How Taiwan deployed 400,000 iPads in a few weeks

Large education deployments are among the most challenging problems IT admins have to solve. So, just how did they deploy 400,000 iPads in Taiwan?

Is it possible to deploy hundreds of thousands of iPads across multiple locations to a huge group of people with different skill levels? Absolutely. That’s what’s happened in Taiwan, where the Ministry of Education invested millions to put tens of thousands of tablets into the K-12 education sector.

Smart education to make kids smarter

Taiwan wants to offer its children world-class digital classrooms. That’s why it recently moved to extend tablet provision to elementary and junior schools, as well as K-12. (It already offers high-speed internet access and smart classrooms.)

But this isn’t really an education story. It’s a lesson in how to efficiently handle a complex multi-platform deployment at scale. Anyone who has delivered large-scale rollouts across any kind of enterprise knows how complex they can be.

Planning is critical to getting everything right. This extends to how to use the devices you intend to deploy, of course, but also to the way they'll be used.

Does every device need to be handled and setup manually by IT, or can remote administration tools reduce the workload? What about bandwidth? Can IT maintain broadband QoS levels when handling so many devices in such a compressed time? What about distribution? What’s the approach to tech support? What about device management?

This was the substance of an interesting case study shared at the Jamf JNUC event this week.

Managing mixed platforms

Taiwan’s education ministry wanted a way to handle Chrome, Windows, and iOS equipment. It had tried working with a UEM provider to handle these, but by the time the new deployment was planned it decided to build its own management system.

To support the effort, the platform-focused MDM vendors it chose had to offer APIs that could be exploited by its own portal. It chose to work with Apple and Jamf.

Jamf could integrate with the ministry’s own UEM because it uses the Restful API, which uses industry standard JSON and XML files. It also offered SAML 2.0 for authentication and SSO. (The ministry wanted to use its own ID provider.)

Additional challenges included the need to support all these devices, to manage them when they're taken home, to track student behavior and to ensure the tablets could not be used to access improper content. All of this was possible with the chosen MDM.

The IT departments also wanted to be able to consolidate the vast inventory into a single database.

Given the choice between platforms, 80% of users chose Apple’s devices. Jamf and Apple worked together to solve some of the challenges of the deployment.

Solving complex problems, one standard at a time

When the project began, Taiwan faced several additional challenges, not least the fact that not every teacher was familiar with the technology being put in place. Winnie Wang, Jamf Senior Sales Manager, APAC, explained how Apple and Jamf plugged the knowledge gap.

Working together, they trained 3,000 teachers in the use of the iPads and digital education resources. To achieve this, they hosted more than 100 training sessions in three months — and after just two months, had deployed 400,000 iPads across Taiwan.

Knowledge may be power, but technology on its own doesn’t solve anything. Taiwan has also invested in high-quality digital teaching materials and has created an E-Learning gateway. It is also worth noting that Taiwan’s E-learning system relies on big data to track student progress and guide them toward better educational attainment.

With a deployment challenge so huge, how did Jamf and Apple handle it?

Deploying 10,000 iPads a day

Quite well, it seems. Having considered the needs of the project and provided education and training sessions before it began, Wang’s teams assembled 30 groups of experts to travel the nation.

They were able to deploy the Apple tablets at an average rate of 10,000 iPads a day. The process took place across eight weeks, during which 400,000 iPads were put in place at schools across the country.

In other words, with a little thought and organization, it's possible to organize extremely large-scale technology deployments in limited time.  So, when your IT department tells you something can’t be done, perhaps it is time to encourage them to think different about the problems they face?

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