Projects Update

So it is getting closer to Easter, an unusual time for me to have big projects on the go, but with our new financial year as an academy running alongside the academic year, Easter, and not the summer holidays is the key time for things to be done.

This will be a bit weird, and somewhat demanding – but at least we can say the summer term is for testing, summer holidays for rectifying and Autumn term for go live for any major projects.

Project 1: 387 Windows 8.1 Tablets & Complete infrastructure upgrade

This project involves deploying 16 tablets in most classrooms, and then some additional bookable trolleys around the school. I have worked closely with MillGate to get this one right.

It has been quite a big job with many different elements, for instance, an upgrade of our internet to 100mb for the extra use.

Over Easter we are upgrading, and Vlanning our switches, to give us a 10GB backbone, and more redundancy. The aim is the aerohive wifi should also start dishing out its own IPs to help us not run out of IPs

We have gone for Netgear, purchased via Softcat and installed by M&J Data Networks. Some £10k of switching gear is ready to roll out…

The tablets themselves, after a few early hiccups at VeryPC and the end of TAP, are on their way to us early April, with the first one currently at work as I wonder how on earth to image it.

I am currently thinking the only real way to image something that wont PXE boot is to create a custom image on 20 Memory sticks, which will join them to domain via their USB to NIC adapters and then deploy software via GP. That is tomorrows job however…

Our wall mounted cabinets are on the way, which means I need to go around classrooms and find out who will need additional power for charging units.

As nobody owns rooms in our school, over Easter I plan to take a picture of all the locations and then let staff check and feedback.

Project 2: New Rooms

Additional machines are planned for the Staff room, for our learning support area (in a new staff work area) and a small 16 PC ICT room is being remoddled with 8 new PCs and a storage area for trolleys…

This work is a simple as imaging and then installing the new PCs now I have sorted electrics and network installs

Project 3: Main Network Cab #2 Refit

The old server room, is now a backup server room, with, funnily, all our backups in it. It is air-conditioned and it has a cab in it for DR – but the switching in it is awful. So a floor to ceiling cabinet is being installed over Easter, with the new switches. It will be much easier to problem solve here.

Project 4: SSD upgrades 

We use SSDs in pretty much every machine, infact, this last batch of machines to upgrade will be the last ones being migrated, so that’s 40 machines to rebuild.

Project 5: Laptop refurbishment

The exisiting rubbish laptop trolleys will be cleaned up and deployed to 3 key areas: SEN, Science and D&T – all places where they will be nursed till their retirement, and rooms that have plugs in for laptops with dying batteries.

So 5 big projects at just one of the 5 schools, the other schools all need UPS shutdown tests, one needs RAM upgrades in its failover cluster, Impero 5 needs to be rolled out at 3 sites and all the usual holiday jobs. In less then 2 weeks, as, being a single parent of 2 I need to spend time with my kids, and the techies have these annoying habits of taking holiday…

Not a long post this time, but hopefully for those looking for inspiration on what others are doing, this might be interesting!

Fighting talk

Having an IT team to manage is something relatively new to me, I’ve had a tech to manage for nearly 4 years, but I now have a senior tech and 2 technicians, and a 4th I line manage at one of the schools we support.

I have three main ethoses for my team to stick to: “Bodge job are not acceptable” “everyone is learning” and “Because that’s the way it’s always been done is not a reason to keep doing something”

I have worked in a couple of teams prior to managing one, at the first place it was a real sense of being in something together, a clear purpose and a camaraderie which is still there to this day.

My best mate was my boss, and next month I am going to be the best man at his wedding. He instilled in me that a bodge job is not acceptable. It makes an already stressful job harder, as you will always have to fix it at a later stage.

By all means get thing working quickly, but don’t leave it there. Fix it. Change it. Sort it.

At my second school, the environment was different, the management style was different. But it taught me a lot. Some things I would avoid, but one thing I took away was “everyone is learning”

The second school taught me that just because I know it, and it’s easy to me, and it makes sense to me, to other people what I do is an alien world and a completely different language. I got shouted down when trying to roll out new things, I got grief for trying new things because I didn’t explain them well enough, but mostly nobody trusted the third and most important phases my team now lives by:

The most dangerous phase in the English language is “we’ve always done it this way”

I saw this tonight on twitter, and whilst I might not have said it in so many words, it struck a chord on the ethos I have been trying to get for my team, and I’ll be putting a big picture on the wall in the office tomorrow with it on.

You won’t be able to find me someone in IT who has not dealt with that weekly . Even if someone is sat working on a new system you have implemented that they originally opposed, they don’t trust your sinister ideas of change.

All IT people are people who just want to fiddle and make people’s lives harder, because they can. Not for any real reason.

I have been there, I still am on a regular basis – but I have confidence born out of lots of fuck ups, and lots of won battles. Within a month of starting this job, I decided with the head that I would rip everything out. And start again. I’ve done it at 5 schools now.

