Nayland College Case Study: $150,000 Savings Moving To Microsoft Cloud Platforms

This blog is re-posted content from the original Microsoft Case Study that you can read by clicking here.

Nayland College was using Google Apps for Education to reduce the need for on-premises servers and software, but the solution was not meeting its needs. So the school chose to migrate to Microsoft Office 365. The new software was so well received by staff and students that the migration finished well ahead of schedule. The school now has access to a powerful suite of teaching and learning tools, and it saved $150,000 (NZD) on hardware. Microsoft partner pcMedia facilitated the migration with its cloud and education expertise.

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Taking first steps into the cloud

Nayland College in Nelson, New Zealand, offers its 1,000 students a curriculum of inspirational learning programs designed to prepare them for scholastic and professional success in the modern information economy. The school takes pride in its state-of-the-art educational facilities and its talented, dedicated teachers. Nayland has a leading-edge cabled and wireless IT infrastructure designed to provide the school community with easy access to the its technology resources.

Nayland wants to make sure that those resources include the tools that both teachers and students need to succeed. “We want our students to develop the twenty-first-century skills they need to excel,” says Daniel Wilson, Principal at Nayland College. “And we want our teachers to have strong professional development programs so they can provide students with the learning opportunities that will cultivate those skills. We also want to make sure that our infrastructure is able to keep up with technological changes so it continues to meet our requirements.”

In 2015, Nayland decided that its existing IT systems were not meeting those requirements. The school had on-premises software and servers that were costly to maintain and update, and they could not provide features like remote access to files and lessons. To address these concerns, Nayland adopted the cloud-based Google Apps for Education (GAFE) suite, while still maintaining an on-premises student management system (SMS). However, the solution proved to have some drawbacks. “The online tools weren’t meeting the needs of our teachers,” says Wilson. “The functionality of Google Docs at the time was limited, and it couldn’t integrate with our SMS, which was a problem for us.”

Finding a better solution for the school

Because of the drawbacks of GAFE, Nayland put out a request for proposals seeking a better solution. The school chose to work with Microsoft partner and education expert pcMedia on a plan to migrate from GAFE to the Microsoft Office 365 Pro Plus hosted suite of productivity applications. The initial goal was to finish the migration in 18 months, but once the school started using the solution, the timeline became shorter.

“Our teachers were extremely enthusiastic about Office 365, and they were eager to learn more about how to use new tools like Microsoft OneNote to enhance teaching and learning,” explains Wilson. “The initial rate of adoption exceeded expectations, so we were able to complete the migration more quickly than we originally anticipated.”

Within 6 months, all staff members were using Office 365 as their primary teaching and learning tool. Nayland helped streamline the adoption process by putting an emphasis on comprehensive professional development for faculty and staff. “pcMedia provided us with a Microsoft Teacher Ambassador who conducted individual and group training,” says Wilson. “We also offered video tutorials and a OneNote staff handbook, and we set up lead teachers within departments as a peer resource.”

pcMedia also made the transition easier by providing a hybrid strategy that enabled staff and students to move from GAFE to Office 365 at their own pace. To do this, pcMedia modified the Office 365 application launcher so that all of the school’s key systems were accessible from a single place, giving users time to become familiar and comfortable with the Office 365 interface. The pcMedia solution also made things easier by using Microsoft Azure Active Directory to provide single sign-on (SSO) capabilities so that users could access multiple online tools and systems without the need to log in separately to each one. This enabled Nayland to eliminate a third-party SSO software package it had been using, saving both money and administration time. The school’s applications and devices now all rely on Azure Active Directory for authentication.

Nayland is using the Microsoft Azure cloud platform to store off-site backups of the on-premises SMS. Between Azure and Office 365, the school now has 90 percent of its data and services in the Microsoft cloud with only legacy applications and some large graphics files on a single server at the school. “We have a Windows Server 2012 with ShadowProtect Image Control on it and Azure blob storage
for the back-up. We chose Azure because it provides better cost and uptime than other alternatives,” says Lee Harper, Education Specialist at pcMedia. “Microsoft is also a brand that we trust, and one that the school trusts with its sensitive information.”

