Hear Phil Lawson, Virtue Technologies’ Managing Director, tell you what winning a BIBA did for him.

After our Managing Director, Phil Lawson, won Business Person of the Year at the BIBAs 2016 and Entrepreneur of the Year at the BIBAs 2015, here is what he had to say…

“Having won the Entrepreneur of the Year award at the BIBAs 2015, I wanted to go through the process again because I knew the experience and benefit it brought our company.

The application process was effectively a review of your performance over the past 12 months and gives you a rare opportunity in business to step back and reflect on what you have done.

Being questioned and asked to justify what you have done by the BIBAs judges definitely helped us formulate our former strategy and development of the business, and finally the second round of judging, ‘The BIBAs On Tour’  is beneficial to all parts of the business.

The judges come to our workplace and it gives our employees at all levels the chance to be asked about what they do, share their opinions and be part of the process.

The judges are all people who know a lot about business and therefore their questions are always challenging, but you come away feeling your business has benefited.

Winning at the BIBAs in 2015 and 2016 has been a tremendous motivation for all our staff. They enjoy the process, the ceremony and, of course, winning such a prestigious award.

It is invaluable to achieve things as a group and I feel is the most important part of winning a BIBA.”

Congratulations once again Phil!

The right teaching will drive education digitalisation

When it comes to ICT in education, the conversation has shifted. It’s not about providing technology and devices; it’s about teaching our kids how to use it.

In just five years, we face a digital economy that will require 2.3 million digitally skilled workers. Are our children ready to enter such a workforce?

Many would argue no. Research shows that 65% of kids will end up in jobs that don’t exist yet, but only 10% of schools offer any kind of computer science class.

There’s a massive disconnect between what’s being taught now and the skills young people will need to compete in the jobs space of the future.

The leaders in this scenario are our teachers and their use of technology in the classroom. However, with increasing demands already placed on staff and without tech training, it is unreasonable to expect them to adopt new technologies and be our digital heroes as well, without adequate support.

From traditional to tech savvy

A recent Childwise report indicated that 6.3 million children aged 5-16 in the UK use a laptop, PC or tablet and on average, spend 1.5 hours online per day.

We are dealing with a generation of digital natives.

To cater for this, schools are increasingly introducing new tech like interactive whiteboards, film projectors and tablets.

But just introducing new devices into a still traditional four-walled teaching environment isn’t effective enough. Imagine dropping a teacher from the Victorian era into a 2017 classroom. Yes, they might need a few minutes to learn how to use a desktop computer or a whiteboard, but I guarantee you the essence of the teaching methods will be similar – students still have to conform.

We need to prepare our kids to meet the demands of a digital nation. This means cloud-based learning where kids can log-in from anywhere, anytime to access their work, or provide access to multiple teachers to ensure a ‘best-fit’ teaching style for each student.

Also, technology can benefit the teacher too. The days of marking with a red pen are numbered. Using programmes like Office 365 are guaranteed to help a teacher reduce time spent on menial tasks and allows more time for creating an environment prime for student engagement. Students could go home and complete work in their own time, freeing up the hours in the day for teachers to focus on face-to-face, interactive teaching.

Support the supporters

The silver bullet to this transformational change? Our teachers. Yet worryingly, a NASUWT Teachers’ Union report found that 83% of teachers who teach ICT as a subject, said that they do not receive regular ICT-related training and CPD. But, the report also concluded that teachers made specific references to the need to develop these skills that pupils need for the real world – highlighting their dedication to the cause.

There is no arguing that embedding a new technology into a school is always going to be challenging. But, by providing pre-implementation training and support for teachers, you can guarantee the new equipment is utilised to its full potential and will empower staff with the knowledge and confidence to use it.

In turn, if teachers can gain a thorough understanding of the technology and how to use it effectively, this can be used to prepare the UK’s younger generations for the guaranteed digital workplace they will find themselves in.

Not only that, but the combination of great technology and great teaching will help broaden their horizons for a future career.

