Customer: Cambridge Centre for Sixth-form Studies (CCSS)
Profile: A Cambridge-based day and boarding co-educational college with c. 200 students aged 14 to 24.
“Both the installation costs and the annual running costs are well below what we were paying for a vastly inferior system.” Chris Forte, Bursar
Software & Services:
- Microsoft Lync Server 2010
- Microsoft Exchange 2010
- Microsoft Forefront Threat Management Gateway 2010
- Microsoft SQL Server 2008
- VMware ESXi
- Microsoft cloud
- AudioCodes Mediant 1000
- Polycom CX500 & CX600
- Snom 300
Cambridge Centre for Sixth-form Studies (CCSS) is one of the UK’s leading sixth-form colleges. It has been an educational charitable trust since 2001 and achieves significantly higher A* grades at A-level than the national average. Up to 60% of the students are from overseas. The college occupies a number of separate sites all in close proximity to each other in central Cambridge: three teaching sites with forty classrooms, careers library, laboratories and study rooms, and six boarding houses providing fully supervised single-room accommodation for over 100 boarding students.
In common with many academic establishments, communications technology at CCSS has grown organically over many years. The legacy telephony solution was an Avaya BCM PBX, a Samsung PBX and individual phone lines, with different solutions at different sites. Chris Forte, CCSS’s Bursar, described this as:
“a messy situation: different suppliers offering variable levels of service; expensive line rental on little-used telephones; high call costs; and ISDN in some parts of the campus and not others.”
Having taken the decision to invest in a more modern and efficient telephony system in early 2012, CCSS’s Principal, Stuart Nicholson, asked 1Plex to investigate appropriate options. 1Plex personnel have been involved in implementing Information Technology and Communications (ITC) at CCSS for many years and are specialists in Unified Communications. 1Plex evaluated a number of options, including Cisco Call Manager, a managed solution from BT, and a hosted telephone system, before recommending Microsoft Lync Server 2010, an enterprise real-time communications server, for telephony and unified communications.
With the most appropriate technology route confirmed, 1Plex undertook a proof-of-concept trial project which entailed replacing the existing Samsung PBX with Microsoft Lync 2010 plus MS Exchange Unified messaging for voicemail, an AudioCodes Mediant 1000 PSTN Gateway, and Polycom and Snom handsets.
This measured, low risk approach ensured that the college’s existing telephony capabilities were not compromised at any stage and that minor teething problems could be resolved while the new and old systems ran in parallel. A full roll-out followed the successful trial. In conjunction with Redstone Plc, a leading provider of network based managed services, technology and infrastructure solutions,
1Plex upgraded the broadband in the boarding houses to give the students fast internet access. In addition to Microsoft Lync 2010, 1Plex configured MS Forefront Threat Management Gateway 2010 to protect against web-based threats; MS SQL Server for efficient data management – all deployed on a VMware ESXi virtualisation infrastructure.
CCSS is still exploring the capabilities of the new system as Stuart Nicholson, explains: “There are many advantages to the new system that have become apparent, and it is still early days. I have been delighted at how readily everyone has embraced the new system – even people who are not naturally comfortable with technology. On the voice side, call quality is exceptionally clear, call handling and voicemail are working well, and Instant Messaging is proving very useful as it is a less intrusive form of contact than a telephone call. The entire college now has a consistent experience across different sites. Overall, we now have more telephones on more desks, they all work extremely well and everything costs less money. We are now expanding the use of video conferencing and desktop sharing across our various sites around Cambridge, starting with our senior leadership team and then rolling out to other staff.”
Lync and the relationship with 1Plex have delivered additional benefit to CCSS:
Innovative Online Teaching: On a more strategic level, CCSS sees Lync being at the heart of its plans to expand into overseas markets with real-time online course delivery, as Stuart Nicholson explained: “We have begun an online teaching pilot in East Anglia, and expansion into Asia is a real possibility. The teachers involved in the regional pilot are providing interactive teaching via video links, plus they are using Microsoft cloud services to enable students to access, edit and share GCSE course information wherever and whenever they want it. We are a very forward-looking organisation and are excited by the national and international interactive teaching possibilities that Lync can facilitate.”
Lync Server provides numerous capabilities: CCSS now has a range of sophisticated, but easy to use, capabilities including instant messaging, presence awareness, file transfer, desktop sharing, peer-to-peer and multiparty voice and video calling, and audio, video and web conferencing. Lync is also highly scalable, so CCSS can add capability on an as-needed basis.
Lync Server is value for money: Lync Server cost CCSS 60% less than competitive systems when considering total implementation costs. Chris Forte, Bursar, describes the implementation outcomes: “Early on, 1Plex provided us with a roadmap on timescales and anticipated costs. Unlike many ITC projects, where both costs and timing seem to get out of control, this one came in below budget and on schedule. Both the installation costs and the annual running costs are well below what we were paying for a vastly inferior system. 1Plex never once came back to us with bad news on the budget as the project progressed. Now we have a unified system that will pay for itself inside two years.”
1Plex are valued IT partners: Stuart Nicholson , CCSS’s Principal, says: “We didn’t consider anyone else but 1Plex to undertake the implementation. Their personnel have been our ITC partners for many years and we have unshakeable trust in their expertise and their integrity. It is not really like working with a separate supplier as they are fully embedded in CCSS.” Chris Forte added: “Unlike an in-house IT Manager, they don’t take time off for sickness or holidays, so are always there when we need them, and they provide value for money. It’s all about sustainability. We all feel comfortable with them; they inspire confidence and provide a brilliant consultation, implementation, training and support service.”