Providing benefits for the entire school community

Now that Nayland has completed its Office 365 migration, the school has access to a wide range of tools that enhance communication and collaboration capabilities, including Skype for Business, OneDrive for Business, and SharePoint Online. Staff and students are able to access course content and files at any time from anywhere that they have an Internet connection. Communication between students and teachers have increased, and teachers can more easily enhance and customize class materials.

“Our teachers can create more dynamic lessons through the use of video, which they can easily record directly into OneNote,” says Wilson. “They can also create more personalized and differentiated learning programs and choose from multiple modes of assessment to best meet the needs of each student. Teachers are also finding innovative ways to use tools like OneNote to support dyslexic students and to integrate field and classroom studies.”

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Because Nayland is using Office 365 ProPlus, students have the option to install the software on their own devices, so they have access to the same tools at home that they do at school.  Wilson has also noticed that students are increasingly using educational apps on their own devices. Parents are now able to be more involved in learning because they can see student work at home.

Nayland has also streamlined IT management with Office 365, by reducing the need for on-site administration and maintenance of servers and software—updates to the Office 365 tools happen automatically in the background. By eliminating all but one of its on-premises servers, the school estimates that it is saving $150,000 (NZD) in hardware over two years, and it has been able to redirect that money into classrooms for new computers and wireless projectors. Office 365 also works smoothly with the school’s SMS.

With its Office 365 project, Nayland has taken important steps on the pathway to a digital transformation of the school. Teachers are excited about the technology and exploring its many available options, and there is greater collaboration and sharing of expertise across the entire organization. The project has been a success, and its benefits are spread across the whole school community. “Working alongside pcMedia and Microsoft, we have been able to implement a robust, extremely cost effective, and innovative solution that meets and responds to the learning needs of our students and the professional needs of our staff,” says Wilson.

Docs.com – Soon To Be Retired

On Friday 9th of June Microsoft announced that it would be retiring the Docs.com platform, effective as of Dec 15th 2017, at which point all content would be deleted:

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The homepage of Docs.com with the banner advising it will soon be retired in mid December 2017

An in-depth help article is available to assist you with managing the impact of this announcement, including advice for how to migrate your content to other platforms such as OneDrive For Business. Given many school users already have Office365 accounts the following advice is helpful:

For Office 365 Users with OneDrive for Business

We can automatically back up all compatible content to your OneDrive for Business account if your Administrator enables the auto-migration service for your organization (this option is available as of June 19, 2017). If you would like your school’s or company’s Administrator to initiate this process for you, please contact them and include a link to this article.

You can also choose to log in to Docs.com and follow the auto-migration prompts yourself. When the process is complete, you will find all compatible content you had previously published to Docs.com backed up to your OneDrive for Business folders. The original content on Docs.com will thereafter only be available to view, download, and delete.

The help article will be updated after June 19th 2017 with further information specifically for O365 Administrators so they can support their users.

Microsoft is encouraging regular users of Docs.com to explore SlideShare.net as the recommended replacement platform for sharing content publicly.

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SlideShare was acquired by Microsoft as part of LinkedIn.com  and allows users to sign in with either their LinkedIn or FaceBook profiles to start sharing and commenting on the platform. From the announcement article:

Following Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn, SlideShare has joined the Microsoft family, and represents the ideal platform for publishing your Word, PowerPoint, and PDF content with its audience of 70 million professionals, and vast content library

There is six months remaining before the retirement of Docs.com and the subsequent deletion of all content on it. If you’re a regular user of the service it is time to get thinking about backing up your content to OneDrive for Business and migrating your public content to SlideShare.

OneDrive Files On Demand – Perfect for BYOD

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Credit: TechoFAQ

Over the last couple of years it has been evident that increasing numbers of BYOD laptops have transitioned to Solid State Disks (SSD) which is terrific since they are significantly faster than traditional Hard Disk Drives (HDD), have lower failure rates and also improve battery life.