Sophos have compiled 5 top security tips for schools

In a recent survey carried out by Sophos, a third of schools surveyed admitted to having experienced a cyber-security breach. A further 21% didn’t know or preferred not to say. The severity of the breaches vary from data loss to ransomware, but the issue still remains, that schools are a target and these breaches are destroying schools’ reputation and productivity. For this reason it is imperative that schools are aware, prepared and educated about these threats. The survey also revealed that only 14% of those surveyed view ransomware as their biggest concern, highlighting that despite its growing awareness throughout 2016, there is still a lack of awareness about ransomware. It’s important that all teachers are aware of what ransomware is and how they can fall victim to it. Sophos have compiled 5 top security tips for schools.

1)     Have an Integrated Security Plan that Does Not Stifle Productivity

To fully understand their cyber threat and risk exposure, schools should undertake a rigorous security review to identify risks, understand vulnerabilities and assess the impact of a cyber-attack. Only then can they create an integrated cyber security plan that incorporates   technical, human and physical defences to deliver effective protection without stifling productivity.

2)     Follow Best Practice  

Many security breaches can be prevented by ensuring existing cyber defences are deployed at full strength. Too often schools invest in cyber security solutions but fail to deploy them to their full advantage. This significantly reduces their effectiveness and increases the likelihood of a successful, but preventable breach. To ensure you are getting the maximum level of protection from your existing security solutions we encourage all schools to follow the best practice guidance offered by their trusted security partners and vendors.

3)     Have a Tried and Tested Incident Response Plan

Work on the assumption that an attack will happen and ensure you have a tried and tested incident response plan than can be implemented immediately to reduce the impact of the attack.

4)     Identify & Safeguard Your Sensitive Data 

It’s almost impossible to protect all your data all of the time, so identify the information you keep which would cause harm if it were stolen or unlawfully accessed and implement suitable data security procedures to ensure it is appropriately protected.

5)     Education, Education, Education

Too many cyber breaches, especially ransomware attacks, are caused by the inadvertent actions of users. It is therefore vitally important that users are educated about the cyber risks they face and the safeguards in place to protect them.  Users should also understand their individual cyber Security responsibilities, be aware of the consequences of negligent or malicious actions and work with other stakeholders  to identify ways to work in a safe and secure manner.

Introducing Virtue’s Network Monitoring & Management SaaS

Introducing Virtue’s Network Monitoring & Management SaaS, powered by Solarwinds. Customised for your school or college as an affordable SaaS solution, we deliver revolutionary network and host server monitoring with end-to-end visibility to monitor, predict and troubleshoot performance issues.

In this webinar recording, hear from our presenter, Will Stead, discuss the many benefits and features of our Network Monitoring & Management SaaS during a live demonstration.

The Rowan Learning Trust turned to us when they required a service that could scale to meet the needs of their growing trust

The Rowan Learning Trust (RLT) was established as a multi-academy trust in 2012 and brings schools and communities together through development on their journey to become outstanding. Currently the RLT family comprises fourschools: two high schools, one primary school and an all-through alternative provision academy. One of these schools is Hawkley Hall High School, an 11-16 mixed comprehensive of around 900 students and 110 staff situated to the west of Wigan. Virtue Technologies’ relationship with the RLT originally started with Hawkley Hall, as we have been working with the school for around 10 years. The school started with quite a small scale service support and over the years it’s grown with the school, and more recently with the trust.

The Challenge

The trust initially had a local authority internet connection which John Robinson, Information Systems Manager at RLT, describes as “patchy to say the least”. John says “Because we are a multi-academy trust, we’ve got several schools now and are looking to grow in the future, we like the idea of a common network with other schools, and being able to share resources. We were interested in how Virtue’s service could scale to meet our needs”.

The Solution

Virtue Technologies’ Private Wide Area Network (PWAN) turns internet connections into true private circuits without the use of complicated VPNs. We do this by building a dedicated private core network for a school, the whole network is then protected by a dedicated firewall which we customise to each school’s specific requirements. A PWAN provides a collection of schools such as a secondary, and its associated feeder primary schools, with a private network with absolute security and without the need for VPN tunnels. As our PWAN has been designed to work across all of their connectivity solutions, we’re able to connect a primary school with a high speed EoFTTC to a secondary school with a leased line.

