Skillforce is a national education charity with instructors travelling across the breadth of the UK delivering support and motivational mentoring into schools.

Using technology to drive improvements

Custard and SkillForce have worked in partnership for over 7 years, not only providing day to day IT support to all staff but also implementing, supporting and managing SkillForce’s virtual server infrastructure. Because of the way SkillForce is structured, staff are spread across the UK, so it was essential that information and systems were unified in a secure environment that was easily accessible to all employees, independent of their location.

SkillForce’s servers were situated in different geographical locations, some in data centres and some in local offices. This meant that not all data was accessible to everybody and information was scattered across the business.

Because of this, the backups were managed by different members of staff and were on tape media, which at times was unreliable and often unchecked throughout the whole business. As well as this, because there was no central remote access system, members of staff who were not based in offices connected via VPN’s were not able to access data easily.

This streamlined all the different ways that SkillForce employees were working and enabled central management access to control the access and security of any documents of a sensitive nature.

Some of the systems had to be served via standard broadband connections, which at times didn’t have sufficient bandwidth capability to cater for demand. Another disadvantage to having servers located in individual offices is that any localised power or broadband issues had a knock on affect to other offices which otherwise would not have been affected.

SkillForce needed a solution which allowed everybody, regardless of location, to access to the information they required, as and when they needed it. Because of the sensitive nature of the work that SkillForce does, it was also essential that the solution would be secure, with access restrictions in place. Additional to this, the solution required a fast and reliable internet connection as well as resilient power.

Custard recommended that SkillForce migrate their data from the multiple locations to one secure, central location which in this instance was at Custard’s data centre. The first step in this process was to deploy virtual servers to handle the applications, email, databases and remote access. Access was given to employees machines for accessing systems via Remote Apps. Once it was tested and verified that the system was accessible in even the most remote locations, data was systematically migrated to the new environment. This streamlined all the different ways that SkillForce employees were working and enabled central management access to control the access and security of any documents of a sensitive nature.

Custard created separate application servers for a HR system, Sharepoint, Exchange, Fundraising system and Remote Apps as well as file servers. These were created from scratch on the latest operating systems and Custard co-ordinated third party software venders to migrate SkillForces data into these.

By hosting these servers in a virtual environment, Custard have removed individual points of failure by employing multiple redundant hypervisors, internet connections and power supplies. Custard have power coming from 2 different grids, along with solar power, generator and battery back-up. Custard’s internet is provided by 4 individual data centre fibre connections and is routed through redundant firewalls. By moving SkillForces entire infrastructure into this environment, we have greatly reduced the risk of downtime for all of SkillForces systems.

Because of the ever changing nature of SkillForce’s business, it was vital that their technology was able to evolve with it. With being in a virtual environment, whenever a requirement arose for a new system, Custard were able to quickly deploy a new virtual machine to fulfil this requirement, rather than having to budget and implement additional hardware. A good example of this evolution was when SkillForce needed to deploy a new attendance and behavioural tracking system based on Microsoft Dynamics. Custard helped SkillForce to roll out 4 additional virtual servers and to employ a developer to build the software.

Since this initial migration and additional project, Custard have continued to support, manage and pro actively monitor these virtual servers. Regular system reviews have ensured that relevant upgrades have been applied to ensure that SkillForce are utilising the latest technology to ensure their business runs smoothly and efficiently.