How UCL migrated its Moodle virtual learning environment to the cloud in 10 weeks
University College London’s (UCL) virtual learning environment (VLE) is at the heart of its digital education infrastructure and used by students physically located all around the world. Its VLE is built on the Moodle learning management system (LMS). Before migrating to Amazon Web Services (AWS), its system could handle 2,500 concurrent users. But when the pandemic drove schools and universities to predominantly online teaching, the UCL team wanted to scale to support six times this amount.
To achieve this, the university needed to migrate the Moodle application to the cloud, in a tight 10-week timeframe before the new academic year in autumn 2020. Since its migration to AWS, UCL can now dynamically scale its environment to support any required concurrent user number, helping to support the 14,000 staff and 43,000 students from 150 different countries in generating 10,000+ transactions per minute during peak periods on its VLE.
Setting up for success
To complete the migration in just 10 weeks, UCL worked with AWS Partner Catalyst. UCL’s primary goal was to get set up quickly, without any noticeable change in service from the perspective of students and staff. To achieve this, the team decided to focus solely on migrating the application as the first step of its AWS Cloud journey. “We saw this as an opportunity to deliver a seamless experience for our staff and students. Our primary goal was to be able to support the increase in traffic as students and staff were learning remotely due to the pandemic,” says Dr. Fiona Strawbridge, director of digital education at UCL. “Now that we’ve migrated such a key system, we have further plans to move more services to the cloud and to create cloud-native apps and enhancements for learning and teaching.”
UCL rigorously load tested to see if its system could scale to anticipated traffic patterns. After completing its migration from on-premises servers to AWS, UCL increased its VLE’s performance and response times. What once took 15 seconds at max capacity could now be done in 350 milliseconds when running in AWS. “Reducing latency is critical to keeping students engaged. When they’re learning online, we want to ensure they’re able to engage seamlessly, without having to wait for the system to respond,” says Dr. Strawbridge. UCL relies on Amazon Aurora, Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), and Amazon Elastic Block Store, among other services.
With faster access for students and staff, less disruption, and approved agility within Moodle, UCL was confident its system would be able to handle traffic spikes throughout the coming academic year, and that confidence was borne out. “With COVID-19, higher education has seen a shift to asynchronous, connected learning online. Knowing we can deliver brings us peace of mind. We’re no longer focusing on whether or not our system can scale, we’re back to focusing on what we do best: teaching, learning, and innovating on behalf of students,” says Dr. Strawbridge.
On the heels of the successful Moodle migration, the university is looking to further its cloud journey. UCL’s Information Services Division (ISD) is mapping out its path to the cloud in the next year. Additionally, the university has smaller projects underway including backing up its business application data in AWS and migrating its public-facing websites to the cloud.
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