What a seamless IT transition looks like


What a seamless IT transition looks like

Where many schools struggled to effectively and rapidly move to a remote learning model, the foundation already in place at Glasshouse Christian College on Queensland's Sunshine Coast ensured the smoothest possible transition. The IT environment remained the same, with teachers and students simply taking existing technology home and continuing classes without interruption.

For Roland Munyard, IT Manager at the College, the seamless move was made possible by strong partnerships with his IT suppliers and a focus on building a technology environment that avoids clutter and delivers an easy-to-use solution. When Munyard realised how his lockdown experience differed from that of others, he felt compelled to write an open letter of appreciation to all of his suppliers, thanking them for their contribution.

A letter of appreciation to my IT suppliers

Dear Apple, Extreme Networks, Jamf, Schoolbox, Sophos, VMware, AWS and Scott (my Microsoft Windows consultant),

This is a letter of appreciation, a note of recognition, and a call out to reflect and consider how our IT partnership has served our small community of about 2500 students, parents, teachers and staff in a corner of Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

I would like each of you to know that variously and collectively you’ve been instrumental in making our lockdown a wonderful technological experience.

‘Wonderful’ is perhaps a little rich, so instead, I will use words like ‘successful’, ‘effortless’, ‘seamless’ and ‘uneventful’ to describe our technology environment and user experience during the lockdown.

Each of your organisations has contributed in some way to delivering technology which is simple and easy to use.

Over the years, you have helped me avoid clutter, complexity and obfuscation, all of which I believe to be the enemy and inhibitor of progress and innovation.

Looking back over the years and in particular at 2020, I see clearly as one sees after the storm when the sun shines, and the air is crisp and clean, how different our lockdown experience appears to have been compared to other organisations I’ve read about.

We did absolutely nothing differently:

  • We did not need to tweak or touch our environments
  • We did not need to work harder, faster or longer
     

We did not miss a beat; we simply continued to use our regular technology and classes resumed at home.

My IT team comprises 3.4 staff members, including myself. We manage over 1700 devices, 1200 students and 170 staff, and let’s say about 1000 parents. It took us less than three days to unleash our entire fleet of technology to our student, teacher and parent community, and most of that time was taken up with obtaining the signatures we needed to loan out our devices. In total, more than 1500 devices went home, all devices worked seamlessly onsite and offsite, and everything continued operating as usual.

  • All 1160 students from Years 1 to 12 took home their MacBook or iPad
  • Every teacher took home their MacBook and iPad Pro
  • Every teacher’s aide took home MacBook and iPad Pro
  • All Prep parents were offered a MacBook or iPad Pro, which many accepted
  • All administration staff were offered a MacBook and iPad
     

Jamf Cloud took care of software deployments and updates, Google Applications took care of Mail, Documents, Drive, etc., our Schoolbox LMS took care of class management and onsite and offsite learning, Sophos Cloud and Sophos Home took care of security, and Microsoft Azure Single Sign-On continued as usual for all our applications.

Scott, my trusty Microsoft Windows consultant, took care of VMware, Windows, and Veeam.

A “light touch” is what is needed because humans want technology to work, first time, every time. Like the air we breathe, we don’t want to have to think about it, but we know instinctively when it is fresh. Technology should only ever be about people and humanity, and any “Big Brother-style” deviation from this principle of servanthood will fail miserably.

Apple

Circa 2009, I began introducing Apple technology into the College with the intention that it would become our core student and teacher learning platform. I chose Apple because they were delightfully honest about what they could and could not do for us.

Since the introduction of Apple, we have harvested measurable gains in simplicity, productivity and functionality.

When “creatives” need to write a paper, produce a movie, record a song, browse the internet, or create or consume information, they need to do so without concern, fanfare or inhibition. That’s Apple ‘to the core’:

  • Apple devices are simple to use, easy to manage and secure.
  • There was no intermediary or ambiguity about costs, delivery or warranty.
  • The cost of ownership and licensing was precise and clear.
  • They delivered exactly what was advertised and promised.
  • User and student privacy are inbuilt into the operating system.
  • Their reliability and battery longevity can be demonstrated.
  • They deliver a consistent user experience.
  • Education and Apple go hand in hand (they always have).
  • Managing a fleet of school-owned devices in education is easier than ever, with Apple School Manager, Jamf Software.
  • I am able to give students and teachers “Full Local Administration Rights” and still retain full of control over my Mac Fleet.
  • We own, manage and self-insure our entire fleet.
     

Over the past 10 years, Apple technology has:

  • Reduced overall costs of ownership.
  • Produced excellent software which is easily managed.
  • Reduced staffing and consulting requirements.
  • Enabled me to introduce a high degree of automation and “self-management” to staff and students.
  • Provided a flexible, secure, consistent environment for learning and teaching.
  • Reduced the cost or computer repairs and damages.
  • Given us devices that have worked reliably for five, six, seven years (sometimes even longer), and we get a return of a third of our capital investment cost after that period. Since the start of 2020 (the past four months) I have sold over $70,000 worth of second hand, freshly re-imaged 2013 and 2014 MacBooks.
     

