The Big Redeployment

We are currently two weeks away from opening. This summer, we decided to redeploy our devices from scratch. Same 115 iPad 1s but it was time to reset everything.

I made a big mistake last summer that started to cause some trouble as the year wore on: I didn't reset the devices to zero. The result was that kids were running out of storage space on their devices by February. One child, for example, had created 5GB of paintings in Brushes alone. Our kids create a LOT of things on their iPads (and they don't even have a camera yet!).

Before the summer, I had hoped to be able to move towards a deployment where the students have their own Apple IDs and we would be able to deploy apps to them directly. Unfortunately, we still don't have access to the Volume Purchase Program in the UK yet so that plan has had to be shelved for another year. There's no way you can re-work your deployment approach in the middle of a school year, so we'll move to individual IDs when we refresh our devices next summer. That is, assuming VPP access has arrived by then!

Before the end of term, we had the students email any work the teachers wanted to keep to their Basecamp portfolio. That the new Basecamp provides the ability to upload files by email is a huge win for this.

My approach to redeployment was basically this:

Firstly, I reset one device and completed the iOS setup wizard. I skipped the part where you create or supply an AppleID, since we're not really going to be using iCloud this year. I then captured a backup of this device using Apple Configurator - this "Master" backup being nothing more than an activated iOS 5.1.1 device. There's no point in adding configuration profiles at this time as they won't be restored to other devices anyway.

Next, I connected each device to Apple Configurator to update them all to iOS 5.1.1. Apple Configurator is the only tool that can parallelise iOS installations on devices, so this was a big time saver. After the erase-install, I restored the Master backup to every device and set the name to "iPad". I also installed our base configuration profile, which contained settings for:

  • App Store age restrictions
  • WiFi password
  • A web clip for Wikipedia
  • Calendar subscription to our school calendar
  • CardDAV account for our shared address book

One of the problems I ran into was that I wanted to also enrol all the devices in our MDM server at the same time. Enrolling in an MDM server requires WiFi access to complete the hand-shake between client and server. Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out how to convey to Apple Configurator that there was an ordering dependency between the 'core' profile and the MDM enrolment profile: the core profile needs to be on first to set up the WiFi so the MDM profile could install.

The workaround was to put the MDM profile in iPhone Configuration Utility and install it there manually after Configurator was done. Ugly, but it works. At this point I have 105 iPads all activated and enrolled in MDM with no apps on them. Time to set that up.

Each classroom in the school has an iMac which acts as the 'sync' station for the iPads in that class. The first thing I did was to log into that iMac and trash the existing iTunes library. We still have access to the apps we bought, but I want each teacher to pick the apps that they would like for their class. This will save space on the devices and allow a more customised approach per class, even without individual Apple IDs.

I wanted to make sure install was working though so, in each classroom, I downloaded iBooks and iTunes U to the computer, then synced each iPad. The iPads were already activated but I still had to give them a name, configure the syncing, and provide a password to encrypt the backup files. I also re-labelled the devices at this time because I'm not necessarily giving each pupil back the exact device they handed in. I also took this time to create a new device allocation spreadsheet so that we know which pupil has which serial number.

Start-to-finish, this took me a day and a half to do for 105 devices. What remains is for each teacher to come in before school starts, pick the apps they want their kids to have and sync their class set once.

Next week is all about my own teaching preparation, then teachers come back the next week and we're doing some intense preparation work on iTunes U.