School in a Box: White Paper


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The Coalition Government is committed to a programme of reform that will turn government on its head, including taking power away from Whitehall and putting it into the hands of schools and Heads, who will no longer be treated as passive recipients of centralised services. This liberation, along with a need to reduce costs, creates an opportunity for a new paradigm for the provision of ICT in schools; one which can take advantage of the cost savings possible through smart adoption of cloud-based technologies and which can “square the circle” of greater local autonomy combined with greater affordability.
This paper outlines the “School in a Box” model for the provision of secure, flexible, affordable and resilient technology for schools. We explain how this approach will deliver more effective choice for schools and we describe the financial and performance benefits it can deliver. We share existing implementations and include reflections from some of our partners and partner schools.

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School in a Box: White Paper

  1. 1. Microsoft EducationSchool in a BoxFlexible, scalable and affordabletechnology for schoolsMicrosoftJune 2011
  2. 2. School in a Box – ICT as a ServiceExecutive SummaryThe Coalition Government is committed to a programme of reform that will turn government on itshead, including taking power away from Whitehall and putting it into the hands of schools andHeads, who will no longer be treated as passive recipients of centralised services. This liberation,along with a need to reduce costs, creates an opportunity for a new paradigm for the provision ofICT in schools; one which can take advantage of the cost savings possible through smart adoption ofcloud-based technologies and which can “square the circle” of greater local autonomy combinedwith greater affordability.This paper outlines the “School in a Box” model for the provision of secure, flexible, affordable andresilient technology for schools. We explain how this approach will deliver more effective choice forschools and we describe the financial and performance benefits it can deliver. We share existingimplementations and include reflections from some of our partners and partner schools.The context for “School in a Box” thinkingEducation is not alone in needing to find efficient, effective and flexible ways for providing itsservices. The development of a standardised model for buildings, facilities and ICT has been used inother sectors, to establish new hotels, shops and office blocks, and has been adopted in educationinternationally, with new school programmes in the Middle East in particular. The concept chimeswith some of the recommendations of the James review of capital funding, and will allow for theprovisioning of new schools quickly and efficiently, in a new building, a repurposed building orthrough refurbishment of an existing school.“School in a Box” thinking capitalises on the broader technology trend to the “Cloud”. The use ofCloud computing in Education gives significant opportunities to deliver ICT in a new way; as aService. This approach not only enables significant cost-savings, it can also give teachers and pupils aricher experience both in and out of school, across a range of devices. These ICT services are usuallypaid for with revenue budgets, as monthly or annual subscriptions. Cloud services are delivered overthe internet and can be used on a variety of devices, from desktops and laptops, to phones, slatesand even TV. Some applications could be delivered by “Public Cloud” infrastructure – such as emailor collaboration tools, and some applications could delivered by “Private Cloud” infrastructure –such as MIS data or exam results.By mixing public and private Cloud services, schools have the opportunity to acquire the rich toolsand experiences they need for their teachers and students with a significantly lower cost ofacquisition, implementation and management than current models of provision. 1
  3. 3. School in a Box – ICT as a Service An outline of our “School in a Box” model Working with some of the 25,000 or so schools in the UK, we see that every school has individual needs and ideas, based on its geographical location, the demographics of their area and the ethos and values of the school leadership team, along with a host of other factors. However, in terms of their technology requirements, we find there is a common set of functionalities and services which all schools need. 1 Summary of the ICT infrastructure required in a “typical” school: Curriculum Software (SaaS) Curriculum Software (local) Audio Visual Smart Buildings Subject specific, Web Application Virtualisation, Varied Digital Signage, Whiteboards, Cashless Catering, Pull Printing, Subscriptions, SSO facilities, Deployment Methods, Fat Client Projectors, TV, CCTV, Sound, Registration, Access Control, Application Streaming Options, Legacy titles Streaming Media Lockers80% Software as a Service (Microsoft & Partners) Office, MIS, Finance, HR, Email, Communication, Collaboration, Library, Website Standardisation Infrastructure as a Service (Partners) Servers (virtual/physical), Active Directory, Identity, Desktop Operating System (virtual/physical), File Storage, Backup, Application Deployment, Desktop Management & Patching, Print (local) Broadband Service (ISP) Internet connectivity, web filtering, firewall, caching, QoS Physical Infrastructure (Local install) Power (inc PoE), Cabling, Switches, Wireless, Router, Desktops, Laptops, Printers, Phones, Slates, Classroom Peripherals In education, the natural contenders for cloud services are those characterised in the diagram above as “Software as a Service” and as “Infrastructure as a Service” and these are two of the three main “flavours” of cloud computing which will play a part in delivering School in a Box: Software as a Service (SaaS): this describes the delivery of a “finished” piece of software that is consumed by the end user over the internet. For example; Hotmail for email. It requires no local software to be installed on the device Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): this describes the ability to replace all or some of the physical ICT infrastructure from a school and to move it to a centrally hosted data centre. For example, instead of hosting a server at school for backup, schools can “rent” a backup server from a supplier, who backs up their data for them over the internet. 