It’s not easy changing the way someone does their role. But it is precisely because people do not understand what we do that there should be a bit more trust coming our way. I don’t know about heart surgery, but I would sure as hell trust a heart doctor.

We can make things easier and quicker if we understand the bigger picture more, if we get people to trust that we know what we are doing, like people trust doctors. (Do not attempt any medical solutions however, as this will not end well.)

But here is a key point many techies miss: you have to earn that trust. Learn people’s roles, listen to their issue before blindly rolling out change and only then, if you are still sure you are right, push through changes.

At the end of the day, we know how to make things easier with technology. We don’t know how to teach, and we don’t know how to manage sites and facilities or be a TA. We know technology, and the best way to make use of technology is to make it easy. To make it easier to do something. And to do it better.

Sometimes this means you make unpopular choices, and people do not always appreciate them, or why you have made it. But they need to understand your role better, as much as you do theirs.

The bigger picture is key here, ICT is now a whole school system, there is no curriculum and admin side, its all one big mesh. People see their role, not the fact that what works for admin, won’t work in science, or PE or won’t be passed by governors. Or even, is frankly illegal.

My final poster I plan to put in our office is this:

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Like a lot of jobs, being basically the person that people only speak with to tell you things are not working is tough. It makes having a larger team now really quite a good thing to be able to bounce issues and gripes off each other without losing focus or blowing things out of proportion.

But it does make me and my team work hard to get those messages where people are just saying thanks. We get some 200 tickets a week – we get 2 messages a week saying thanks. And that helps us stop being sad and be awesome again

Why iPad’s just don’t work in Education.

I am not a Windows fanboy. I may have a new Nokia Lumia running Windows 8.1 as my new phone, Windows 10 on my laptop, just ordered nearly 400 Windows 8.1 tablets, and manage over 1200 windows devices – but I am not fan boy. 

I am a fan of technology that just works. Whatever it’s role or aim, if it works I am a fan. I am really a fan when it is a step ahead of my aims, and when I realise the software or hardware’s potential, it has the solutions already there to maximise that potential.

So it stands to reason that I love my iPad. I use it all the time. I think for home users with a bit of money, OSX is a great platform, and I think the Apple hardware is stunningly beautiful.

But lets be clear. They are useless devices for anything but 1-1 deployments, and that makes them useless for education.

Even in 1-1 deployments, they are poor, limited devices.

Lets focus on why they don’t work at enterprise level – and this is quite an easy point – it is incredibly difficult to manage settings, apps and policies on iPads.

No other hardware platform requires you to have actually been part of the team who coded the process to actually understand it and be able to do it (which is two different things, I understand what SHOULD happen, but I cannot actually get it to work)

Getting work off the iPads is almost as hard as getting apps on there. If the device is not yours you have to rely on webmail, or Home Access Plus or similar to send the stuff off – because its not your device, you cannot use the default mail client.

So, you point out to me (obviously I already know this…) iPads are 1-1 devices. Yes! Yes they are kind person. But they don’t have to be. And more people need to understand what they are, to stop pushing them to be something they are not.

Now I know there are apps and 3rd party solutions – Meraki, Lightspeed for example to manage iPads, aircatch and foldr for file management – but this is not the point. For a start, most school NM will agree when I say trying to get Meraki or LightSpeed to work through a proxy is nigh on impossible.

I have never met anyone who has done anything other then get ipads working at a basic level (deploy proxy settings, and deploy apps in some crappy work around way that is not what Apple think should be happening) .

They simply don’t have the time to dedicate to the faffing and learning required. So they may have got a company out, and even they don’t really know what they are doing on deployments on the scale of what most schools require.

What I HAVE knowledge on is (usually) ex-teachers who want to showcase what the iPad can do for a school, get them all fired up and ready to go, and then disappears. Because yes – they are fantastic 1-1 devices and that’s easy to show, but they know the deployment and management on the scale schools need is near impossible.

I have spent today trying to get our new filter (smoothwall) to play nicely with iPads. It work’s great on my windows devices, obviously, even on android ones too. But not iPads. And trying to redeploy new proxy settings to the iPads is apparently impossible.

There are reasons why companies such as Virgin Media, BT and others are deploying Windows Tablets to their staff all of a sudden. And a reason why I am so glad I didn’t blindly go and order 387 of them.

My windows test tablet picked up the same settings as the PCs, all I had to do was log off and on.

Yet still, we have 200 of these iPads, and we are continuing to use them – every teacher and TA has one, and we have clusters and trolleys around the place, they captured the mood of a quick device to use cameras and internet on with a good battery life. And we will keep them just for that, as soon as I have worked out how to get the proxy working.

In a way, we had to have iPads to convince us tablets were the way forward – but I can see their prominence as being the defacto education tablet falling sharply with Windows tablets, and in particular, Windows 10 tablets emerging.

The best places they are effective is staff and TA deployment – funnily enough – where they are 1-1 devices. They do engage pupils as they love the technology and use it at home, and some Apps can do some amazing things – but until Apple grasps what enterprise management is, I am firmly a Windows fan boy.