Sierra-Cedar Helps Arizona State University Expand Capacity by Migrating PeopleSoft Applications to AWS

Executive Summary

Arizona State University (ASU) realized greater scalability and cost savings by moving its Oracle PeopleSoft applications to the AWS Cloud. Known for its innovation and research, ASU is among the largest universities in the US with 120,000 students and over 17,000 employees. ASU worked with AWS Partner Sierra-Cedar to migrate both of its Oracle PeopleSoft applications using Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon ECS) to host its web and application servers and Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) to manage its large Oracle databases.

Scalability Needs Motivates Move to the Cloud

ASU has been ranked as the most innovative university in the country by U.S. News & World Report for six consecutive years. It is also recognized as one of the fastest-growing research universities in the United States. When the ASU PeopleSoft support team decided to migrate the university’s back-office applications to the cloud, it was no surprise that their first choice was AWS, a cloud provider with a reputation for innovation.

ASU uses Oracle’s PeopleSoft applications to manage its large student body, faculty, and staff. Together, ASU’s PeopleSoft Campus Solutions and PeopleSoft Human Capital Management systems support nearly 120,000 in-person and remote students and over 17,000 employees. While the PeopleSoft applications performed well, the university struggled to scale the applications on-the-fly to accommodate peak usage, such as during registration periods. “With our legacy hosted architecture, capacity increases were fixed in sizing and costly in terms of resource acquisition and time-to-implement,” says Shawn Bryan, ASU Cloud Migration Advisor. “We wanted to move to a platform that offered built-in elasticity capabilities that could quickly grow to support our peak usage and then release the resources we didn’t need when usage returned to normal.”

To help migrate the PeopleSoft systems to the AWS Cloud, the ASU PeopleSoft support team partnered with Sierra-Cedar—a member of the AWS Public Sector Partner Program and an AWS Advanced Consulting Partner in the AWS Partner Network (APN) with AWS Competencies in Education and Oracle. “Sierra-Cedar has been providing private hosting for ASU’s PeopleSoft applications since 2007,” says Bryan. “And when they told us they could migrate ASU’s PeopleSoft systems to AWS in less than a year, we were intrigued.” 

“Sierra-Cedar has been providing private hosting for ASU’s PeopleSoft applications since 2007. And when they told us they could migrate ASU’s PeopleSoft systems to AWS in less than a year, we were intrigued.” 

- Shawn Bryan, Cloud Migration Advisor, ASU

A Phased Approach to Testing and Migration

The joint project team achieved a successful migration in 10 months. They did this by implementing a three-phased approach to testing and migrating the PeopleSoft architecture to the AWS platform. The first and most important phase involved testing and migrating the Oracle database from a five-node Oracle RAC cluster to Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS). A specialized load-testing team simulated maximum user activity on the system to ensure that Amazon RDS could handle ASU’s load requirements. In conjunction with the simulated user load testing, the team ran all batch process workflows for ASU’s PeopleSoft Campus Solutions and Human Capital Management systems on the AWS instances to assess performance levels under normal conditions and with sudden user surges, which occurs during enrollment periods.

The second phase verified that the AWS-ASU integration was compatible with third-party interfaces and that the system configurations could successfully run on the AWS platform. The team methodically addressed compatibility issues and the user acceptance testing contributed to ASU’s readiness to migrate its large PeopleSoft architecture to AWS. The final phase involved the actual migration of ASU’s PeopleSoft applications to AWS.

Saving Costs While Increasing Capacity and Availability

Since moving to the AWS Cloud, ASU reduced its annual costs by 20 percent. Some of this savings was attained through reduced costs in database storage fees applied to each PeopleSoft production and nonproduction system. ASU also achieved considerable cost savings by replacing product support for the infrastructure components within the Amazon RDS service offering. “Previously  in the hosting environment, we were paying exorbitant fees for continuously increasing database storage demands. Since moving to AWS, the storage cost has been pennies to dollars,” says Bryan.

Sierra-Cedar took advantage of AWS CodeDeploy and Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon ECS) to implement blue/green deployment during migration to the AWS Cloud. This ensured that the system remained available to users throughout the testing and migration phases and that it continues to be available whenever maintenance is performed. Previously, the system would be down for 8–12 hours every month for system upgrades and maintenance. “One of the major benefits we’ve realized with AWS is increased uptime, which we did not have when we were on premises,” says Ravi Bulusu, Cloud Engineer at Sierra-Cedar. “We can now perform maintenance while users are accessing the system.”

The team also relies on Amazon ECS to host the web and application servers, which makes deploying the infrastructure very fast. Before migrating to the cloud, restarting the PeopleSoft application infrastructure would take up to 45 minutes. With Amazon ECS, redeployment is under 30 seconds. “Normally, a request comes in from ASU informing us that they've made a change and asking us to restart the web and app servers,” says Bulusu. “Since moving to AWS, the gain in redeployment is enormous. It's very easy to scale the infrastructure with the help of Amazon ECS.”  

“One of the major benefits we’ve realized with AWS is increased uptime, which we did not have when we were on premises. We can now perform maintenance while users are accessing the system.”

- Ravi Bulusu, Cloud Engineer, Sierra-Cedar

Better, More Efficient Database Management

By using Amazon RDS, Sierra-Cedar can manage ASU’s continuously expanding Oracle databases more efficiently. All the functionalities that are central to administering a database, such as patching, upgrades, and backups, are now managed through Amazon RDS. The service also provides redundancy, data retention, system snapshots, and the ability to restore and refresh production environments, which was previously a time-consuming and largely manual process. These managed processes fit very well with Sierra-Cedar’s operating procedures and have made it much easier to support ASU’s PeopleSoft applications. When administering the databases for the largest and most innovative university in the US, that makes a big difference.

Arizona State University

About Arizona State University

Based in Tempe, Arizona State University (ASU) is a public research university that  spans five campuses and four regional learning centers throughout Arizona. With an enrollment of 120,000, it is among the largest universities in the United States. For six years in row, it has been ranked number one in the country for innovation by U.S. News & World Report.

About Sierra-Cedar

Sierra-Cedar is an information technology professional services firm specializing in system implementations, upgrades, hosting, and managed services for on-premise and cloud-based applications. Sierra-Cedar is an AWS Advanced Consulting Partner, an AWS Public Sector Partner, and an Oracle partner.

Published February 2021