1 The key paradox is that most UK schools tackle achieving this common set of functionalities and services in their own unique way, with all of the attendant costs. In the current economic environment this is not sustainable and School in a Box sets out to provide a means of schools having choice and flexibility whilst achieving Value for Money through economies of scale. 2
  4. 4. School in a Box – ICT as a ServicePlatform as a Service (PaaS): this describes a large online platform for companies to develop andbuild their software and applications. For example, a company can develop new software on theMicrosoft Azure service without the need to buy and manage a set of servers. This makes it cheaperand easier for companies to build innovative solutions for schools, which can then be delivered overthe internet (as Software as a Service). PaaS is designed for use by software companies, rather thanby schools – except for those wishing to use it as part of an advanced ICT curriculum.Having the Cloud at the heart of the School in a Box model for the provision of ICT will allow schoolsto choose and access the services they need without necessarily owning and operating theinfrastructure behind the service. An analogy would be the provision of power. No school wouldconsider running its own power station but nearly all are doing exactly that in respect of ICT; mostschools own, manage, run and develop their own ICT services.Technologies are now available that allow a rich set of applications and tools to be delivered asservices from the Cloud with great economies of scale. Schools will increasingly have a choice as towhether they deliver their ICT from within the school with all that entails, or whether to procuresome or all their ICT from an external Cloud service provider. The latter choice will give schoolssignificant cost savings as they reduce or eliminate the need for the servers, server rooms, software,maintenance, power and air-conditioning. On premise delivery can be replaced by low cost (or forsome services, no cost) web based alternatives where the service provider is achieving economies ofscale across 100’s if not 1000’s of schools. It also frees school staff time to concentrate on the coreaims of teaching and learning or on areas of ICT where the school has particular requirements thatare not met by industry service offerings.The switch to a School in a Box concept for the provision of technology will allow more efficient andeffective use of school funding, and the following key benefits in particular:  Lower costs for acquisition and management  Scalability and flexibility  More dependable security  Greater resilienceBy combining SaaS and IaaS, schools could minimise their reliance on physical server hardwarerunning on their premises, and move to a model of accessing remotely hosted applications. Theseapplications do not all need to come from the same vendor, but could be delivered from variouslocations depending on what the application is and which best meet schools’ needs.Schools also have the flexibility to move at their own pace. Most of our server technologies areavailable as both on-premise and cloud based offerings and we see many schools initially triallingCloud services in such areas as student email.The School in a Box concept is a model, not a product. The model encourages multiple differentproviders to establish services and offerings which can be delivered in new ways. Schools will find iteasier to switch between providers and commission new services, and the industry will benefit fromthe economies associated with a more standardised delivery method. Many schools don’t haveextensive ICT expertise in-house, so the opportunity for them to focus on good teaching and schoolmanagement rather than on local management of ICT is a key benefit. 3
  5. 5. School in a Box – ICT as a ServiceThe ICT industry needs to work with different groups of Schools to understand what is mostimportant to them when it comes to ICT provision. There is likely to be a mix of Cloud services and“on premise” services in the coming years, while ICT decision makers grow confidence in hostedservices and perhaps accept compromise or change in the software they have used historically. It isvital that the industry still offers choice, about how and when to move to the Cloud. With budgetsbeing lower and not ring-fenced for ICT, Head Teachers will have to evaluate which software andsystems they need in-house and which they can find low cost, online alternatives for. Microsoft willoffer the same software in the cloud and on premise so moving or migrating between the twodifferent environments will be easier.Some early examples of our School in a Box modelThe proposals above create the opportunity for radical changes in the way technology is provisionedin schools. The School in a Box model will allow schools to embrace the forward march oftechnology affecting all industries and will deliver safer, cheaper, more flexible services for allschools over