4-page Case Study
Posted: 4/24/2012
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The Schools Network Gaining Greater Messaging Resiliency and Flexibility at a Lower Cost

When The Schools Network was looking for opportunities to streamline operations and lower costs, its aging email infrastructure was a natural candidate for change. IT personnel were routinely spending two or more days each month managing, maintaining, or repairing the infrastructure. Users were often unable to connect to the infrastructure while traveling. The hardware sometimes failed, cutting off hundreds of email users in locations as far afield as Abu Dhabi and China. To overcome all these shortcomings, The Schools Network turned to Microsoft® and Microsoft Gold Partner Perspicuity. Perspicuity showed The Schools Network how the cloud-based Microsoft Office 365 for education service could help it reduce IT costs and ensure easy access from anywhere, all the while providing an email infrastructure with greater availability and resilience than it had before.

Situation

The Schools Network—formerly known as the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust—is in the business of transforming education around the world. Over the past 25 years, this London-based, not-for-profit organization has built a world-class network of innovative, high-performing schools and academies in partnership with business and the wider community. It works with a long list of academies in the United Kingdom and nearly 80 percent of state-funded schools. It also works with international schools in China and Abu Dhabi. The outcome? Better teachers, better student achievement scores, and students better prepared to make a difference in the future.

There was a point, though, where it seemed unclear how The Schools Network was going to continue on the trajectory that its previous successes had laid out. Changes to government policy meant less income was generated from grant-funded projects and The Schools Network needed to be more commercially focused. It needed to find new ways to work effectively, streamline processes, and cut costs—all without cutting into the programs that were leading to better outcomes for so many schools and students.

As they looked for ways to reduce costs and operate more efficiently, leaders at The Schools Network had to confront the challenge posed by the organization's technology infrastructure. Over the course of its 25-year existence, the organization's entire infrastructure had grown and expanded in a manner that was more spontaneous and organic than planned and cultivated.

The email infrastructure in particular was a challenge to maintain. The organization relied on email servers that were several years old. Virtual private network (VPN) technology enabled travelling employees to access email securely, but often only after a call to the service desk for help.

Add to this a propensity for the infrastructure to break, leaving some 500 users around the world with no way to communicate easily, and it becomes clear why leaders at The Schools Network began to realize that a cloud-based messaging solution, managed and maintained by an external partner, might offer a compelling and cost-effective alternative to the solution they had.

The key question was which online messaging solution would be best for The Schools Network.

Solution

The Schools Network examined cloud-based messaging solutions from Microsoft as well as several other vendors. Each had advantages, but key stakeholders at The Schools Network soon determined the Microsoft Office 365 for education offering would be best suited to its needs. Not only did Office 365 for education provide the key features and functionality that the organization needed to support its employees both in the United Kingdom and abroad, but Office 365 for education would interact with Microsoft Office Outlook 2010, the email client with users were already familiar.

Microsoft Office 365 for education combines the familiar Microsoft Office desktop suite with online versions of next-generation Microsoft communications and collaboration services, including:

  • Microsoft Exchange Online for email, shared calendars, and shared address books
  • Microsoft Lync® Online for instant messaging and online video conferencing
  • Microsoft Office Web Apps for online access to Microsoft Office files
  • Microsoft SharePoint® Online for collaboration and resource sharing

These applications run in data centers owned and operated by Microsoft, and Microsoft maintains the servers and the software on a day-to-day basis. Moreover, because Microsoft keeps the Office 365 for education software up-to-date on the back end, users are always working with the latest software releases–without the local IT team having to oversee server migrations and upgrades.

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* We would have had to invest thousands to have ensured the level of uptime and support that Office 365 for education provides as a standard service. *

Julian Elve
Head of Information Services, The Schools Network

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Transitioning with Perspicuity

The Schools Network had already been working with Perspicuity, a Microsoft Network Gold Partner based in London, to migrate portions of its web infrastructure to Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010. Perspicuity also provides Office 365 services, so it made perfect sense to leaders at The Schools Network to engage Perspicuity to facilitate the migration to Office 365 for education.

Working together, the IT teams from The Schools Network and Perspicuity rolled out a pilot deployment of Office 365 for education in the autumn of 2011. After several weeks of putting the solution through its paces, leaders at The Schools Network approved the solution for broader deployment. New mailboxes were then created in Office 365 for nearly 300 users, and, over a weekend when users were offline, The Schools Network moved its users over to the new Office 365-based email solution. The next Monday morning, each of these users was up and running on Office 365.

