The Cynnal Technical Support department is a team consisting of about 25 staff whose primary objective is to provide technical support and consultation to over 250 schools in north Wales. The unit has over 20 years’ experience, and is as committed now as it was then to provide the best possible service, and ensure that schools keep abreast of the latest technologies.
Our staff come from a variety of backgrounds, and bring their own individual experience to create a team of professional staff. We are all bilingual and are able to offer our customers the ability to communicate in either English or Welsh. Several staff members are qualified to degree level and have professional qualifications from Microsoft and Cisco. Our staff regularly attend technical seminars and meetings with suppliers, partners and associated personnel; through which we have formed close working relationships across the region and beyond.
Our technical support offering is based on service level agreements with the schools, which outlines the services that are offered. We provide a helpdesk service whereby schools can report issues or just ask for general advice. Every year we receive thousands of calls, and have the ability to mobilise our staff to deal with these issues in the quickest time possible.
Our technicians are mostly out and about on a daily basis, on location at the schools across north Wales. Most problems will be dealt with at the school, but we also have dedicated workshops where we carry out our repairs.
- Maintaining cabling infrastructure (ethernet & fibre), wireless and network equipment.
- Installation and support of servers, laptops, computers and peripherals.
- Disposal of equipment.
A large part of our work involves the sale of equipment to schools, and we have staff solely working on sales. We are usually involved from the consultation phase through the procurement, delivery and implementation stages. We provide an online catalogue service where schools can order. In most cases, we keep items in stock and are able to deliver and install in a very short timeframe. Items not on our catalogue can usually be acquired at competitive prices, as we have close links with our suppliers who keep us informed of upcoming trends and products.
An important part of our work is the advisory service that we provide to schools. Since we are a non-profit organisation, we give impartial advice that is in the best interests of the schools. This will include:
- Advice on the selection and purchasing of computer equipment and peripherals.
- Client officer role on behalf of the school.
- The design, purchasing and project management for any ICT based project that a school may have.
We offer bilingual training courses to suit our customers’ needs. These are usually held at Cynnal in our modern training rooms, but are sometimes held at conference venues (when a larger audience is invited). Training sessions may be anything from an hour long seminar to a whole day with invited speakers (and professional instructors).
- SmoothWall web filtering.
- Cisco infrastructure software.
An important part of our work is installations – we install and configure every aspect of a school’s IT infrastructure:
- Our cabling and AV installations team have installed everything from Cat5 network sockets, fibre optic links and wireless systems.
- Our technicians have configured switches, routers and firewalls from most of the major manufacturers (such as Netgear, HP, 3Com, Juniper and Cisco).
- We have designed and installed multi-node virtual server clusters with SAN storage, multi-site replication and high-availability.
- We have designed and installed whole school networks and IT suites – from the drawing board to a complete setup in a few weeks.
The scope and variety of the projects we have been involved in and taken a leading role in over the last few years is enough to keep the most dedicated project manager busy. Here are just some of the project we have done over the last few years:
- County-wide Active Directory
We designed and implemented county-wide Active Directory domains for the primary sector, in 4 counties!! Our servers are hosted in each authority’s secure data centre, and provide a reliable system with centralised storage and software update servers.
- Virtual Servers
Over the last few years we have upgraded all secondary schools to a virtual server system. Schools have about 10 virtual servers running on 3 clustered servers with dedicated SAN storage, and 10Gb network connectivity.
Over a 6 month period we migrated all the schools over to a new web filtering product. We wanted a system that was easy for staff to use and could fulfill all our requirements (such as BYOD authentication & filtering). We now manage about 25 installs, providing web access to schools, visitors and other staff across north Wales.
The number of iPads and personal devices being used in schools has grown expenentionally, and there is considerable work to manage these devices whilst ensuring that the security of the system is not compromised. We have created several wi-fi systems for these purposes, each with their own features to provide the best end-user experience.
The VDI project has been one of the largest and most complex projects we have undertaken – compromising of 25 servers spread across the region with over 1000 users registered. It provides a secure remote desktop for school staff to access their work from home. The system uses a two-factor authentication system to secure access to the remote desktops, and we created a custom application for users to use. The system is called Gweithio Gartref.
Over the years, we have tried several backup methods (tape, disk, network), but never felt comfortable with them – so we invested in a dedicated backup server for every secondary school. These servers backup all the school’s critical data and virtual machine replications, and stores them in a secured offsite location.