A Knight’s Tale: WatchGuard Delivers Security to Transformative School Trust Led by Sir Michael Wilkins
Yorkshire-based Outwood Grange Academies Trust (OGAT) is an outstanding education success story. Since 2005, the Trust has grown to 18 secondary and primary schools, all following the same ‘Transformation Model’ of educational improvement pioneered by OGAT head Sir Michael Wilkins.
Having seen the Trust’s first academy, Outwood Grange in Wakefield, move from the bottom 10% of schools in the country to the top 10% in just two years, the Department of Education has moved more and more under-performing schools under the Trust’s umbrella, and in 2014 Sir Michael Wilkins received his knighthood for outstanding service to education.
With academies now stretching from the Middlesbrough area down through Ripon, Wakefield, Barnsley, Scunthorpe, Doncaster, Sheffield, Worksop and Chesterfield, OGAT is the highest performing family of schools in the North of England.
Trust in Security Tech
But behind this educational achievement, the Trust is increasingly aware that in times of tight budgets, inefficient or ineffective technology can become a significant drain on the financial resources intended for front-line teaching.
“Funding is getting less and less in the educational sector,” explains OGAT Assistant ICT Director Mathew Lister. “So wherever we can save a little bit on the IT here and there and give the benefit to other academies it’s a win-win all round.”
Reflecting this, OGAT decided to switch to WatchGuard firewalls to perform the crucial role of safeguarding its students and staff online. OGAT is currently installing two WatchGuard M500 systems in its data centre to provide RDS and email services. This is a significant addition to its security which already features one WatchGuard XTM 850 and five XTM 545 firewalls in six schools.
“If we compare WatchGuard to similar appliances, you’re looking at a cost savings of at least 40%,” says Lister. “In reality the WatchGuard Fireboxes just aren’t expensive, especially with all the features that you get for that cost and licence.”
Big School Networks
In technology terms, OGAT’s 16 schools operate separately, each with its own IT staff, domain and network, accessed via a 50-200 megabit broadband line, according to the size of school. While the academies share a Virtual Private Network, individual network managers cover two or three sites, again depending on school size. Network visibility was understandably a key concern.
In a single appliance, WatchGuard offers features including Gateway AntiVirus, Application Control which checks for unwanted and dangerous apps, WatchGuard Dimension and WebBlocker which monitor users online and shut out objectionable websites, IPS/IDS to detect and prevent malware, and RED (Reputation Enabled Defence) to check for known and safe websites.
The Best Education Needs Best-of-Breed Security
The WatchGuard implementation has been “seamless,” Mathew said, and “will save a massive amount of money” which will ultimately benefit the Trust’s educational aims.
The Trust has subsequently committed to installing WatchGuard Fireboxes in all 18 of its academies as their IT contracts come up for renewal. At that point, the firewalls will be safeguarding about 16,000 students and staff, replacing a mix of separate firewalls, security appliances and web filtering systems from different suppliers and providing what Mathew calls an “all-encompassing solution.”