Brisbane Girls Grammar revamps IT with Windows 7

Becomes one of the first local private education institutions to fully roll out Windows 7

Brisbane Girls Grammar School (BGGS) has revealed it is one of the first Australian private education bodies to undertake a roll-out of the Windows 7, Office 2010, Exchange 2010 and Hyper-V packages across a whole organisation, telling Microsoft's Tech.Ed conference on the Gold Coast this week that it recently upgraded its systems and some 1,150 desktop PCs and laptops.

"The system runs extremely well, and we run a devoted Microsoft platform for the different modules and systems tied together," said the school's IT director Nathan Pilgrim. "We’ve seen significant improvements in performance and big reductions in help desk calls as well."

Like other Australian organisations who have discussed their Windows 7 deployments, BGGS used Microsoft's System Center Configuration Manager to deploy the new operating system. "Effectively, we pushed those out with SCCM and then we layered the applications on top," said Pilgrim. "They are just [Microsoft Installer] packaged and deployed ... we run just over 200 different applications."

"Basically they are targeted -- if it is a science computer or a English computer they make it a different set of applications -- so basically SSCM manages all of that." Pilgram had considered other deployment solutions. "We looked at Altiris and we also looked at [Norton] Ghost at the time," he said. But the organisation had already been using SCCM in its previous Systems Management Server incarnation.

Pilgrim, and his team of five deployed two versions of Windows across 1,150 machines -- Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Enterprise -- with over 1,300 users on the campus.

The project started in June/July last year -- trialling beta editions of Windows 7. Around October the team downloaded the full version from Microsoft and deployed it on 60 machines as a test over the Christmas 2009 holiday break.

"From conception to delivery was 6 months and then the testing and so on -- all of the group policy configurations," said Pilgrim. A small amount of contractors were brought on as required for project work or significant tasks, but most of the work was done in-house.

Training with staff and students was necessary. "We went through full training sessions with staff and students and then we tried to deliver a very similar experience to those and what they were comfortable with," said Pilgrim. "It wasn't a major jump for them from XP to Windows 7."

So why did Pilgrim skip Vista? "We didn't so much as skip Vista, as in basically we work on a technology rollover plan of 3 years," explained Pilgrim. "We actually did go with Vista on about a hundred machines that were running tablets and Windows XP tablet edition. We didn’t want to invest significant resources in Windows Vista when Windows 7 was going to come out and then go from there, so we held off on the deployment."

The school did not have to fork out much directly for the licences, however other costs did arise. "Being an education customer we get excellent discounts on Microsoft technology," said Pilgrim. "We did all of the deployment and testing internally of the applications. It cost us from a software point of view ... about $50,000 just to buy new applications that weren't just compatible."

"Then we outsourced the user experience so that would be the group policy configurations, the scripts that were pushed with group policy preferences, the targeted windows printers and so on, and that cost us $20,000 for consulting."

The staff run with the Enterprise edition of Windows 7, and Pilgrim's team gave them the ability to log on to the system from home -- gaining access to drive mappings and internal websites. Students also have access to their computers from home for purposes such such as answering email, delivering homework and using applications.

Pilgrim said the team uses Microsoft's IIS web server technology and is increasingly pushing into web-enablement. For example, it is currently looking at web versions of applications like Adobe's Creative Suite for purchase next year. In addition, "We are weighing up whether we use some of the Microsoft video technologies or whether to layer a Citrix-type vector over the top of that," said Pilgrim.

And there's still more to come.

"We are at the point of time now where we are doing a full unified communications -- and we are partnering that with Office Communications Server to tie that together," the IT director said. "We are using SharePoint 2007 and our plan over this Christmas holidays is to upgrade that to SharePoint 2010 -- we've recently gone to Exchange 2010."

At the end of the day, Brisbane Girls Grammar School might have pushed out ahead early with its extensive Microsoft overhaul. But it may not be out on its own for long.

Pilgrim said he is aware of a lot of other schools that are looking at Exchange 2010 and Hyper-V. "I have just recently spoken to half a dozen other schools that have just recently come on site to see our Windows 7 deployment and they are looking at running a similar configuration," he said.

Image credit: techedlive, Creative Commons

Delimiter's Jenna Pitcher is attending Tech.Ed this week as a guest of Microsoft, with flights, accommodation and meals paid for.

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