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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Aquila Truck Centres, specialist providers in commercial vehicle sales, service and repair in the West Midlands, understand the importance of keeping brand promises.

They knew that customer satisfaction would benefit their business, not just with an established base of loyal customers but with the recognition of a reliable brand.

So when Aquila contacted First Class Technologies in early 2000, they were looking for a company with similar values to their own.  A company that could provide consistently high performing IT networks to help them deliver on their brand promises of 24 hour facilities for parts and service, state-of-the-art technology and maximised fleet uptime for customers.

Gold Standard Supplier Relations

Initially, First Class provided Aquila with the development and maintenance of an IT network that could meet their needs over 2 main sites.

However, as the years passed, Aquila Truck Centres expanded across the Greater Midlands with 8 sites requiring an extended IT network.  First Class Technologies continued their reliable service by providing a strong IT infrastructure that was linked across the 8 facilities, 24 hours a day and incorporating over 100 workstations.

First Class knew that any down-time for Aquila would impact negatively on their ability to deliver on their customer promise of 24 hour service.  To minimise the possibility of any disruptive issues, First Class regularly maintains Aquila’s servers, network and cabling as
well as provide a comprehensive support contract.

As soon as a problem is reported, immediate investigations are conducted by First Class to resolve issues remotely.  Should it be identified that a site visit is needed, First Class then guarantees an engineer will attend on site within 4 hours of the report.

“I have worked directly with Richard and the First Class team for 15 years now.  What continually impresses me is their proactive, accommodating approach.  On many occasions, engineers have been known to remain on site until the early hours in order to resolve an issue.  The general ethos of the entire First Class team is responsive, co-ordinated and professional. I am frequently contacted by other IT suppliers but won’t contemplate moving away from First Class because I trust them implicitly and have complete confidence in the service that they provide for Aquila.  In fact, I consider First Class Technologies as my in-house IT Department because the relationship is effectively seamless. Would I recommend First Class Technologies?  Yes, without any hesitation, in fact I have already referred a number of key contacts to them!”

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