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University of Newcastle Digitises Its Student and Researcher Experience on AWS

2021

Rapid Cloud Migration with Looming Data Centre Demolition

With the knowledge that technology and digital capability are key enablers of innovation, the University of Newcastle began migrating the majority of its application portfolio to the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Cloud in 2019. The University planned a phased journey to the cloud the year prior, with an initial migration timeline of 18–24 months for target workloads. However, its leaders then learned that its physical data centre was scheduled for demolition and they had to exit the facility by September 2020. This prompted the decision in late 2018 to fully migrate to AWS. The University believed a cloud-first strategy would further help it compete and differentiate itself in the higher education sector. Exiting the data centre also aligned with their Environmental Sustainability commitment.

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Our cloud-first strategy and migration is not a destination, but a key step in our journey to enable future opportunities for our staff, students, and researchers. There’s is a rich, digital future for our University.”

Anthony Molinia
Chief Information Officer, The University of Newcastle

Collaborating to Migrate 139 Applications at Speed

The scheduled demolition drove a tight 9-month timeline for the migration of 139 applications to AWS. To ensure a successful outcome, an open collaboration space was established to fuel effective daily collaboration between the University staff, AWS, AWS Premier Consulting Partner Deloitte and Cloud Operations Partner CSA. The partnership between all parties who invested in the migration supported a complex business case that resulted in an operational cloud design tailored to the University’s needs. Plans were closely monitored, and progress was carefully tracked. 

To engage stakeholders, the University, Deloitte, and AWS ran multiple consultations, Q&A sessions, and impact analysis workshops across all the University’s business units whilst undertaking the necessary technical work to migrate to the cloud. In late 2019, the project partners hosted a Cloud Immersion Day that included a series of informative and interactive stations. Keynote speakers and roundtable discussions helped showcase how cloud technology can solve key challenges in the higher education sector. More than 600 visitors attended the Immersion Day, receiving 96 percent positive feedback from attendees on the exhibition, and 100 percent positive feedback on the speakers’ program.

To deliver on its renewed digital strategy, the team had to modernise the University’s IT infrastructure. This involved redesigning and fixing decades of legacy architecture with sparse documentation. By June 2020, after just 9 months, the project was completed. In total, 72 percent of applications were replatformed and 23 percent were refactored—achieving 95 percent transformation (up from the original target of 65 percent). In addition, a quarter of all legacy applications were decommissioned, effectively reducing the University’s technical debt. The University also estimates a reduction in IT infrastructure costs of 20 percent.

Increasing Agility to Make Core System Changes

The largest application replatformed to the AWS Cloud was the University’s student management system, NUSTAR. More than 39,000 users and 40 dependent applications interacted with NUSTAR every day to access classroom and student resources. As part of the rearchitecting process, specialist engineers wrote more than 55,000 lines of code to control the automation and orchestration of NUSTAR on AWS. It chose Amazon GuardDuty for intelligent threat protection and Amazon CloudWatch to monitor system health.

Extensive testing prior to the migration resulted in zero migration-related support calls. Critically, the successful cloud migration of its core system boosted the University’s agility. Introducing change in NUSTAR now takes just half a day in the cloud, down from over 3 weeks in the data centre. Deployment of infrastructure outside NUSTAR has likewise dropped significantly on the AWS Cloud, down from 8 weeks to 6 minutes, thanks to a self-provisioning model.

Improving Resiliency with a Lower Carbon Footprint

In line with its initial sustainability vision, the University is committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2025. It’s well on its way to achieving this goal, having attained a 100 percent renewable energy supply in 2020, and reduced its carbon footprint by implementing a cloud-first strategy that removes the need to build a new physical data centre on campus.

Since migrating to the AWS Cloud, the University has also improved its disaster recovery framework and boosted resilience. It now uses Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) with Multi-Availability Zone deployments for consistently high service availability and automatic failover across Availability Zones.

Looking ahead, the University is now actively working with organisations, such as the City of Newcastle, to establish a living lab model of research, collaboration, and invention. It’s also currently conducting a trial using machine learning on AWS to assess automated coding for research analysis. Through AWS Cloud-native solutions, researchers and academics can expect improved access to resources across multiple platforms to perform faster testing.

“We’re delighted to be identified as the first Australian university to achieve this milestone. It is a foundation to enable our digital transformation. Our cloud-first strategy and migration is not a destination, but a key step in our journey to enable future opportunities for our staff, students, and researchers. There’s a rich, digital future for our University,” concludes Anthony Molinia, chief information officer at The University of Newcastle.


About the University of Newcastle

The University of Newcastle is an Australian public university and was established in 1965 in upper New South Wales. With a reputation for research excellence, more than 39,000 students are enrolled across its five campuses.

Benefits of AWS

  • Introduces system changes in 0.5 days instead of 3 weeks.
  • Reduces infrastructure operations costs by 20%.
  • Accelerates speed of research by improving access to academic resources.
  • Improves disaster recovery framework and resiliency.
  • Automates threat detection and security monitoring.

AWS Services Used

Amazon GuardDuty

Amazon GuardDuty is a threat detection service that continuously monitors for malicious activity and unauthorized behavior to protect your AWS accounts, workloads, and data stored in Amazon S3.

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Amazon CloudWatch

Amazon CloudWatch is a monitoring and observability service built for DevOps engineers, developers, site reliability engineers (SREs), and IT managers.

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Amazon RDS

Amazon RDS makes it easy to set up, operate, and scale a relational database in the cloud.

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