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Network and Classroom Management Thread, Network Management Options - advice needed in Technical; ...
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    Question Network Management Options - advice needed

    I am a school governor for a small primary school (in the UK - I am not sure if this forum is used globally or just in the UK?). The school is in desperate need improvements to it's IT infrastructure and they are somewhat lost in an unfamiliar world of technology.

    They currently get some IT support from a local senior school (in the form of support from their IT technician for a handful of hours per month), but that time it short, and to be honest, they are struggling with defining their fundamental requirements at the moment and he seems to be more of a do-er rather than someone who might give strategic guidance to them.

    The school currently has about 7 PCs running from an RM CC3 system. They have been given a number of extra RM PCs, and some laptops. The plan is to use the laptops on a wireless network in classrooms, and put the extra RM PCs with the other 7. RM have told them that they must upgrade to CC4 and get Win 7 on all the machines, and that the CC4 small school system won’t be sufficient if they wish to integrate the laptops onto the network.

    In big picture terms , they basically need to support 20 PCs in a IT classroom, 20 laptops connected wirelessly, and 7 teacher PCs - one in each of the main classrooms.
    So, my questions are:

    1. It seems to me that there are other, more flexible approaches to network administration (in terms of the number of users and the usable hardware and the costs) than RM. Since the school has NO technical knowledge, and their access to IT professionals is limited, what sort of system would be ideal for them, whilst minimising their costs (of course)? (clearly the transition will require a significant effort, but I am thinking of the longer term maintainability and cost of the system)
    2. Would it not be cheaper to just have some centrally located data storage on a non-RM server running Windows Server (potentially with some 3rd party administration software) for the user and PC management? The school could then keep the RM support contract money in the bank as a risk fund? This route would be far more upgradable in the future too?
    3. Are there any amazing solutions out there which the school should investigate?


    Thanks for your help

    Robbo100

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    witch's Avatar
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    The issue will be with support - if the local senior school that gives support is happy, I would go with a vanilla server. But if the school is do the support itself then it may be worth looking into a support contract with a local company. I dont know where you are but we have various companies offering support - obviously it costs but in terms of time wasted it can really save you money.
    Lots of people on here will have good ideas - @GrumbleDook, @AngryTechnician, @plexer, to name but a few.

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    plexer (27th September 2012), robbo100 (27th September 2012)

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    @robbo100 First of all thank you for a well thought out post to allow or members to be able to comment on it.

    I don't know what sort of figures you are looking at with the RM proposal?

    I do think primaries need support from the secondary schools in a cluster and have seen clusers employing technicians to provide around half a day a week or even more.

    There are quite a few alternative management solutions viglen classlink, Ergo Free2Teach one that I would say to look at though would be DMS Netflow from Design and Management Systems Ltd.

    Ben

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    robbo100 (27th September 2012)

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    @witch and @plexer

    I think the plan in the short term, is to try to better define the school's requirements (currently the requirements are "20 computers in that room and some laptops please", which is a little bit like the tail wagging the dog!). I am going to also try to speak to their IT Technician to get the inside track from him. I get the feeling there is a disconnect between what the school want, and what he is aiming for (mainly because they are talking a completely different language to each other).

    It may well be that it is best to use a system along the same lines (but on a smaller scale) as that using in the senior school, so that it simplifies the administration task for the Technician (but I don't know if that is going to be useful or affordable until I speak to him).

    If people here are happy, I will post back here when I have a little more clarity, and seek some further advice. However, if anyone has any more good advice before then, I would be very interested.

    Thanks again

    Robbo100
    Last edited by robbo100; 27th September 2012 at 08:51 PM.

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    tmcd35's Avatar
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    I think the first question to answer is how serious the senior schools views the support of cluster schools. If it is something they are serious about investing the time and resources in then you'd be very hard pushed to find any better partners, possibly with the exception of your LEA.

    With all due respect to the IT Technician, he is the wrong person to be pursuing at this stage. Your best bet is to meet with the senior schools headteacher and discuss your concerns with him. If they place some importance on the support they are offering then it shouldn't be too difficult to get their Network Manager to do a proper site review and help you come up with a proper strategic plan moving from you existing set up to something you want and they can support.

    I am a Network Manager for a High School who supports all cluster schools. We have employed a dedicated cluster support manager to help our primaries with just this sort of thing. I have oversight on the service and am always involved with these discussions with the cluster heads and our technicians.

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    @tmcd35

    Thanks for your post - I think you are spot on.

    One of the first questions I asked of the head (at the primary school), was "what are the contractual arrangements with the senior school and what level of time and support does it cover" (since the school pay the senior school for the service). The answer was basically "we don't know".

    Your suggestion to speak to the appropriate manager, and understand the definition of "support", is absolutely the correct way forwards.

    Thanks

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    Steven_Cleaver's Avatar
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    We have been asked by one of our Primaries at supporting them both with strategic development of IT strategy and direct support as we have some good IT support staff where we are and have tried to automate as much as we can of the day to day stuff as well as brought some systems in house.

    I think what you need to do if someone could advise you strategically first as I think you are saying and try to put in as much as possible low maintenance solutions as these will require less support and will have reduced costs long term, this may require some initial investment but will pay off longer term. It might also pay to see if a few of the other Primaries in your area were interested in perhaps getting together to look at a solution between a few Primaries.

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