time. This approach is already being adopted in certain situations and is providing goodearly evidence of the effectiveness and value for money which can be achieved, for example:A Free School – being set up in temporary accommodation and growing, year on year. From thevery outset, West London Free School has had an ICT strategy based on minimising in-school ICTequipment; partly because the school will be house in temporary accommodation for the first yearat least. Basing their provision on ICT as a Service has allowed them to plan for scaling up, easily, asadditional year groups of 120 join the school each year. Toby Young of West London Free School hassaid: “Starting a Free School means that you have to do things differently. We will start small andgrow one year group at a time so our IT systems have to be planned and purchased differently tothose of a traditional school. We believe that using more Cloud-based technology will make it easierfor us to scale up as numbers grow, and because we’re in a temporary building to begin with, theless kit we have to ship in and install, the better. The IT as a Service model should save us money andhopefully make IT just like any other utility – when we need more, we’ll just turn the tap, and pay abit more.A federation of schools – where a unified approach is delivering significant savings. The HarrisFederation of Academies in South London is building a single infrastructure to serve all nine existingAcademies and the planned additions to the Federation. They will achieve economies of scale, toprofessionalise ICT support and to deliver ICT service levels that none of the schools could achieveon their own. James Penny (ICT Group IT Director, Harris Federation) commented: “The HarrisFederation provides high quality centralised IT services to all of our Academies, meaning they canget on with the important job of raising standards and delivering a world class Educationalexperience to some of the most challenging areas in London.” 4
  6. 6. School in a Box – ICT as a ServiceSome of the leading ICT suppliers are keen on the School in a Box model too: Mark Simes, Directorof Business Development at European Electronique, confirmed recently that they, too, are looking atnew models for providing greater flexibility and affordability in the ICT services they deliver toschools. He said: “ICT as a service presents a real opportunity for schools to improve Value forMoney and to free up staff to concentrate on the core mission of raising standards of teaching andlearning.”What are the “conditions for success” for School in a Box thinking?The potential advantages of the School in a Box thinking are clear: it can make a huge contribution torealising the savings required from the sector over time and harnessing cloud technologies couldhelp the UK sector to climb back up the international comparison tables. Much of “heavy lifting”to transition UK schools to a more flexible, scalable and affordable model for the provision oftechnology can be done by the commercial players in the sector. But there are some “conditions forsuccess” which we are pleased to see are already part of the Department’s proposed work strands.For example:School Leadership should be educated on the opportunity that ICT as a service presents to improvevalue for money and to afford rich tools and experiences for teaching and learning anytimeanywhere and on any device. As with any transition, there are obstacles that we need to assist head-teachers to deal with. For example, teacher attachment to legacy applications is often an inhibitor toICT as a service because such applications tend not to be deliverable from outside school. Head-teachers need help to understand the economics of this and the options to work around suchobstacles.Broadband reliability and speed become crucially important in the ICT as a service model and thisputs a great emphasis on the Department’s proposed value for money and market review of schoolbroadband.Industry partners need encouragement to invest in service offerings and consider new businessmodels to support this alternative provision of ICT if UK schools are to take full advantage of theopportunities technology can provide. Infrastructure as a Service is probably the least mature area inthe context of education. This is not an area for which Microsoft currently has offerings, but we areready to work with our partners on their solutions. These partners will need to build conviction inthis direction of travel in order to invest. 5
  7. 7. School in a Box – ICT as a ServiceIn conclusionSustained investment in ICT over successive governments has placed UK schools at the forefrontglobally in the use of technology in teaching and learning. For some time to come such levels ofinvestment (particularly capital) will not be available to most schools. If ICT in teaching and learningis to move forward , schools have to find better ways of providing rich technology experiences fortheir students and staff. The consumerisation of ICT is rapidly improving ICT in most homes and itwill be challenging for schools to keep up.Microsoft agrees with many schools and parents that “technology matters”. Good technology,associated with excellent practice, supports innovative teaching, enhances communication withparents and enables effective management across the school. This short paper should be the startof a conversation between the sector and industry – rather than an end in itself. We believe that ashift towards more service oriented models of ICT delivery that take advantage of the enormousscale of Cloud computing can help UK schools stay at the forefront, giving our young people a greatexperience in school and enabling them to compete in a global economy.Microsoft EducationJune 2011 6