How one school’s simple hardware upgrade helped improve its entire IT infrastructure

educationEven the simplest IT environments can harbor complex challenges. And for some organizations, one simple fix only uncovers a new need. A public charter school in Washington, D.C. had exactly that kind of environment.

The school has a fairly simple IT environment to support its more than 320 students from grades 6 to 12. An HP shop, it had two servers and a SAN, and virtualization through VMware.

Upgrading that environment by replacing a few components seemed simple on the surface, but some network constraints and unexpected challenges made the job a search-and-rescue operation of installations and fixes. These challenges were more than the IT department could handle in house with a school of students, teachers, and staff to keep up and running.

A seemingly easy hardware upgrade? Maybe not.

With a few hardware components approaching end-of-life, the school aimed to expand its processing capability by adding two next generation (Gen9) servers to its environment and decommissioning one of the older (Gen5) servers, increasing the number of production servers from two to three. It also needed to replace its one storage array, an HP MSA 2212. The school was satisfied with its HP hardware, and budgeted to replace its soon-to-be-obsolete server and storage unit with the newest models.

Of course, a storage replacement would also entail some data migration, which posed a challenge. Nearly every school-related IT task, from email to VoIP to management applications to students’ personal information, was stored and run on this simple architecture. Any downtime, as a result of the migration, had to occur during non-school hours or weekends, or threatened to effectively shut down teaching for a school day.

But the school’s IT department was lean, and needed a helping hand in installing the servers and storage, and migrating the data, without disrupting teachers and students and while attending to the day-to-day IT workload. What the school needed was a plan, and an expert that could help carry it out.

Solving one problem, followed by solving a few more

The school purchased the new hardware through SHI, which had provided virtualization software support for the past year and a half.

And although it was only increasing its net server capacity by one, the school’s IT department needed help to install and configure the new hardware, two HP DL360 Gen9 servers and one HP MSA 2040 array, while also providing in-classroom support to students and staff. SHI’s technical expertise would mean the new hardware was installed quickly and properly.

But when it started replacing the hardware, the IT team and SHI saw this was a bigger job than anticipated. Working together, the parties were able to rack, cable, and initialize the hardware without a hiccup, but as they did so, they discovered that the school’s VMware needed proper configuration and was behind in the upgrade cycle. It was another wrinkle to the project, but one that could be solved by cleaning up improperly defined rules within VMware, in addition to upgrading the software to version 6.0.

Still, the biggest part of this hardware upgrade was yet to come – data migration. Transferring the data to the new MSA wasn’t the most complex job, but it needed to be carefully executed to minimize work disruptions. SHI’s experts teamed up with the school’s IT team to take the system down during night and weekend hours to complete the migration, which redistributed 19 VMware virtual machines and migrated approximately 3 terabytes of data.

But while they were at it, they discovered another issue that needed to be fixed – two storage network switches needed proper configuration. Finding the right tools and establishing the right credentials took time and expertise to sort through, even for a relatively simple task like this one. Finally, the school’s data migration was completed, its minor problems patched up, and its network enhanced.

The slow and steady approach to a set of problems

The school’s hardware upgrade wasn’t as simple as plug in and go – it learned its network switches could be better utilized and its virtualization needed a proper configuration. Its data migration had to avoid disrupting students learning in the classroom.

The school’s hardware upgrade ballooned into a bigger project that, once carried out, improved the IT setup of the entire school through new storage and enhanced virtualization. But in a busy IT environment central to the school’s operation, an expert’s help not only accelerated the project, but set the entire IT house in order.

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Remember these 3 things about Single Sign-On portals

sign onPasswords are our keys to nearly every digital door. No matter where we go, there’s a prompt for a password from websites, software, and company programs.

But what happens when an employee leaves the company? Oftentimes, not much. And the passwords we use for each different system often are changed on regular but inconsistent schedules. Because Single Sign-On (SSO) portals are still unknown to many IT directors, it’s rare to find a company where IT manages passwords and other credentials, and that can be a problem. In a worst case scenario it could lead to data breaches should a former employee retain credentialed access to important company information. Continue Reading…

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Technology in the classroom, part 3: Making your new initiatives work

digtal learningThe best teacher you ever had didn’t simply read the textbook better than the teacher in the next classroom. Great educators use out-of-the-box methods and subtle strategies to teach students — without the class even realizing it.

A mature technology plan, developed by a school’s IT staff, will include goals for devices, software, security, and back-end support. The technology used in the classroom may be static from one year to the next, but a strong technology plan that encompasses multiple school years will give teachers and students the resources to succeed every year. Continue Reading…

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What Microsoft’s per core licensing policy for Windows Server and System Center 2016 means to you

whats newMicrosoft recently announced details on the upcoming release of Windows Server 2016 and System Center 2016, anticipated in Q3 2016. This announcement provides insights into some of the significant changes slated to occur to the Windows 2012 R2 licensing model.

Let’s review these changes, and examine the impact the new licensing agreements may have on your organization. Continue Reading…

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Follow these 6 truths to unleash your ITAM program

chainLost laptops. Unused software licenses. Ghost assets. For too many organizations, these IT failures are really a failure of IT asset management (ITAM). In these companies, hardware and software tracking is too challenging a goal, or one that gets bumped down the pecking order every year.