The RLT moved to our PWAN solution and John says “Since we moved to the PWAN, we’ve had virtually no downtime at all, in any of the schools, it’s very reliable”. We asked John what benefits have the internet and PWAN brought to Hawkley Hall as an individual school, and also as a multi-academy trust and he said “it’s mainly about having a reliable internet connection that is fast enough to do the job. We’ve many mobile devices now, the internet is obviously vast, more so now than it was 10 years ago. For an individual school it’s important to have that stability. I think as a MAT it’s about how the schools can make efficiency savings by being joined up. From an IT perspective, being able to have a single IT team manage everything, the PWAN helps with that, but also what we are starting to explore is the teaching and learning aspects of it, and how people working across schools can share resources more effectively”.

John also discusses the challenges faced in delivering and managing the IT services across multiple sites, the main one being consistency, and making sure everyone is on the same page. The RLT have tried to develop common perspective structure templates on how they manage things, so when someone at one school goes into another school, they will know exactly how things are set up and they can work as effectively on every site. John says “it’s been quite challenging because everyone has their own way of doing things, every Network Manger does things slightly different, so it’s been quite tricky to try and pull all that together”.

When John was asked what makes Virtue Technologies stand out to him, he talked about the level of service he receives, “the guys on the help desk are always willing to help and go the extra mile, Virtue has always been a step above in terms of that”. In reference to other support companies that John has dealt with, he states, “you pay your money, someone comes in every now and then and has a bit of a check, but with Virtue it’s a partnership, and we can bounce ideas off people and its genuine advice that we get from the guys. When we’ve taken on other schools and looked at the support that they’ve had and what we’ve had – Virtue is always a level above in terms of customer service.” Discussing this partnership further John continues to say, “because it is more of partnership, I know I can ring Phil Lawson, Virtue Technologies Managing Director, and talk things through with him, without feeling like we are going to get a sales pitch. It’s just genuine advice. I think because Virtue are so big in education, they share that philosophy with us that it’s for the students and it’s all about the ethos of the school, even though Virtue is a business. They actually understand what goes on in schools, it’s not all about a computer on a desk, it’s about the experience for the students so I think we share that with Virtue.”

Simon Steele, Virtue’s Technical Director, holds termly meetings with John to help the trust focus and plan their development priorities. John says “keeping Virtue involved in our trust-wide ICT strategy allows us to work more effectively together to build robust and scalable solutions.” When asked if he feels like he’s got value for money John said “I definitely think so. I know broadband prices fluctuate massively, and we went into a 3-year contract so we had that security – Virtue are definitely competitive with their pricing.”

Future Plans

The RLT plan to grow and expand and add more schools, so obviously they will be looking at adding internet services to them, but also more about how they can make collective savings as a trust. They are currently looking at having a single internet filter for all of their sites and again, the PWAN allows them to do that. They’ll be able to have a single virtual internet filter that will scale indefinitely to meet their growing number of users. When asked what the single most important thing to him is in terms of IT delivery, John said “it’s got to be how it impacts teaching and learning in schools, because that’s the reason we are all here at the end of the day. As Virtue provide the IT support with everything from the internet services to the servers support, we can focus on the classroom. The less we have to worry about the support and maintenance, the more we can focus on the development of IT systems to support our students.”

Ben Whittle’s Uber Computer update – An early Christmas present… for nerds

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Ben had an exciting day a couple of weeks ago as the final parts came into stock. He is now in possession of all of the components which will make up the computer, although before Ben could get all these components installed he had a bit of work to do.

The Legs

Ben has found varnish which closely resembles the finish on the speakers he has chosen, but after having assembled the desk before painting he encountered a slight issue – height.

When sat at the desk Ben found that the base of the desk sat too low and it was uncomfortable to sit at. This presented a bit of a challenge as it meant having to either re-manufacture some new legs or somehow extend them. At this point Ben had an idea he thought might save the existing legs and add quite a nice feature to the desk. Having established that simply extending the desk by making some blocks and sticking them on the end would look a bit… ****, Ben decided to separate the extension pieces with a lighting feature which would look like it was an intentional design feature (And then of course defeating the object by telling you lot about it via this blog).

So Ben set about making the blocks of wood and cutting out some 5mm frosted acrylic which would sit between the blocks and the existing legs. The acrylic will have a hole routed through the middle creating a concealed compartment where Ben could house a short strip of RGB LEDs which will shine through the acrylic.

