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WHIPTAIL delivers secure and easy-access learning for the students and teachers at Longbenton Community College

Based in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Longbenton Community College is a specialist technology college for children aged 11 to 18. It prides itself on delivering world-class teaching and learning facilities to its students, with a vision to provide “continuous high levels of investment in proven technologies that will make a positive difference to teaching, learning opportunities and provision for the local community.”


Date: 27 Aug 2012

The Challenge
Operating in the complex education environment presents a multitude of IT and operational challenges to Longbenton Community College’s staff, teachers and students. It is always facing increasingly leaner IT budgets, a bigger focus on using IT in all lessons, as well as a commitment to reduce its carbon footprint.

“Servicing both the educational needs of the students and the teachers means we are increasingly being asked to install, deploy and support hundreds of applications and increasing numbers of terminals,” commented Alastair Hetherington, IT Manager at Longbenton Community College. “We must ensure that our IT performs to the high standard our students and teachers expect in a progressive learning environment.”
He said: “With so much pressure on our network – especially during periods of high log-on and log-off activity such as at the beginning and end of lessons – we were also aware that our hardware was at risk of shorter lifecycles.”

As part of the college’s dedication to technology acquisition and deployment, it always ensures that time is given to source new technology and underpin this with a robust, reliable network infrastructure and effective technical support from Aegis, its primary ICT partner. Aegis had previously implemented server virtualisation, storage and backup with the college. Working together, they identified that a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) would be a strong fit for the education institution’s IT, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and business strategy. Deploying VDI would enable the college to deploy thin clients for all of its terminals, reducing performance strain on desktops.

Hetherington said: “We looked for an affordable, scalable storage platform capable of delivering sufficiently high performance to support 750 concurrent VDI sessions. Whereas physical desktops have local disks, for VDI deployments we knew that the aggregated demand on the storage environment is huge.

“Traditional spinning-disks were proving prohibitively expensive and it was clear that the spare capacity on our existing storage platform - EMC Celerra NS120 - was inadequate. We had a critical decision to make on an appropriate solution at the lowest possible total cost of ownership. In UK primary and secondary education, desktop virtualisation is a very new technology with only a handful of early adopters currently using it in production environments. We were on new technological ground for both the college and our sector,” Hetherington added.

The Solution
Working closely with Aegis, Longbenton Community College looked to innovative emerging technologies for a way to deliver the necessary sustained levels of input/output operations (IOPS) required to support its vision. Silicon storage technology soon became the front-runner in the search, with WHIPTAIL the winning supplier, beating off competition from EMC and Violin.

Longbenton Community College purchased a 3TB WHIPTAIL silicon storage array, running on the VMware View enterprise virtual desktop management platform. Aegis performed installation on-site at the college’s Newcastle-upon-Tyne campus, carrying out initial configuration, provisioning of storage and integration with VMware View, for 750 desktops.

“We selected WHIPTAIL because we wanted to work with a VMware certified supplier with a proven track record of delivering products that were both stable and reliable,” said Hetherington. “Without doubt, performance was our key driver in choosing WHIPTAIL. We estimated the need for an average of 80 IOPS and a peak of 150 IOPS per VDI session, which, when multiplied by 750 clients, means a continuous requirement of 60,000 IOPS on average, peaking at 110,000 IOPS. WHIPTAIL’s silicon storage array was the only realistic option.”

A lower total cost of ownership was the key to ensuring sustainability in the project. Hetherington continues: “Cost played back again into the environmental impact of VDI – should we have chosen to deploy desktops on hard drive, the rack space, power and cooling requirements and on-going costs would have been budget-crippling - this would have been counter-intuitive.”

The implementation process was performed quickly and seamlessly. The college installed the 3TB array in its server room, and the following day Aegis commissioned it. Within two hours, the storage was provisioned and presented to the network.

Hetherington added: “From our perspective as a user, deployment couldn't have been simpler or more successful.”

The benefits
“WHIPTAIL’s silicon storage array provides us with a storage system capable of meeting the high performance demands of our VDI environment, whilst minimising the environmental impact, meaning we can be confident that our carbon footprint is significantly reduced in the short to long term,” said Hetherington.

Using WHIPTAIL’s technology has also increased the lifecycle of much of the college’s hardware and IT equipment, due to the decreased strain on local terminals. This means they do not need to replace desktops as frequently, adding to the lower total cost of ownership.

Hetherington continued: “WHIPTAIL’s technology has exceeded every expectation we had in terms of performance and reliability. We've not seen it slow down at all under any of the conditions we've thrown at it and haven't seen a single error or fault during the year it's been in production. The bottom line is that WHIPTAIL has enabled us to deliver both secure and easy access teaching and learning for the young people attending the college.”

The project has been such a success that the use of WHIPTAIL’s silicon storage technology is being considered across the primary school estate for the whole of the North Tyneside education authority, comprising over 3,500 terminals.

Hetherington concluded: “Given the kind of storage capability this requires at its core, then there is a requirement for the kind of infrastructure only seen in larger higher education and further education institutions. We are truly leading the way for primary and secondary education and delivery of learning resources using innovative and best-in-class technology like WHIPTAIL.”


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