AWS Public Sector Blog

EdTech D2L shares lessons from an all-in migration to AWS

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Moving all-in to the cloud is a big achievement for technology teams. For some customers, the migration is fast, and for others with behemoth systems and complex applications is staggered over years.

D2L, a learning technology company based in Canada (Waterloo, Ontario), took just over three years to shut down its last colocation facility in late 2019. This completed their all-in migration to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud.

D2L—through its pioneering learning management systems (LMS) Brightspace—supports millions of learners in schools, businesses, and governments around the world. D2L uses more than 60 AWS services to power its product suite. Being on the cloud helps D2L scale for peak periods without overprovisioning its technology resources to deal with spikes in demand, such as the start of the school year. D2L is now equipped to handle a three-times increase in the load of a large client in less than 24 hours—something that would not have been possible with its previous environment using its on-premises data center.

Because D2L supports many users around the world, they had to ensure their migration did not cause any service disruptions. D2L leaders celebrated their success migration by sharing advice for other companies considering the move to the cloud.

Just get started

D2L leaders said leaders thinking about migrating to the cloud should just get started, no matter where or how small.

“The bottom line is start. Try some experiments. Once you get started, it’s a rolling stone that just moves faster and faster,” said Nick Oddson, chief technology officer, D2L.

“One of the biggest questions most people run into is ‘do we lift and shift or do we refactor and then move?’ In my experience, err on the side of getting something small over into AWS first, because once you get code in AWS, the learning curve is so incredibly fast. When engineers actually get their code in, then they start to unlock and learn all the different things that they never even thought of,” said Cheryl Ainoa, former chief operating officer, D2L.

Learning is part of the process

While there’s value in just getting started, D2L leaders suggest you should have patience with both yourself and your team, and expect to learn things along the way—but that those learnings will make you stronger in the end.

“It’s probably going to be harder than you think. It’s probably going to take you longer than you think. And it’s probably going to cost you a bit more than you think. But it’s going to be worth it. The key lesson we learned out of this, with the trouble we went through, and all the challenges and the ups and the downs and the celebrations and the wins, is that our product is a better product because of this transformation,” said Matt Campbell, senior engineering director, D2L.

“For each of those people who are involved, it’s probably one of the biggest things they’ve ever d

one in their careers to date—challenging and exciting and they learn new skills through the whole thing. It just sets the foundation for leapfrogging again and going even further faster,” said Oddson.

Partner for success

For former D2L chief operating officer Cheryl Ainoa, this is the second company she’s worked with that has undergone a massive transformation with AWS. The first being Intuit. Ainoa cited the importance of engaging with and trusting a partner to help with your migration.

“I can’t tell you how many times when we first started the project, people would be saying, ‘are we really relying on them to deliver when they said they would? That’s pretty risky.’ And so many times I’d say, ‘if they said they are going to deliver, trust me, they are going to deliver.’ I have been through this with them. After the first time when they delivered, and then the second time that they delivered, now it’s gotten to the point where people are believers,” said Ainoa.

Learn more

Learn more about cloud computing for edtech companies, Cloud 101 for the public sector, and contact us.

AWS Public Sector Blog Team

AWS Public Sector Blog Team

Headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, the AWS Public Sector blog team writes for the government, education, and nonprofit sector around the globe. Learn more about AWS for the public sector by visiting our website (, or following us on Twitter (@AWS_gov, @AWS_edu, and @AWS_Nonprofits).