New Zealand Qualifications Authority Uses VMware Cloud on AWS to Exit Data Center, Drive Modernization

Executive Summary

An AWS Public Sector Partner, VMware assisted the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) in quickly migrating ten key business applications to AWS, enabling reliable online examinations for more than 100,000 students, speeding a modernization initiative, and increasing business response times. NZQA moved its applications to VMware Cloud on AWS, which runs on Amazon EC2 instances.

Data Center Closure Spurs Move to the Cloud

Every year, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) certifies educational and training qualifications for thousands of New Zealand students and professionals. NZQA is a government entity that manages the country’s qualifications framework, administers the secondary school assessment system, and recognizes qualifications and standards for specific industries. The organization manages and processes these certifications through a suite of ten applications that contain data from more than 160,000 registered users.

Until recently, these applications resided in an on-premises data center, with dozens of physical servers and hundreds of virtual machines running VMware virtualization software. However, NZQA had to rethink this model when the data center was slated to be permanently shuttered. “We knew the data center was closing in a few months, and we also needed to refresh our aging hardware,” says Peter Smith, Systems Team Lead for the New Zealand Qualifications Authority. At the same time, the organization wanted to modernize its application environment to support a digital transformation strategy. “Overall, we wanted to be more agile and more scalable, and we realized the cloud would be the right technology to enable that,” Smith says. “However, we had to act quickly because of the data center shutdown.”

Selecting VMware and AWS to Lead a Business-Critical Migration

NZQA chose Amazon Web Services (AWS) as its cloud provider and turned to longtime technology partner VMware to accelerate its cloud migration journey. VMware is an AWS Partner and an AWS Public Sector Partner. “We liked the range of services AWS provides, and we were also impressed with the existing partnership between VMware and AWS,” says Smith. NZQA specifically chose VMware Cloud on AWS, a solution for VMware vSphere-based workloads. VMware Cloud on AWS integrates VMware compute, storage, and network virtualization technologies and runs on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances. NZQA also wanted to incorporate VMware Cloud on AWS into its hybrid cloud strategy to enhance disaster recovery for several applications running in a separate on-premises environment.

“VMware Cloud on AWS gives us the high availability we require to make sure everything goes seamlessly.”

-  Peter Smith, Systems Team Lead, New Zealand Qualifications Authority

Remotely Migrating Applications in One Weekend

VMware and AWS collaborated closely with NZQA to migrate ten business-critical applications to VMware Cloud on AWS. VMware provided technical and architectural design expertise for the initial migration. The company then led a modernization initiative by breaking down the monolithic NZQA environment into containerized applications running on Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon ECS) and AWS Fargate, a serverless compute engine for containers.

Due to the requirement for offices to close as part of New Zealand’s response to the pandemic, VMware needed to remotely facilitate the move from the data center to VMware Cloud on AWS, relying on VMware Hybrid Cloud Extension (HCX) to simplify and speed the migration. “We were concerned about not being physically there for the migration, but we had all the tools we needed, such as VMware HCX, to keep everything in sync,” says Emmanuel Andis, Senior Infrastructure Engineer at New Zealand Qualifications Authority. “It wasn’t much of a challenge at all. Along with VMware, we performed the migration over a single weekend so our applications could be live by Monday.”

Reliably Supporting 100,000 Application Users

Each year, NZQA administers online qualifications examinations for secondary education. By running the exam application on VMware Cloud on AWS, NZQA can scale on demand to support the 100,000 daily users that take the exams and need to access their results. In the past, NZQA was limited by the amount of compute capacity it had, which required the organization to size the data center for maximum load. This process was costly and time-consuming. “Now, in a few minutes, we can spin up the compute capacity we need to support these peak workloads,” says Andis. VMware Cloud on AWS also gives NZQA the high availability it needs during the yearly examination period. “This is a period where nothing can go wrong and no systems can fail,” Smith says. “VMware Cloud on AWS gives us the high availability we require to make sure everything goes seamlessly.” Additionally, NZQA is ensuring sub-second application response while users are taking exams, an improvement from the several seconds it previously took.

Increasing the Speed of Business Delivery

Since moving its application environment from the data center to the cloud, NZQA responds faster to business demands because it spends less time provisioning and managing hardware. “Each month, we would spend a full day driving to the data center to work on stacking or provisioning our systems,” says Smith. “We have now freed that time to take on other tasks, such as modernizing more of our application environment.” The organization will also reduce some operational costs by leveraging its existing investments in VMware and expertise in virtualization. NZQA expects to nurture its relationships with VMware and AWS while continuing its digital transformation journey. “We see this as an ongoing collaboration,” says Smith. “We plan to use additional AWS security and business intelligence services, for example, and we will move additional workloads to VMware Cloud on AWS as we keep modernizing our environment.”

All rights reserved. VMware Cloud on AWS, VMware vSphere, and VMware HCX are trademarks or registered trademarks of VMware or its affiliates in the United States and other countries.

New Zealand Qualifications Authority

About New Zealand Qualification Authority

The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) is a government entity that provides leadership in assessment and qualifications for the country. Based in Wellington, New Zealand, NZQA administers the National Certificates of Educational Achievement and the New Zealand Scholarship for secondary school students.

About VMware

VMware, based in Palo Alto, California, is a global provider of cloud computing and virtualization software and services. It offers a software-defined data center, hybrid cloud, and end-user computer products designed to support modernizing data centers, integrating public clouds, empowering digital workspaces, and transforming security.

Published August 2021.