Watermark Accelerates Migration from 2 Years to 6 Months Using AWS


Software company Watermark wanted to rapidly scale its integrated solutions, which empower higher education institutions to make meaningful changes, continuously evolve, stay competitive, and help students succeed. The company ran much of its cloud-based software using traditional collocation data centers that varied in quality, capabilities, and elasticity. Scaling as the business grew—including planning for traffic bursts and meeting ever-changing data privacy needs for its growing customer base—had become a challenge. In addition, the company was ready to off-load time-consuming database administration tasks such as hardware sizing and configuration changes. “It was a good problem to have—our business scale was outpacing our ability to react in traditional data center environments,” says Darren Bauer Kahan, chief technology and product officer of Watermark.

Watermark opted to migrate its solutions to Amazon Web Services (AWS)—starting with its solution Course Evaluations & Surveys, which gathers insights from student feedback. To serve the growing number of colleges and universities interested in using its software and to avoid interruption to existing customers, Watermark wanted to migrate Course Evaluations & Surveys as quickly as possible. Using AWS, Watermark successfully migrated the solution and was able to compress a complete migration of nearly all of its products from an initial estimated timeline of 2 years to just 6 months, a 75 percent reduction in time.

Watermark Case Study

Using AWS, we’re equipped for an aggressive growth trajectory in 2022 and ready to capture all the opportunities in higher education that are coming our way.”

Leigh Choate
Vice President of Marketing, Watermark

Serving a Growing Number of Colleges with Educational Intelligence Solutions

Launched in 2018, Watermark serves more than 1,700 colleges and universities. The company provides solutions that institutions use for assessment and accreditation planning, learning outcomes measurement, e-portfolios, faculty activity reporting, course evaluation and institutional surveys, and curriculum and catalog management. “Higher education institutions can use our solutions to understand the impact that they are actually making so that they can continuously improve and stay competitive,” says Bauer Kahan.

Although some of its products had been developed using AWS, Watermark still hosted many of its solutions in collocation facilities—its own, as well as some managed by a third party. The company opted to migrate to AWS because of its positive experience using AWS services and because of the infrastructure and global footprint of AWS, which aligned with Watermark’s regional expansion strategy. Watermark was ready to turn over traditional database management to AWS, freeing up its team to focus on what it does best: providing higher education with transformative technology. Watermark had initially estimated that migrating all of its solutions would take around 2 years but realized it could expedite the process by working with the AWS team.

Saving Resources While Improving Scalability and Availability on AWS

Watermark began migrating Course Evaluations & Surveys in April 2021 and immediately expanded the migration scope to include all its products, finishing most of the migrations in 6 months—a swift result, given the aggressive scope and timeline. To prepare, the company used AWS Application Discovery Service, which helps enterprise customers plan migration projects by gathering information about their on-premises data centers. With careful planning and phased implementation, the migration process involved minimal planned interruption to customers. “In some cases, we actually had to confirm that the solution was successfully migrated because there was virtually no impact on users,” says Steve Tillinger, vice president of infrastructure and site reliability engineering at Watermark.

Since migrating, Watermark has experienced no scalability or availability issues with its Course Evaluations & Surveys workloads. In the past, scaling in preparation for end-of-semester traffic peaks used to take weeks to months. Now, automatic scaling happens in minutes. Watermark has also achieved virtually 100 percent uptime since migrating to AWS, and its maintenance windows are shorter, which means even better quality of service for the customer.

Now that Watermark uses AWS for its database administration needs, its database administrators no longer have to focus on tedious maintenance and support activities. “They are free to focus on optimizing database performance and efficiency, which ultimately leads to a reduction in hosting resources,” says Tillinger. As an example, Watermark discovered during its migration that its databases were handling suboptimal workloads, leading to unnecessary expense. Now that it has moved its footprint using AWS, Watermark expects to see significant optimization moving forward. Making routine security updates in Watermark’s collocation centers used to be time consuming and costly as well, but the company can now reduce costs and labor by using AWS, where security standards are built in and managed services stay up to date on security patches.

Watermark now has the agility it needs to iterate quickly, readying the company to serve new and existing customers in less time. For example, spinning up a new environment to test an architectural change, which used to take as long as 1 month, now happens in a matter of minutes. Further, adding a new customer in a region of the world that Watermark doesn’t yet serve is now nearly instantaneous—not the daunting project it used to be—because of the large global footprint that AWS provides. Because it has increased its speed to market and facilitated faster build and test cycles, Watermark can build and deliver on a more ambitious product road map for 2022. “The faster that we can deliver all the things that our customers are asking for, the more likely we are to keep them as customers and also grow our customer base,” says Leigh Choate, vice president of marketing at Watermark. “Using AWS, we’re equipped for an aggressive growth trajectory in 2022 and ready to capture all the opportunities in higher education that are coming our way.”

Planning an Ambitious Road Map

Watermark has successfully migrated all but one of its solutions to AWS, and it is on track to migrate the remaining solution by the end of 2021. Next on the road map is exploring AWS services that Watermark can use to bring new features to market faster. For instance, Watermark is looking into Amazon Redshift, a fast and widely used cloud data warehouse. The company will also consider expanding its use of AWS Lambda, a serverless, event-driven compute service for running any type of application or backend service without provisioning or managing servers.

Watermark will also use AWS to accelerate data-driven product features that will bring together previously disconnected data, offering higher education leaders new insights about program, faculty, and student success that will save them time as they make decisions. “Having 100 percent of our software hosted in the same cloud environment will fast-track our ability to put even more data in front of our customers,” says Bauer Kahan. “We’re confident that AWS tools and services will continue helping us speed toward that goal.”

About Watermark

Watermark provides software solutions that empower higher education institutions to make meaningful changes, continuously evolve, stay competitive, and help their students succeed. The company serves the assessment and faculty success needs of over 1,700 institutions.

Benefits of AWS

  • Reduced migration timeline by 75%, from 2 years to 6 months for nearly all products
  • Improved scalability
  • Achieved virtually 100% uptime
  • Migrated with minimal planned interruption to customers
  • Increased speed to market
  • Reduced time to spin up new environments from 1 month to minutes
  • Can quickly add customers in new regions
  • Improved employee productivity and reduced costs

AWS Services Used

AWS Application Discovery Service

AWS Application Discovery Service helps enterprise customers plan migration projects by gathering information about their on-premises data centers.

Learn more »

Get Started

Organizations of all sizes across all industries are transforming their businesses and delivering on their missions every day using AWS. Contact our experts and start your own AWS journey today.