California State University Improves Student Experiences by Partnering with Unisys to Leverage Hybrid AWS Architecture

Executive Summary

Unisys helps the California State University (CSU) improve student experiences by managing Oracle PeopleSoft ERP applications in a modern hybrid architecture. The CSU is the largest four-year higher education system in the United States. The university runs the applications on Unisys CloudForte powered by Amazon S3, Amazon EC2, and AWS Direct Connect.

On a Mission to Increase Graduation Rates

Unisys, a long-time member of the AWS Partner Network (APN) and  Public Sector Partner Program, specializes in hybrid IT infrastructures. Unisys solutions leverage cloud and on-premises data centers to give customers the flexibility and agility to deploy workloads in optimal environments.
One customer benefiting from Unisys expertise is the California State University (CSU). The CSU knows positive student experiences and removing administrative barriers help drive higher graduation rates. The CSU’s university-wide plan, Graduation Initiative 2025, seeks to increase graduation rates, eliminate equity gaps in degree completion, and meet California’s workforce needs. It’s an ambitious undertaking considering that CSU is the largest system of four-year higher education in the country—with 23 campuses, 486,000 students, and nearly 56,000 faculty and staff.

Improving Student Experiences and Providing Access to Data

To meet the Graduation Initiative 2025 goals, two key objectives were to enhance student online experiences and provide faculty and staff with equity-focused insights from campus data to help students move towards action. To help achieve these objectives, the CSU Office of the Chancellor launched a project to migrate its Common Management System (CMS) from an on-premises infrastructure to a hybrid cloud to provision key application components. These include services that students use to register for classes, manage schedules, check grades, and pay bills.
“The California State University wants to ensure more students graduate in a timely manner,” says Michael Berman, chief information officer for the CSU Office of the Chancellor. “With infrastructures running in the cloud, we can more easily modernize applications and implement data lakes that provide real-time data about student successes so administrators can help keep them on track to earning their degree.”
Modernizing applications so they are easier to use is vital for any state university system. Students need to quickly register for classes before semesters start and then be able to easily drop and add classes. The bill-paying process must also flow smoothly.  “No student will tolerate slow applications—they expect IT systems to respond instantly,” says Berman. “A modern cloud architecture fosters an environment where software programmers can develop the mobile and flexible services that students expect.”

“We trust Unisys because it has a deep understanding of our architecture, security, and automation requirements. Unisys also provides all the key capabilities to create a hybrid cloud infrastructure while continuing to effectively manage on-premises systems.”

- Michael Berman, Chief Information Officer, CSU Office of the Chancellor

Automated Cloud Operations and Cost Controls

To take on the challenge of migrating to a hybrid IT infrastructure, CSU turned to Unisys, a long-time IT partner. Unisys recommended its CloudForte platform, which provides a hybrid cloud model to provision the university’s CMS and the data lakes for analyzing student activities. The platform automates cloud operations and manages IT services while helping control cloud costs and monitoring security by integrating with various third-party platforms.
“We trust Unisys because it has a deep understanding of our architecture, security, and automation requirements,” says Berman. “Unisys also provides all the key capabilities to create a hybrid cloud infrastructure while continuing to effectively manage on-premises systems.”

Cloud Infrastructure Handles Large Transaction Volumes

Unisys recommended AWS for the cloud infrastructure that would host the CloudForte platform. Support for the AWS environment also came from CSU campus IT teams. “Many campuses run applications in AWS,” explains George Mansoor, chief information systems officer for the CSU Office of the Chancellor. “We also appreciate that AWS is technology-agnostic, so we can implement any solution we need.”
From the Unisys perspective, specific cloud technologies were needed to achieve the goals of handling large volumes of transactions during spikes in student activity. “These capabilities are more advanced and fine-tuned in AWS compared to other cloud platform providers,” says Rudy Gonzalez, client executive and managing director for the Unisys CSU Program. “Our strong partnership with AWS was also a factor. We work effectively together to ensure cloud environments operate efficiently and securely while also applying optimization measures to keep costs down.”
Key AWS services powering the Unisys CloudForte platform include Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) to store object files, Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) server instances, and AWS Direct Connect to create a direct connection between CSU applications and AWS compute resources. Unisys also uses Amazon Redshift for building data warehouses, AWS Glue for serverless data integration, and Amazon Kinesis to analyze streaming data. In addition, the CSU Business Intelligence and Data Operations team worked with AWS on its natural language query interface to configure Amazon QuickSight and create interactive dashboards that deliver data analysis in seconds.

Application Performance Improves as Infrastructure Costs Decrease

Since migrating the Common Management System, CSU has experienced 30 percent improved application performance, which is key during peak activity times at the beginning and end of each semester. And with the Unisys solution, the CSU benefits from 33 percent cost savings through simplified support requirements and automation that reduce annual infrastructure costs from $4.5 million to $2.8 million compared to running the applications on premises.
“As responsible stewards of public funds, any dollar we don't spend or any costs we can reduce in support of the IT architecture are dollars we can spend elsewhere,” Mansoor points out. “We spend those dollars on improving student application experiences and integrations between administrative systems.”

Real-Time Data Analysis Helps Guide Students

Berman also appreciates the security posture Unisys has established for CSU. “AWS provides a shared security model that identifies its responsibilities,” Berman says. “And Unisys has communicated its security responsibilities as well as ours. It’s important to have a clearly defined relationship among all three entities to protect sensitive student data.”
And with the data lake running in AWS, CSU can now generate real-time data at scale to analyze student success metrics. The analysis provides key insights to the faculty for guiding students and helping them graduate on time—one of the key goals of the CSU Graduation Initiative 2025.
See additional details about how Unisys implemented a secure, system-wide hybrid AWS cloud designed to expand options for services to students, faculty, and staff.

About California State University

The California State University (CSU) is the largest system of four-year higher education in the United States—with 23 campuses, 56,000 faculty and staff, and 486,000 students. Created in 1960, CSU provides affordable education with a commitment to quality, opportunity, and student success. It is renowned for superb teaching, innovative research, and for producing job-ready graduates—awarding more than 132,000 degrees each year.

About Unisys

Unisys is a global IT solutions company that delivers successful outcomes for demanding businesses and governments. Unisys offerings for clients across the commercial, financial services, education, and government markets include digital workplace, cloud and infrastructure, enterprise computing, business process, and cybersecurity solutions.

Published March 2022