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The next challenge Ben faced was getting power to the LED strip, this required somehow running 4 wires to the base of each leg. Ben decided to find the smallest wire gauge he had “in stock” and route a small channel down the inside of each leg and drill through at the base to the centre of the base of each leg. Once the wiring was set in the channel, Ben would simply cover over the wires with wood filler, sand down afterward and solder the LED strip to the wires at the end.

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Satisfied with the results, after having spent several hours sanding and filing away bits of excess acrylic Ben started to varnish the legs.

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Having applied three coats of varnish to achieve the desired colour Ben attached the legs to the desk and tested the lighting before wiring it to the RGB controller. Safe to say the result is a success:

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Cable Routing and Testing

With the legs back on it was then time for Ben to start routing the cables and installing components. Having already mounted most of the components such as cooling fans, radiator, motherboard, etc… most of this work was a breeze, simply a case of connecting the cables Ben had previously fabricated and pining them in place to keep things neat. There was one small challenge in providing power to the graphics cards, the cards take power from headers at the top and being quite tall there was a slight concern that the overlapping cables would be too close to the glass.

The original plan was to use cable combs to bind the power cables for both cards together and have then feed them through a duct in the back panel. Having tried for several hours to get the cables to sit the way he wanted and failing Ben decided to try another solution. The empty expansion slots have vented blanking plates to allow the air to flow past the graphics cards and into the rear compartment. Ben decided to cut away part of the vent nearest the 2nd card to allow enough room for the power cables to pass through the unused expansion slot.

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Ben is quite happy with the result, the two separate tracks of power cables look much neater than having them overlap and all pass through the same hole.

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Preparing the Motherboard

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Having completed the wiring and tested the components already fixed to the desk such as fans, UPS, etc… its time for Ben to prepare the motherboard. Ben is using a custom EK waterblock designed specifically for the ASUS Rampage V motherboard he is using. The waterblock not only uses the watercooling system to cool the CPU, but also the motherboards PCH and CPU power delivery components. This will allow for greater overclocking potential and help take heat away from the main compartment creating more clean air for the graphics cards. Of course the motherboard comes pre-fitted with a selection of heatsinks and heat pipes to dissipate the heat from these components, in order to install this waterblock Ben will have to remove all of these factory fitted parts and apply thermal compound and pads to the components on the board. Let the fun begin….

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After installing the CPU and applying the thermal pads and compound to the relevant areas the block is screwed to the board and the memory is installed.

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With the board preparation finished Ben must now assemble the pump for the water cooling system. He has chosen a Laing DDC pump, a proven highly reliable and quiet industrial pump rated at 50,000 hours MTBF. The pump is also PWM controlled meaning the flow rate can be adjusted automatically depending on cooling requirements. In its standard form the pump is surrounded by plastic casing and top, Ben has chosen to upgrade the pump using EK aluminium parts offering superior flow and heat dissipation.

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Filling and Testing the Cooling System

With all of the components now mounted, cabling and tubing in place it is now time for Ben to fill the watercooling system with coolant, purge the system of air bubbles and test for any serious issues (in other words, leaks).

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Getting rid

of the air bubbles in a new watercooling setup is a surprisingly difficult, time consuming task. The pump will only move water, so as soon as an airlock hits the pump there is no pressure to push the water round the system. This meant that Ben had to fill the reservoir then suck the air bubbles through the tube at the other end of the loop, during this “activity” he found the coolant doesn’t taste so good. On the bright side, despite the EK coolant he is using containing anti-corrosion additives, scale inhibitors and biological growth inhibitors, it’s non-toxic.

Happy that the system is now free of air Ben leaves the pump running overnight with the rest of the system powered down, thankfully it passes the test with no flying colours.

It’s Alive

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It is always a nervous moment for system builders firing up their rig for the first time. Ben has built a few PCs in his time but never anything which has involved quite as much time, effort, planning and money as this, safe to say he had his fingers crossed when he pressed that button.

After a couple of minutes of uncertainty, he was very relieved to be greeted with the “No bootable OS” message. The only time anybody is ever actually happy to see those words appear on their screen.

