Bicester Community College

Company: Point To Point / CitrixCustomer: Bicester Community CollegeSubmitted by: Eclat MarketingWhen Bicester Community College embarked on a quest to gain ‘Technical College Status’, trying to obtain the best value for money and the best IT expertise while fulfilling teaching and budgetary requirements proved a difficult balancing act. Independent network and services specialist, Point to Point proved to be ideal partners in the implementation of the chosen Thin Client system.Bicester Community College was originally formed in the 60s from the amalgamation of a local grammar and a secondary school.

Situated on a single campus of approximately 10 acres, it has between 1,100-1,200 students, which through the definition of a community college means they are aged between 11 to 18.Five years ago Bicester Community College (BCC) decided to apply for Technical College Status, which would enhance its attraction to students and allow the college to develop its technology curriculum – an important consideration in today’s IT-centric world. The process involved raising £100,000 in sponsorship from the local community, which would be matched by the government, who would then provide ongoing financial support for the next three years.”We focused our submission on improving the technology facilities in four departments and the money would be spent on upgrading equipment, developing curriculum activities and training staff,” said Terry Taylor, Systems Manager for BCC. “Another reason to upgrade was that students had to gain experience on systems they would meet out in the workplace and our existing DOS system was fast becoming out of date.”Out of the budget, only £50,000 was available for hardware so it was decided to upgrade four network rooms.

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Initial plans involved providing approximately 70 class stations plus a few open access machines for private study with the four departments chosen being Maths, Design Technology, Science and Information Communications Technology (ICT). Other needs included moving from Win 3.1 to Win 95 and upgrading the college’s administration and curriculum system to Thin Client.

Citrix Thin Client – the way ahead

BCC had already decided that a Thin Client solution, was the way forward, and had been discussing this with a number of suppliers including Point to Point, before finally deciding on Citrix MetaFrame sofware. Following a couple of meetings and presentations, Taylor was sufficiently impressed with the quality of Point to Point’s staff and their depth of knowledge, that when the project got the go-ahead, the decision to proceed with the company was simple.”As well as an impressive depth of knowledge with Thin Client systems, a major factor in the selection of Point to Point was the fact that it was a Citrix Gold Partner,” said Taylor.

“Prior to the decision, we had experimented with Microsoft Terminal Server and other suppliers, but none could match the knowledge of Point to Point or performance that Citrix delivers to the desktop.”

Ideal for education

Taylor had a number of good reasons to select a Thin Client. In a college environment there are a number of issues which Thin Client systems address very well. These are the ability to manage the system centrally; the ease of setting up a client on a desktop; the speed of replacing a faulty thin client; the ease of networking and configuration; and particularly the ability to provide centralised help through the ‘shadowing’ capabilities of Citrix.

“Shadowing is a useful feature in education as it allows an administrator to select a user from the network, and view their screen,” said Taylor. “If needed, the administrator can work remotely on screen with that user, which as well as helping students with course work, it also helps BCC to monitor what students are doing on unsupervised open access machines. As a result, things like abuse of resources such as online gaming or surfing for porn may be monitored and therefore controlled very easily.”Another advantage is the remote access capabilities which means students can work from home after configuring the Citrix client on their home PC to run session via the college’s Internet servers. This is still a relatively new development in education practices and could have far reaching effects for students, while developing wider catchment areas for colleges.

Supplement in-house skills

Once initiated, the roll out was completed in two months with Taylor and his team of three implementing the system, and Point to Point supplying support when needed.

“BCC has strong in-house IT skills and we tend to buy the hard and software, and do as much implementation as we can,” said Taylor. “We then just need a support contract in place to overcome particular issues we cannot handle, and Point to Point provides the right service at the right price. Another useful thing about Citrix is that if we have a problem we can troubleshoot and learn by shadowing Point to Point technicians over the network.

Unexpected systems and education issues

As a learning process the implementation revealed some interesting issues. Most of the stations at BCC are low end Pentiums with some reconditioned 486s. In education there is a requirement for some multimedia functions and this is not fully catered for by a Thin Client system with totally dumb terminals.

By using low performance PCs you get the best of both worlds by running the machine as either a PC, or as a Thin Client, and supplying the performance from the servers. Strategy like this typically offers a huge saving in costs.Furthermore, with hindsight BCC are now installing hard drives into the remaining dumb thin client terminals (previously DOS clients) so they boot automatically after a systems shut down. This removes the need for an administrator to visit each client with a boot disk, and provides another saving in the shape of administration time.As well as the reboot issue, Taylor discovered another, more education-specific issue.

“We found that students have moved from text book-based learning to Internet-based learning, as they research on the Web and feel the need to print the web pages out in hard copy,” said Taylor. “The numerous and often heavy print demands were slowing down the network and we had to look at a fibre backbone and Category 5 switches to solve the problem.”

Delighted with the results

Bicester Community College was one of the first Technical Colleges to follow the Thin Client route and currently has 100 clients with the intention to increase this to 150 in the near future. It is now in the process of upgrading its central servers to four Dell Quad processor systems, at which point it will move to Windows 2000.

When asked how he feels the project is running Taylor is delighted with the results. “We chose Thin Client because we wanted to develop a new system which was appropriate for education,” he said. “The alternative was to go for a standard solution using expensive PCs, which would be two to three times the cost. The Thin Client rationale of having the power at the server also gives a desktop machine a longer life as these days any PC is out of date speed-wise in less than 12 months. This way we can upgrade performance centrally and more cost-effectively – which is a huge issue with the limited budgets we have.

“He concluded, “In my opinion Citrix MetaFrame is one of the best solutions around and one that sits well with the unique demands of the college. I have been delighted with the advice and support from Point to Point, and I look forward to a long and successful relationship with them as we expand our Thin Client capabilities.”