Implementation of LEARN at DCTT Lyneham
The Defence College of Technical Training (DCTT) educates personnel from all three UK military services across 6 core location within the UK. It provides education in several specialist areas including; Aeronautical engineering, electro-mechanical engineering, marine engineering, communications and information systems.
The college embarked on a £121million project during 2015 to build a new green-field training establishment at the former RAF site Lyneham. Centiant partnered with its JV partner Centerprise to deliver a multi-million pound contract to design, implement and support a new computerised education solution as part of this.
Operating at OFFICIAL, the solution uses the latest technologies to deliver a flexible wireless LAN, tablet computing, a secure private cloud alongside community cloud access, managed internet access, Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and Computer Aided Instruction (CAI) classrooms. The solution was delivered ahead of time and exceeded expectations.
A November 2015 report referred to LEARN Lyneham as “The ICS jewel in the Crown”.
The same report stated “LEARN provides a state of the art platform for DCTT training and education delivery into the future” comprising of “computer aided instruction (CAI) classrooms”, “state of the art dual firewalls, dual core switching and dual server farms”, “90 km of external cabling to connect buildings, and 27 km of internal data cabling that supports circa 7000 data points and 450 wireless access points”, all delivered “in advance of deadlines, on budget and above specification”.
Centiant delivered and integrated to the solution, meeting all customer requirements and successfully launching the learning services with training and through-life support.
The project involved moving two existing colleges, previously based in Hampshire and Arborfield, to the new site. This move was without disruption to training and within aggressive timescales. A hard stop end date was established due to existing locations being sold as part of a Defence transformation programme, and therefore being no longer available for use in the future.
The brief was to develop a flexible training solution that provided the following:
- Students access to learning from on and offsite locations. This was achieved through the delivery of Virtual Learning Platforms based on open source Moodle technology. This allows users to access OFFICIAL content from off-site locations through a Moodle platform on the DMZ and when on-site to access OFFICIAL-SENSITIVE content whilst in accommodation blocks and communal areas.
- Support for remote and recorded training. This was achieved through the provision of a cisco WebEx platform allowing lectures to be recorded using high definition audio visual equipment and enabling content to be uploaded to the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) for later play back. Additionally live lectures can be broadcast on the network within multiple classrooms and supporting individual students joining remotely.
- A secure system. The content being delivered by this college is at OFFICIAL and OFFICIAL-SENSITIVE (RESTRICTED) classification. This level requires the solution to meet accreditation requirements prior to data being utilised on the system. To enable accreditation the system is protected by a firewall sandwich design comprising two firewalls from differing vendors and providing an inner and outer firewall with Anti-virus and intrusion protection systems included.
A resilient design. The solution formed the primary IT system on-site, making it mission critical for the college. IT needed to have the ability to lose multiple components without loss of service. This was achieved by implementing a highly resilient dual core solution, configured active-active to boost capacity in normal operation. Further resilience was built into the system through the use of Virtualisation technology detecting hardware failures on physical server blades and automatically moving virtual servers to other blades within the system
The secure wireless network extends to training buildings, communal areas and accommodation blocks on site. Connections are provided at 802.11ac standard to both the OFFICIAL SENSITIVE and Guest WIFI networks.
Guest WIFI provides “bring your own device” (BYOD) secure content with managed internet access to students, staff and guests. This internet service is fully monitored and centrally managed allowing the college to prioritise usage during teaching hours.
The wireless network has around 500 access points across multiple buildings on a large site with a mixture of new and refurbished buildings.
The solution delivers application hosting services through laptops and tablets, and through a new virtual desktop environment using Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, or VDI. Virtualisation successfully reduced licence costs for expensive software, such as AutoCAD, allowing it to be virtualised and shared between classrooms. This removed the need for licences to be tied to individual users and End User Devices that aren’t in full-time use for those training packages.
VDI also allows training to take place on systems that are separated from, or not compatible with the Windows 8 environment. Alternative clients, such as Linux, thin and zero-clients can be used. Software not approved for the network, such as “hacking tools” on a security course, can be used in a safe and contained “sandbox” environment.
The implementation was delivered within an aggressive timeline by our dedicated in house project management team. Centiant liaised with the wider multi million pound programme stakeholders including the building contractors. The complex logistical activities involved
in moving large military equipment between sites and the training demands resulted in the need for rapid reaction to changing circumstances.
Contract award was in Feb 2015 with the first core being delivered in August 2015 within an existing building. The second core installation was in September 2015 and into new building.
Late within the programme the overall plan changed resulting in staff and students being transferred to the new system during October / November at much higher quantities than originally intended. Centiant rapidly responded to this new requirement, implementing and refining the solution over a three month interim operating mode.
The project is viewed as a huge success, with the site management and customers’ expectations exceeded with specific emphasis on our ability to absorb an unexpected late change and providing core services to the campus ahead of schedule.
Each student is issued with a laptop allowing them continued learning outside the classroom through either the onsite campus wide wireless network or a secure VPN connection. Both students and users can connect remotely to the full virtual learning environment and is supplemented by fully populated learning rooms in which students can work collaboratively on projects.
The solution is fully scalable with the college expected to expand in the near future as more schools move onsite and connect to the central core. The network has been designed to accommodate growth including storage, networking capacity and additional compute/services.
The service currently supports 2000 users comprising the staff and student population. The system is expanding, with more colleges being added to the scalable core, extending the same benefits to others.
The solution is fully supported for 3 years with an option to extend support for a further two years. Support includes a manufactures support on all hardware / software, an on-site 1st and 2nd line helpdesk, and remote third line support from Centiant’s security vetted service operations centre. The support cover is flexible to cover routine working hours, and extension to weekend and evening works when needed.
This extension will cover college events and training of military reservists (equivalent to distance learning students attending weekend workshops).