Durham University Business School recently completed a refurbishment programme to its primary site at Mill Hill Lane. This project required relocating Business School staff and students to a temporary location while significant rebuilding and refurbishment took place. A number of ‘enabling’ IT projects were implemented during the relocation programme to reduce risk and improve the quality of the IT provision.
One key challenge was the need to upgrade 450 desktop machines from Windows XP to Windows 7 within a limited timeframe. The goal was to deliver an upgraded, reliable and standardised desktop environment ready for use by staff and students upon completion of the refurbishment project.
Waterstons has been a technology partner of the Business School for over 10 years and as such project managed the IT stream of this work. Our team worked with the Business School to identify ways to improve desktop experience, minimise potential downtime, reduce the support burden on their IT team and help them to streamline the process for any future hardware replacements or software changes and updates. Having already undertaken similar projects for other educational establishments we were quickly able to put plans in place to deliver all their requirements and more.
Firstly, the team identified all software applications in use across the Business School and reviewed all the licensing arrangements and requirements to ensure compliance and to aid future record keeping. We then worked with the Business School’s IT Office to implement System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) to monitor and manage the machines and applications. Analysis identified the need for only five ‘standard’ builds, to meet the requirements of the whole Business School and enable a consistent desktop experience across the Business School. The Windows 7 x64 bit builds were categorised in one of the following ways:
- Generic build – a general suite of basic software
- Teaching and Research build – including software required by the student body
- Operations Staff build – including administrative software packages. A 32 bit build for Finance Operations staff was also delivered to enable compatibility with some legacy software applications.
- Hot Desks build – combination of both the Administrative and Academic software
- Multimedia build – a specific build to support Centre for Global Learning and Executive Education Department
We created a bespoke process for deployment to ensure that each member of staff had access to the applications and data they needed. A pre-build checklist was created for users to fill in to ensure that they knew the changes were happening, to ensure that they had copied/removed any local data, and to confirm the business critical applications they required to ensure nothing was missed or lost during the re-build.
A staged deployment plan was created in collaboration with Business School staff to ensure the deployment and upgrade occurred at a time convenient. After the new hardware and software had been rolled out to the end users, our team were on site ‘floorwalking’ to ensure that users were happy with their new machines, to answer any queries and to provide some basic training with the new operating system and applications. Any corrections were identified quickly and solved immediately.
The Business School’s investment in the standard builds facilitated through the System Center suite has delivered a resilient and reliable desktop experience, enabling them to operate more efficiently and increase productivity. The investment in this project has not only solved an immediate need but also enables:
- Standardisation and consolidation: the five standard builds will enable future rebuilding and imaging to be completed quickly in batches of up to 40, saving considerable time and money.
- Reducing total cost of ownership: these standard builds can be amended at any time and rolled out quickly and efficiently across the IT estate as required. Enabling patching, updates and vulnerabilities to be seamlessly managed.
- Effective maintenance and support: the streamlined builds have significantly reduced the amount of support time required to maintain the desktop machines.
- Future proofing: the investment in new technology can be used time and time again for updating new machines and software.
- Productivity improvements: the new build machines have faster processing power enabling users to work more efficiently and the standardisation enables academics and other staff to move between site locations with a seamless desktop experience.
- Risk reduction: a more robust PC management process in place to make desktop management more secure, streamlined and compliant, enabling the Business School to respond quickly to security vulnerabilities and essential maintenance patches.
- Compliance: the PC/application management software is also capable of reporting on machine specification and applications installed on each machine to assist with licencing queries and management moving forward.
Whilst undertaking the exercise we took the opportunity to find and resolve issues with some of the legacy applications which weren’t compatible with Windows 7 x64, sharing our knowledge of the ‘fixes’ with both the Business School and the University’s central IT team (CIS) for future needs. This knowledge share has provided a basis for any future upgrade to Windows 7 x64 for the whole of the University and those applications within the business school that remain on 32 bit. These improvements have enabled the delivery of a desktop environment with improved performance and supportability which will benefit staff and students for years to come.
The standardised desktop environment has continued to significantly reduce the support burden on the IT Office, whilst providing the foundation for a consistent and efficient ‘desktop management process'.Paudie Lynch DUBS IT Office Manager and Senior Consultant at Waterstons