Here’s the truth: It doesn’t have to be this way. Over the past 20 years, we’ve learned that ITAM must be implemented in every organization, no matter how large or small. And along the way, we’ve uncovered six truths about the most successful ITAM programs and how to get your own off the ground.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that asset management is attainable by all. Let’s uncover the truth, and help your organization get on track for an ITAM plan. Continue Reading…

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Office 365 E5 is here – 4 things you should know

Do you knowMicrosoft has introduced its newest Office 365 (O365) enterprise service plan – E5. It features Cloud PBX, PSTN conferencing, end-user and organization analytics, and advanced security. In conjunction with these new capabilities, Microsoft has added additional features to the existing E1 and E3 plans. As organizations evaluate these new capabilities, it’s important to understand how the introduction of O365 E5 will impact licensing options moving forward.

O365 E5’s availability

  • O365 E5 is now available for commercial and government organizations. However, E5 is not yet available for Government Community Cloud (GCC) and Education customers; availability for these customer segments will be announced at a later date.
  • E5 without PSTN conferencing will be sold separately through all programs where O365 Enterprise Plans are available.
    • Due to limited availability, PSTN conferencing is being offered as a separate add-on SKU to E5 under an Enterprise Agreement (EA) or EA Subscription Agreement only.
    • An E5 with PSTN conferencing single SKU will be offered at a later date.
  •  Updated O365 enterprise service plans consist of E1, E3, and E5. Below is a breakout of each plan’s features:

MS-O365-chart

E5’s licensing options

O365 E5 includes a number of new features that can be licensed as part of the suite or as standalone offerings. How an organization licenses these new features will primarily depend on its current O365 service footprint. There are three purchase order options for licensing E5 or any of its new components.

  1. Step-up: A step-up license allows an organization with active Software Assurance (or service coverage if Online Service, or OLS) to migrate from a lower edition to higher edition of a given product. An example of this would be “stepping up” from O365 Plan E1 to O365 Plan E5.
  2. Add-on: An add-on license provides rights to additional services and features while maintaining an existing license investment. For example, an organization can add on PSTN conferencing to O365 E5 without PSTN.
  3. Full USL: A full user subscription license is applicable when an organization is purchasing online services without any underlying license investment. An example would be purchasing O365 E5 without PSTN full User Subscription License.

An organization’s purchase option carries pricing and licensing implications. With the introduction of E5 and its new services, the number of iterations available for organizations to choose from has increased, and it’s important to understand these various options before making a final decision.

The retirement date for O365 E4 is set

The release of O365 E5 means the impending retirement of E4, slated for June 30, 2016. Organizations currently licensed for E4 can use the current plan under their agreement until renewal. Organizations that fall into this bucket will have two options to move forward with their O365 services prior to or at their renewal date.

  1. Customers interested in moving to E5 prior to their renewal can purchase an O365 E5 step-up SKU for each E4 user licensed. This SKU accounts for the difference in cost between the E4 and E5 service plans.
  2. Customers not interested in E5 can renew into E3, and add the Skype for Business Plus CAL subscription.

The upgraded features in E1 and E3

New features added to O365 E1 include Skype Meeting Broadcast and Task Management. Skype Meeting Broadcast will allow E1 customers to host every kind of meeting, including one-to-one, one-to-many, and one-to-thousands. In addition, Work Management in E1 allows for project management capabilities for teams.

E3 customers will be granted the new features available in E1, and will receive expanded rights to Data Loss Prevention (DLP) and encryption.

Visit Microsoft’s O365 Roadmap for the company’s online services portfolio. As you evaluate your move to O365, or more specifically, the new features and capabilities of O365 E5, it is important to have a partner to help you navigate this path. Reach out to your SHI Account Representative to get started.

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Too hot to handle: Is your data center cool enough?

data center coolingHow important is proper data center cooling? If your equipment matters to you, it should be critically important. A data center with poor cooling measures can see temperatures rise 30 degrees in just one hour. That’s a problem, as constantly warm temperatures (80 degrees and up) can damage equipment and shorten its useful lifespan.

Although cooling accounts for around 40 percent of annual data center operating costs, it usually isn’t the first priority when small to mid-size data centers are built. But as computing needs grow and heat production increases, inadequate cooling solutions compromise equipment performance and cause shutdowns. Data center expansion only makes these heat problems worse. Continue Reading…

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ACE up your sleeve: Easy enterprise app development with App Configuration for Enterprise

mobile apps2016 is a holiday season away, and we’re sure IT is in the middle of prepping for the new year. If your organization is planning an enterprise app rollout in the next quarter or two, ask yourself: Are you confident the app is free of scaling bugs, reliability lapses, and security holes?

Sadly, enterprise apps have a bad track record – 65 percent of enterprise apps get deleted or are under-utilized. And poor enterprise app development certainly isn’t a new phenomenon.

If you are planning an enterprise app rollout soon, don’t worry – help is out there. Let us tell you about ACE, and the three reasons why it’s one of the best new ways to successfully deploy a working, productive app. Continue Reading…

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