There is still a bit of work to do, the rear connection panel still needs to be designed and made and the painting still needs to be completed and placed in the right hand compartment, but the system is now up and running. Ben has applied some basic overclocking settings, configured cooling, RAID sets, installed the OS and run a couple of benchmarks. There is still some more configuration to be done before the system is running at peak performance but to give you all a small taste of what it is capable of:

Installed Windows 10 in 7 minutes.

Installed Server 2012 R2 in a VM in under 5 minutes!

Using the 3DMark FireStrike benchmark the system scored over 28000 points, which at the time of testing put this system in the top 250 most powerful machines tested with the benchmark worldwide. It currently is, and will likely remain for another year, in the top 1 %.

In the next update Ben will have refined the overclocking profiles and cooling setting and will be providing more detailed figures and full specifications. Stay tuned and thanks for reading.

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We are bringing the Let’s Get Synchronized tour to the North West

This free event is taking place on:

Friday 30th September 2016
9am – 2pm
Mercure Haydock Hotel
WA11 9SG

Click Here to Register: http://virtuetechnologies.co.uk/solutions/security/lets-get-synchronized

Event Overview

As multi-academy trusts(MATs) evolve, the need to scale services and support transition across their academy base is a priority. We work with a range of MATs across the UK to support them in overcoming their individual challenges and issues. As we are educationally focused, we have the experience and passion to understand such challenges and issues to create a bespoke ICT solution to best suit your school’s evolving needs. Whether you are an existing school, new build or converting academy, we believe this event will be beneficial to you.

On the day, Virtue Technologies Managing Director Phil Lawson, will discuss how we can assist with existing schools and new schools joining a MAT and provide you with an overview of multi-site network designs and available support structures from Virtue Technologies.

At the Let’s Get Synchronized event, hear from Sophos Engineers who will be discussing how their products offer a cloud based approach to internet security and can help with the security challenges faced by MATs. Max out on the latest security updates at the Let’s Get Synchronized Skate Park with a series of urban sports challenges including skateboarding tricks and downhill cycle racing and prizes!

Our guest speaker John Bidder, from Blippit, will be discussing social media strategies for multi-academy trusts. John will talk about how social media can be used to raise the “brand” awareness of the trust and reach parents of existing pupils and potential new pupils.

Check out the event agenda below to see what else is happening on the day.

Event Agenda

9.00am Arrival and Coffee

9.30am Introduction and overview of services for Multi- Academy Trusts

  • Introduction by Phil Lawson – Managing Director of Virtue Technologies
  • Services from Virtue for new and expanding MATs, discuss how we can assist with existing Schools and new schools joining a MAT
  • Overview of multi-site network designs and available support structures from Virtue Technologies

9.50am Audit, documentation and planning services

  • Will Stead, Virtue’s Head of Operations will discuss the documentation and planning services we can assist with. This ranges from 3-5 year budget planning, risk registers and all round IT plans.

10.10am Sophos Sessions

  • Sophos sales engineers will discuss how their products offer a cloud based approach to internet security and can help with the security challenges faced by multi-site MATs
  • Advanced protection with Next Gen Endpoint (15 mins)
  • Synchronised Security delivered through Next Gen Network (15 mins)
  • IT is hard! Find out how the cloud can help simplify IT security challenges (15 mins)

10.55am Coffee Break. Competitions and games will take place at the Let’s Get Synchronised Skate park!

11.25am Social Media Strategies for MAT’s

  • John Bidder from Blippit discusses social media strategies for MATs. How MATs can use social media to raise the “brand” awareness of the trust and reach parents of existing pupils and potential new pupils.

11.45am I Am Cloud

  • I am Cloud Identity management – Single Identity across all services giving MIS Integration and single sign on to external public cloud resources such a Office365, Google, Moodle, Frog etc.

12.05pm Virtue Technologies

  • Trust Wide Private Cloud – how we design a multi-site private cloud for a MAT, discussing the benefits to the trust and costs involved
  • Azure AD integration – integration of Microsoft Public Cloud – Azure active directory to the MAT private cloud and benefits to this
  • Cloud hosted servers – options to move servers to the cloud, costs and benefits to doing this.

12.35pm Customer Q&A

12.45pm Complimentary Lunch

Venue Details

Mercure Haydock Hotel, Penny Lane, Saint Helens, WA11 9SG