Benefits

The Schools Network needed to streamline its infrastructure, reduce operating expenses, and improve the availability of email—and it accomplished all these goals by migrating to Office 365 for education. At the same time, user familiarity with the Outlook interface made transitioning to the new mail system virtually transparent to users. The main difference they noticed? Better availability and responsiveness.

Streamlining the infrastructure reduces IT overhead

With Office 365, the organization's email infrastructure no longer resides in data center facilities maintained by The Schools Network. Instead, the infrastructure resides in facilities owned and operated by Microsoft. This has lifted the twin burdens of infrastructure administration and maintenance from the shoulders of the IT team at The Schools Network.

"When we projected the savings we'd gain from using Office 365 for education, we projected freeing up two days of IT personnel time per month just from not having to manage email servers," says Julian Elve, Head of Information Services, The Schools Network. "I suspect we're going to find that we've saved much more than that. Email just runs itself now."

With the time that has been freed up, the IT team can now focus on activities of more strategic importance to The Schools Network.

Reducing expenses

Moving to Office 365 also helped The Schools Network reduce its expenses and avoid thousands of pounds of capital expenditures. Because Office 365 for education is available on a subscription basis, there are no upfront server and licensing costs. That alone saved The Schools Network more than £34,000. Moreover, the subscription fee paid for access to Office 365 for education includes a level of service and support that The Schools Network simply could not have afforded on its own.

"We would have had to invest thousands to have ensured the level of uptime and support that Office 365 for education provides as a standard service," says Mr. Elve. "There was never a question of us matching that level of support ourselves. There was simply no budget to do that."

Improved availability

With the email infrastructure now residing in the cloud, personnel from The Schools Network can access email at any time, from anywhere, without difficulty. Users from the United Kingdom to Abu Dhabi to China are supported by a robust service with 99.9 percent guaranteed uptime, ensuring a positive and consistent experience.

Moreover, the security and reliability Office 365 offers through regional datacenters delivers a level of protection not necessarily attainable from an in-house installation.

"We now have a resilient infrastructure," says Mr. Elve. "If we lost our data center, our email still keeps working."

Looking forward

As for the future? The experience with Office 365 for education is turning Mr. Elve's attention to other opportunities enabled by the cloud.

"Are there ways we can use the cloud to provide better support and services to our members? Quite possibly. We're looking at that very carefully.”

Microsoft Office 365 for Education

Microsoft Office 365 for education brings together cloud versions of our most trusted communications and collaboration products—Microsoft SharePoint Online, Exchange Online, and Lync Online—with the latest version of our Office desktop suite and companion web applications for businesses of all sizes.

Office 365 for education helps save time and money, and it frees up valued resources. Simple to use and easy to administer, it is financially backed by a service level agreement guaranteeing 99 percent reliability. Office 365 features robust security, IT-level phone support, geo-redundancy, disaster recovery, and the business-class privacy controls and standards that you expect from a world-class service provider.

For more information about Microsoft Office 365, go to: www.office365.com

For More Information

For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (877) 568-2495. Customers in the United States and Canada who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can reach Microsoft text telephone (TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to:www.microsoft.com

For more information about Perspicuity products and services, visit the Web site at:www.perspicuity.co.uk

For more information about The Schools Network products and services, visit the Web site at:www.theschoolsnetwork.org.uk

This case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.
Solution Overview



Organization Size: 1000 employees

Organization Profile

The Schools Network—formerly the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust—is an independent, international, not-for-profit membership organization that works with schools and partners to shape a world class education system.


Business Situation

The Schools Network wanted to streamline and consolidate its IT infrastructure. Wherever possible, it wanted to lower costs and increase efficiency without compromising service delivery.


Solution

Microsoft Office 365 enabled The Schools Network to upgrade its communications infrastructure while simultaneously reducing its costs and IT resource requirements-without abandoning the familiar world of Microsoft Office Outlook® as an email client.


Benefits
  • No capital outlay for upgrade
  • No learning curve for users
  • Improved accessibility
  • Improved availability

Software and Services
Microsoft Office 365

Vertical Industries
Primary & Secondary Edu/ K-12

Country/Region
United Kingdom

Languages
English

Partner(s)
Perspicuity

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