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Leicester Grammar migrates and upgrades its hybrid datacentre approach

The Client

Leicester Grammar Trust is a family of three independent co-educational day schools. Based in Great Glen, Leicestershire, it serves children from three to 18 years old through Leicester Grammar Junior School, Leicester Grammar School, and LGS Stoneygate. The Trust has roughly 1500 pupils and 300 staff. 

The school needed to replace its virtual server and storage infrastructure. The eight year-old environment ran 14 VMware virtual hosts on Dell PowerEdge servers and a Dell MD3200 storage array. It was coming to the end of its life, explains IT manager James.

"We had reached the end of the road in terms of support and updates for it," he says. The SAN was also nearing maximum capacity at around 70%. "We were getting too close for comfort."

The servers ran the Trust's main domain controllers, which looked after functions including DNS, DHCP, and group policy. They also supported a server for handling Windows updates. There were some file servers storing Trust-related data, and servers handling functions ranging from its hybrid Office 385 environment through to its cashless catering system and its door access system. 

The Solution

The Trust was no stranger to Probrand. James had inherited the relationship with the IT service provider when he joined seven years prior. The company had provided its Microsoft licenses for years, and had expanded its relationship with the Trust more recently, proving its capabilities repeatedly. The service provider's engineers had handled a switching infrastructure refresh project in 2018, followed by a Wi-Fi refresh across the Trust's site.

"Probrand has carried out so much work on our network and they have always looked after us," says James, adding that he has always admired the company's planning and attention to detail. "We always know that somebody has applied a high level of care at their end and has had the necessary conversations well in advance."

Probrand proposed replacing the server hardware with HPE ProLiant Gen10 servers, each equipped with eight-core Xeon processors and 128Gb RAM. It also included an HPE hybrid array, capable of running two virtual storage pools, each with almost 4Tb of SSD storage for high read speeds. Alongside these sat 13.5Tb of SAS hard-drive storage, giving the Trust around three times its former usable capacity. Probrand configured the array with seven spare bays, allowing plenty of future expansion for the Trust

Communication and planning was especially important in a busy school environment, James adds. Even though the school timed the project over the summer holidays, it was still supporting around 50 staff during the break and would have to manage their expectations when it came to system availability. It planned the installation with Probrand carefully to ensure minimal disruption.

The Trust's IT team needed a partner that understood the importance of clear and early communication. It needed to plan the data transfer between the old and new SAN, and would also need to plan which servers would migrate at which times.

Probrand's engineers came on site to install the new hardware, and then a member of its technical team configured them remotely. It was a challenging project because the VMware version the school was migrating from was so old that it wasn't possible to migrate directly from it to the new version.

Probrand's remote software expert thought creatively, downgrading one of the existing servers to build an interim environment containing a staging version of VMware. He was then able to migrate the Trust's virtual snapshots to that virtual environment before upgrading again to the latest version of VMware.

The project didn't stop there. Upgrading the system also involved recreating all of the backups to point to the new data store. "Probrand helped us with that as well, providing some good advice along the way," James recalls. 

The Result

Careful planning and creative problem solving led to a smooth migration project for the Trust. Increased performance was a big factor, and the system now feels more responsive, says James. The increased computing and storage capacity also gives the Trust the ability to flex its on-premises capacity, finding the right balance between on-site and cloud-based data as it continues to evolve its hybrid Office 365 environment, he adds.

Another big benefit was accessibility, according to James. The Trust's older VMware version was only available via an installed client on-site.

"Now it's all web based, enabling us to access all our services in house via a browser," he says. "That saves us time traipsing back to the office or asking someone on-site from the team to do it."

The experience has left James more willing than ever to call Probrand with his IT support needs. "We get let down by some pretty big companies. That has never happened with Probrand," he concludes. "When it promises to deliver something, it does it to spec and on time. It's great to have that peace of mind."