However, due to their higher price point, the actual available storage volume of SSD is often markedly lower than equivalently priced HDD.  This means students are faced with the difficult decision around what content do they store locally on the their device versus using selective sync in the OneDrive cloud and/or storing on an external USB drive.

Selective Sync effectively allows you to upload content into OneDrive that you don’t access frequently, and then download it when you do need it. Critically, however, this content will not appear in your local File Explorer browser so you can’t “see” it unless you log into OneDrive via a web browser and choose to sync it locally to your device.

OneDrive Files On Demand Coming In Windows 10 Fall Creators Update

This is why the announcement last Friday at the Build 2017 conference was so exciting. A new feature will allow you to see all of your content in OneDrive in your File Explorer, irrespective of whether it is stored locally on your device, or only in OneDrive in the Microsoft Cloud. Then, if you want to access any content that is only in OneDrive it will automatically be downloaded “on demand” when you click to open the file/folder.

You can optionally choose to then “always keep on this device” if you are going to be requiring regular or off-line access to this file.

Read the full blog post about this here.

Here are some images from the original blog post to show you how this works:

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Note that the selected folder takes up 1.37TB of storage in the OneDrive cloud, but that locally in File Explorer it shows 0 bytes on the local device.

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The various status of each file and folder is shown in the “Status” column, indicating whether it is in the OneDrive Cloud only or stored locally on the device. Right mouse clicking allows you to choose to “Always keep on this device”

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If a file is not stored locally, simply double clicking on it as you normally would to open a file will immediately trigger a download to open the requested file.

My Point of View:

I see this as being a massive aid for schools, helping both teachers and students maximize the performance of their devices. Getting more SSD into teacher and student devices will drive longer battery life, lower failure rates and faster accessing of content. However, by being able to seamlessly see what is in the Cloud and what is stored locally removes any barrier or confusion around the location of content for end users.

With many BYOD devices starting with 64GB of storage, this opens up the vast OneDrive storage capacity to students and teachers in an easier, more seamless way, meaning there is even less reason to use USB hard drives for storing content.

This feature will be available in the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update as well as new OneDrive features for iOS/Android devices.

Where Best To Store Documents In #O365?

I came across a post on LinkedIn from Marcel Alberts where he showed an Infographic that gives ideas on which area of Office365 is best to store documents of various types. He has kindly given permission for me to share the Infographic here as well.

This links into an earlier blog post I wrote about OneDrive For Business and how best to leverage this schools. Hopefully the following is helpful to some readers:

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Are You Migrating To OneDrive For Business Or Not?

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I read an interesting blog post this morning entitled “No You Should Not Be Migrating to OneDrive for Business” and I encourage you to check it out, including the excellent infographic at the bottom of the article that helps understand what a potential migration might look like (unfortunately, I can’t include the image here as hosted versions of WordPress.com don’t allow iFrame embeds).

Whilst the title of the post is certainly attention grabbing, especially coming from a Sharepoint favouring website, it’s worth noting that the author DOES advocate the use of OneDrive For Business but goes into depth to explain it’s not just a simple sync tool. This is the key overview:

OneDrive for Business is a new “brand”, powered by SharePoint, that helps you work with your files, at work.

Here’s what this product or brand includes:

  • Personal Site
  • Personal Document Library
  • A Sync Tool for every Document Library so you can work Offline
  • Perspective on your working files (Shared with You, Followed by You, etc…)
  • Perspective on your Group Files

I am talking to more and more schools that are keen to abandon their local network shares in favour of using a combination of cloud storage in Office365 including:

  • OneDrive For Business
  • Sharepoint Online
  • Office365 Groups

It can become confusing and hard to know which tool to use and when. The above article, linked to again here, definitely provides some worthwhile insights for organisations looking to maximise the value of their Office365 cloud storage options.