The Australian Government’s Digital Education Revolution program is funding increased student access to computing devices. The New South Wales Department of Education and Training is providing a netbook computer to each student in year 9–12, and their teachers, in the state—a total of 267,000 computers over three years. The Department needed a reliable, automated way to deploy and manage the computers that run the Windows 7 Enterprise operating system. It selected Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 SP2 to build and deploy the master software image and to manage and refresh computers. The Department deployed 83,000 netbooks in six months and is continuing deployment at a rate of up to 7,500 computers a week. Its management infrastructure is quite lean, and it has full asset reporting on all its netbooks to better comply with educational regulations.
The New South Wales Department of Education and Training runs more than 2,200 public schools in Australia’s most populous state. It prides itself on providing a high-quality, internationally competitive education to more than 735,000 school-aged students, and 500,000 adults in continuing education, across New South Wales.
Deploying 267,000 Netbook Computers
||With the efficiencies provided by System Center Configuration Manager, we’ve been able to deploy up to 7,500 netbook computers a week.
Chief Information Officer, New South Wales Department of Education and Training
In early 2009, under the Australian Government’s Digital Education Revolution, the New South Wales Department of Education and Training decided to equip each of the state’s 463 high schools with wireless networks and give high-school students and teachers a netbook computer—267,000 in all, by 2012. “We want to afford our students the opportunity to discover, create content, collaborate, and learn in an environment that will also prepare them for the workforce,” says Stephen Wilson, Chief Information Officer for the New South Wales Department of Education and Training.
The Department managed an existing fleet of more than 197,000 computers, and increasing that number by an additional 267,000 computers distributed across 310,000 square miles and 463 high schools represented a significant amount of work. Gavin Drew, Manager of the Distributed Management Infrastructure Group within the Department of Education and Training, was charged with carrying out the deployment in a timely way. “We were under pressure due to the desire to get the solution to students and teachers without delay, the level of visibility, and the technology being new to us,” he confesses.
The Department needed to define a configuration and distribution strategy and have the first 10,000 netbooks distributed to teachers by June 2009 so that they could familiarize themselves with the new computers before the following school term began.
Two-Step Operating System Deployment
Even though the Windows 7 operating system had not yet been released in mid-2009, it was on the horizon, and the Department of Education and Training felt it would be a lost opportunity to deploy an older version of Windows. The Department also felt that Windows 7 would be ideal for netbook computers because of its great performance on small form-factor computers, power management features that extend battery life, and security improvements that would help prevent students from running unauthorized software.
Deploying the first 10,000 systems by June 2009, however, meant that the teachers would be receiving Windows 7 Release Candidate, which would then need to be refreshed to the Release to Manufacturing (RTM) version a few months later.
The team decided to implement a two-stage operating system deployment process. “We were a very small team without the resources to touch 10,000 computers once they were already in the field,” Drew says.
The New South Wales Department of Education and Training decided that Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 SP2 was the solution that would best meet its requirements. The Department had a Microsoft Enterprise Client Access License Suite agreement that made attaining a license for System Center Configuration Manager very attractive.
“Since we were going with Windows 7 Enterprise, it made sense to use the management tool designed to support it,” Drew says.
Netbook Management Infrastructure
In mid-2009, the Department established a core management infrastructure comprised of four primary servers running System Center Configuration Manager 2007 SP2 in Sydney that link to 463 secondary servers, one in each high school.
The secondary servers running System Center Configuration Manager are configured as virtual machines which run under the Windows Server 2008 R2 operating system with Hyper-V virtualization technology.
In addition to hosting the secondary servers running System Center Configuration Manager, the physical host server in each high school contains additional virtual machines that serve as domain controller, authentication server, and file-and-print servers.
In the Sydney data center, the four primary management servers are virtual machines that run alongside:
- Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007, used to monitor the secondary management servers.
- Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008, used to provision and manage all the Hyper-V virtual machines in Sydney and in the high schools.
- Microsoft Forefront Client Security, which provides antivirus and malicious software protection for the physical servers and virtual machines at all the schools.
- Microsoft SQL Server 2008 data management software, used to store and report netbook asset information.
- Active Directory Domain Services authentication credentials.
Automated Software Deployment
The team used System Center Configuration Manager to build the complete software image (operating system plus applications) used by Lenovo, the selected netbook manufacturer. When a teacher or student turns on their netbook computer and enters their user credentials, the configuration routine automatically connects to the wireless network; identifies the school in which it is operating; loads the appropriate high-school home page; understands whether the computer belongs to a teacher or a student and enables the appropriate software; and sets the operating system security settings accordingly.
||The infrastructure needed to manage 267,000 devices is very small, just 21 blade servers in one and a half racks…. That’s pretty impressive.
Manager, Distributed Management Infrastructure Group,
New South Wales Department of Education and Training
When Windows 7 RTM became available, the Department, in conjunction with the school technical support officers, used System Center Configuration Manager to set up a process to refresh the first 10,000 computers already in the field.
After the operating system is refreshed, System Center Configuration Manager captures the updated asset information and sends it back to the data warehouse. The operating system refresh takes about 2.5 hours for each computer but varies between schools depending on their local area network bandwidth and workload.
All netbook computers deployed after October 2009 were deployed with the updated Windows 7 RTM image installed at the factory. In total, the Department has deployed 83,000 netbook computers using System Center Configuration Manager, and it is rolling out computers at a rate of up to 7,500 a week to students. The Department plans to have all 267,000 computers deployed by 2012.
By choosing System Center Configuration Manager 2007 SP2 as the core of its netbook management infrastructure, the New South Wales Department of Education and Training was able to carry out a massive deployment of new netbook computers running Windows 7 on a very tight timeline. The Department believes that the use of System Center Configuration Manager has minimized the level of infrastructure required to manage the Digital Education Revolution netbook fleet. Plus, it will have centralized control of the 267,000 netbook computers to better comply with student-safety regulations and to simplify software updates and asset management.
Rapid Deployment of Thousands of Computers
The Department has been able to quickly and efficiently deploy a massive fleet of netbook computers—83,000 in the first six months—with only two staff members needed to centrally manage the System Center Configuration Manager infrastructure.
Windows 7 Enterprise and System Center Configuration Manager 2007 SP2 have made the deployment of Windows 7 faster than deployments of Windows XP. “With the efficiencies provided by System Center Configuration Manager, we’ve been able to deploy up to 7,500 netbook computers a week,” Wilson says. “The image-build process is faster in Windows 7, and the automated user-initiated commissioning process enhances self-help and, in turn, reduces IT staff time. With the efficiencies provided by System Center Configuration Manager, we were able to meet our deadlines of designing a configuration strategy in two months and deploying the first 10,000 computers in six months. None of this would have been possible without System Center Configuration Manager.”
Lean Management Infrastructure
The hardware infrastructure needed to support deployment and management of the new netbook infrastructure is also quite lean. “The infrastructure needed to manage 267,000 devices is very small, just 21 blade servers in one and a half racks, plus the storage area network,” Drew says. “That’s pretty impressive.”
This infrastructure does much more than just deploy software. It also runs other System Center, database, and security programs. The infrastructure is capable of scaling to handle 300,000 client connections, and by taking advantage of the Active Directory infrastructure, the Department maintains the ability to standardize and manage the fleet as one.
Better Asset Visibility
By using the asset management and reporting features of System Center Configuration Manager, the Department of Education and Training also has much better visibility into its netbook computer holdings. “With the ability to centrally manage all our computers, we can create management reports that give us visibility into both hardware and software,” Wilson says. “This helps us keep computers compliant with licensing terms and also with regulations that govern computers in educational environments.”
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