments to establish solutions that meet their needs not just today, but long into the future.

Evidence of such support is seen in the recommendations provided by First Class Technologies, including the King’s School VMware Virtualisation Solution which supported the school not only with cost savings, but with multiple benefits including:

  • Reduction in hardware
  • Improvement in disaster recovery
  • Scalable solutions for growth
  • Multiple operating systems from a single computer
  • Optimum performance of applications
  • Reduced carbon footprint

Rather than a transactional relationship, First Class Technologies work to establish a strong partnership with schools, colleges and universities – to develop a working relationship that delivers exceptional support, utilises the latest technologies and works within the specific needs and budgets of each establishment.

 

To benefit from cost-saving professional advice and a reliable, trusted working relationship – email First Class Technologies or call 01543 414 152.

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There’s nothing more frustrating than a lost, or desperately slow, internet connection. This is especially so when you’re attempting to complete an important task such as a student assignment.

That’s why, when Aston University Students’ Union first contacted First Class Technologies in 2007, they recognised the importance of acquiring reliable wireless internet access for their students living in a unique housing project.

Developed over 30 years ago, Aston Brook Green student residence evolved from a pocket of 52 Victorian terraced houses into a modernised collection of 60 flats comprising 170 bedrooms.

The converted terraced properties now house students in a number of 1, 3 and 4 bedroom flats that each require sufficient internet connections.

With the challenges of this housing project in mind, First Class Technologies decided on supplying a network of ruggedised external wireless access points designed to withstand not only extreme conditions but also allow access to a dedicated 10 Mbps service.

This provision served the Student Union well for over 7 years, allowing students to concentrate more on research for their thesis and less on reporting lost connections.

The Rise of the Mobile Device

By the time 2014 arrived, however, Aston University Students’ Union had again turned to First Class Technologies with concerns about the increase in internet enabled mobile devices that students were now using and the demands they placed on their existing network.

This, of course, was understandable considering that the need for internet access had increased rapidly in a short space of time. In fact, statistics now show that the number of adults requiring internet access for mobile devices has more than doubled since 2006 and continues to grow.

There was no escaping the fact that an upgrade for the wireless network would be needed to future-proof this rapid adoption of smartphones and tablets.

As First Class Technologies works hard to stay current and informed of new developments, we were able to quickly identify the most appropriate solution to upgrade the wireless network to meet the ever increasing demand.

“The need for internet access had increased rapidly in a short space of time”

Managed IT and Cloud Specialists

Providing a First Class Solution

First Class Technologies began by recommending a design that included 30 internal access points mounted in the roof space of the student buildings.

A hardwired network point would be incorporated to allow consistent access from a range of devices, including smartphones and tablets, as well as fixed devices such as laptops and desktop computers.

Arrangements were put into place to upgrade the leased line to a 100/100 Mbps service via a managed Juniper router that would provide a fast, secure and reliable service capable of meeting the high levels of performance required by the Student Union.

Using the latest techniques to provide solid connections and cope with demand, First Class Technologies installed fibre optic links that connect access points to a central controller, allowing a secure output and signal that could effectively radiate out to each remote building.

As with all our clients, First Class Technologies aims to always design and install the most effective and efficient I.T. systems. To meet this aim for Aston University Students’ Union, each wireless access point would be located in a convenient loft space to reduce space requirements while adding a level of security by keeping the APs out of sight and reach.

Further to this, each access point would use Power over Ethernet (PoE), allowing it to receive both data connection and electrical power with one cable, thereby reducing unsightly cabling and associated costs.

For complete customer satisfaction, First Class Technologies provided comprehensive protection for both the wired and wireless networks via a Sonicwall NSA that utilises MAC access control lists (ACLs). This added layer of security works to protect the network by preventing unauthorised access.

Specialist applications were also put in place to filter content that students could gain access to, protecting the network and supporting the institute’s guidelines and polices on appropriate internet usage.

Following the prompt install and hassle free switch to the new system, the now upgraded wireless network resulted in a faster, more reliable service. Students were relieved to discover that their treasured Wi-Fi was now capable of meeting their rising demand.

Housing Manager for Aston University Student Accommodation, Malcolm Lawrie commented:

“We are delighted with the intelligent solutions provided by First Class Technologies at Aston Brook Green. Throughout the whole process, they kept us informed and exceeded our expectations.”

With the newly installed wireless system keeping up with demand and paving the way for an increase in internet usage, Aston University Students’ Union was able to move seamlessly into the new digital era and the rise of the mobile device.

If, like Aston University Students’ Union, you also place a strong emphasis on providing high standards of education and would also like to benefit from using efficient and reliable technology in your establishment, then simply contact First Class Technologies and we will be happy to chat to you about your needs.

Download the full case study here: Aston Univesity

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