During lockdown our entire fleet went home effortlessly. We had about 50 Tech Support requests in total from teachers, parents and students. Just let that fact linger in your mind for a few seconds. Only 50 support requests related to hardware or configuration of about 1500 or 1600 Apple devices in the hands of students, teachers and parents during the holidays and lockdown period.

Whoever said Apple was an expensive solution?

Jamf

We have used Jamf at our College since 2010. I chose Jamf because they have an excellent reputation and strong relationships with Apple, evidenced by the early release of updates, in response to fresh Apple releases.

We chose Jamf after starting with a six-week onsite demonstration and evaluation of Jamf Software working successfully in my environment. We moved over to Jamf Cloud in 2019 (in just two days after deciding to move from their on-premise solution!), which allows my entire fleet of MacBooks to be managed from anywhere in the world.

I believe Jamf is the easiest, most versatile and complete solution available for deploying and managing Apple technology.

I doubt that a distributed fleet of over 1700 Apple devices can be successfully managed without Jamf or a comparable MDM product.

To my mind, Jamf:

  • Is the leading MDM solution and has been for a long time.
  • Has a polished “Self Service” feature which makes it easy for users to help themselves to applications and tools, and to run printer and configuration settings and clean up scripts.
  • Is a “no surprises” solution to distribute computer management.
  • Has remained elegant and usable over the past 10 years.
  • Cloud is accessible from anywhere and is easy to use, works as expected every time and is highly available.
  • Provides a high degree of control of student and teacher devices.
  • Offers easy and rapid deployment of applications and services.
  • Is easier for students to use and manage themselves.
  • May appear to be an expensive solution but it works out cheaper over the long run (numbers talk and I can show you the numbers).
Extreme Networks

I was looking for networking technology that would be reliable as well as easy to manage and use. I desperately wanted to be able to plug any device into any port, in any switch, in any building anywhere around the College campus. I was looking for what I understood to be a true “Software Defined Network” (SDN) solution and began researching various solutions available to me.

Our existing vendor was, unfortunately, failing on support and maintenance. Extreme set up a WiFi proof of concept in three regions (the Library, Secondary Administration and two classrooms) and they were able to demonstrate Extreme gear working reliably in our environment.

Since moving over to Extreme Networks at the end of 2017, I can plug any computer, phone, printer, WiFi access point, IP bell, IP speaker or video camera into any port on any switch across our network and it will work reliably. Other networking vendors competing with Extreme Networks had lots of writing on “their tins”, but were either unable or unwilling to demonstrate it working as advertised. Many competitors had software dependencies built-in to the platforms. In other words – points of failure, a broad highway directly into depths of unfulfilled promises and dreams.

Extreme Networks was able to provide us with a single interface from which we can manage our entire network, see all our devices and manage our SDN.

I can only hope that my colleagues in other organisations have some version of a fully functional version of SDN running on their networks, because of the many benefits it offers.

Here are some of the advantages of using Extreme:

  • Reduced staffing – which means I can allocate staff to more useful projects.
  • Set and forget – very low maintenance, although I still do scheduled audits.
  • Performance – I can’t remember when we last experienced any network issues.
  • Return on investment – it feels expensive, but works out cheaper.
  • Low total cost of ownership – once you factor in performance, ease of use, and continuity.
Schoolbox

We chose Schoolbox for four main reasons.

First, the time was right and our school was ready for a high-end solution.

Second, other schools I trusted spoke highly of Schoolbox.

Third, Schoolbox is simple and easy to manage (I hope it stays that way!)

Fourth, I needed our school community and management to invest in and be committed to a single product. It was the only way I could ensure we would all follow through on our investment, and ‘boy oh boy’ did they follow through!

Within 18 months, our College has had a 100% take-up of Schoolbox. It’s used by all of primary, all of secondary and all of our administration.

I’ll admit that pre-COVID we had about 50% usage and post-COVID we have 100% usage, but the word on the street is that we are never going back to the “old way” of doing things.

VMware

VMWare is one of those products which is easily overlooked because it simply works as advertised. We have used VMware since 2005, VMware and Veeam work seamlessly together and we have full redundancy and failover onsite in different server rooms.

Amazon Web Services (AWS)

AWS takes care of all my backups; it’s the ‘bank’ where we store all our ‘stocks and bonds’.

I just don’t trust hardware; their little yellow and green lights flashing gibberish to me night and day, and then every now and then they flash orange or red to signal that the road ahead is fraught with interruption, pain, suffering and expense.

Since using AWS, I’m confident that my backups are safe and I don’t much care whether the lights flash orange, red, green or yellow, so long as I’m not responsible for changing the colour back to green, my data is safe and I can gain access to my information speedily.

AWS is a cost-effective, reliable offsite backup solution. And the proof is in the pudding, as we have successfully restored our entire infrastructure from AWS.

As I said earlier, it was a simple, effortless exercise, so thank you. Yes, there are dozens of layers of software involved, but you guys are the pillars I’ve chosen to trust and work with, and I wish to thank you for our strong relationship.

Roland Munyard, IT Manager at Glasshouse Christian College

 

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/famveldman

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