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The University of West Indies, Open Campus accelerates digital transformation and reduces costs by migrating aging hardware to AWS

2021

The University of the West Indies, Open Campus (UWIOC) needed to leverage technology to achieve higher levels of operational efficiency while reducing costs. By replacing its aging on-premises hardware with Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud infrastructure, UWIOC realized multiple benefits. Migrating to AWS reduced the amount of time technical staff spent on maintaining hardware and software. As a result, the team could focus on building a new technology platform that would meet the future needs of the campus, accelerate the university’s digital transformation plan, and reduce total cost of ownership (TCO) by 50 percent.
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Amazon Web Services was selected as The University of West Indies, Open Campus’ preferred cloud service provider based on maturity, product offerings, cost, interoperability, and security”.

Tommy Chen
Campus Chief Information Officer at University of West Indies, Open Campus

Challenges

The online campus of the higher education institution, UWIOC, needed to update its information technology (IT) infrastructure in early 2020. To continue delivering the high levels of service that students, adjuncts, and staff expect, the university had two choices: Replace aging hardware or migrate to the cloud.

In the midst of evaluating these two options, the world entered the global COVID-19 pandemic, which affected supply chains and movement of people. “The pandemic had a severe impact on our decision since it not only made maintaining the existing data center even more difficult, but also increased demand for online learning tools,” recalls Reeve Ramharry, team leader of IT infrastructure at UWIOC.

Faced with these challenges, UWIOC decided to accelerate its digital transformation plan by completing a cloud assessment. Backed by a strong business case, the institution decided to migrate to Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Why AWS?

“AWS was selected as UWIOC’s preferred cloud provider based on maturity, product offerings, cost, interoperability, and security,” says Tommy Chen, Campus Chief Information Officer (CIO) at UWIOC. According to the university’s business plan, migrating to AWS showed potential savings of up to 50 percent in total cost of ownership (TCO).

The UWIOC migration strategy considered a four-step process—build, migrate, test, and optimize. The university decided to start with its most complex application, Ellucian Banner, the institution’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.

Ramharry explains that one of the key elements in UWIOC’s migration plan was choosing the right tool. “AWS Application Migration Service was chosen since it provided a highly automated lift-and-shift solution and supported our complex environment, which consisted of several virtual machines running a variety of operating systems, including Windows Server, Oracle Linux, and CentOS; application servers, including Oracle Weblogic, Apache Tomcat, and Webserver; and databases such as, Oracle Enterprise Database, MySQL/MariaDB, and Microsoft SQL Server,” he detailed.

While building the university’s landing zone, the team needed to replicate its production environment to minimize the amount of post-migration reconfiguration. “This encompassed setting up the account structure, identity and access management, governance, data security, networking, and logging,” explains Reiza Haniff, IT Security Specialist at UWIOC.

“Hardware like routers and firewalls were replaced with vendor appliances from the AWS Marketplace. Compliance with product licensing was also important, so the IT team used dedicated hosts for Windows instances and customized the number of CPU cores on instances running Oracle software to ensure licenses were being used in the best way,” adds Ramharry.

AWS Application Migration Service greatly simplified the migration by automating replication of data, converting virtual machines, and launching instances. “The service eliminated the need for writing custom migration scripts since everything could be orchestrated from the service’s web-based console,” says Ramharry. The time to migrate applications was greatly reduced by grouping source virtual machines together in a way they could be migrated in parallel. “AWS Application Migration Service provided continuous replication, which made it possible to refresh target instances within seconds of making changes on the source virtual machines,” Ramharry recalled.

UWIOC carried out functional and user acceptance testing after every migration to identify any issues and implement fixes. This process was repeated until all issues were eliminated.

UWIOC’s performance objective was to ensure applications performed equivalent or better than their on-premises environment. “The performance baseline for applications and databases were determined for our on-premises environment and used to right-size instances in AWS. The AWS environment was then benchmarked against these baselines. Once the performance criteria were met, the configurations in AWS Application Migration Service were updated,” says Chen.

The Campus’ first attempt to migrate its ERP to an AWS test environment was a success and only required minimal configuration changes to get it running. The initial testing by its functional team confirmed all ERP modules worked as expected and performance improved. Encouraged by early success, the team decided to widen the scope and include more applications in future iterations. Each iteration revealed similar results, so with the migration strategy and plan validated, UWIOC proceeded to schedule the actual migration, going from the test environment to the production environment.

The cutover from test to production was scheduled over a 24-hour maintenance window, but it was completed in only eight hours. By the end of the project, over 70 virtual machines, 10 applications, five networks, and 6TB of data were rehosted, and two applications were re-platformed successfully to AWS.

"We are proud of the achievement of the Open Campus team in taking the lead to migrate all the enterprise applications to the Amazon cloud. We recognize that Cloud adoption will strategically drive the shared cross-campus technology platform to support the UWI’s Strategic Plan", says Brigitte Collins, University Chief Information Officer.

Collins adds that the partnership and support of the AWS team was critical from the early stage of this initiative as they provided resources and support for pilot exercises. “This enabled the Open Campus Technical Team to gain the knowledge required for this herculean task. The commitment and hard work of the small Technical Team was tremendous as they worked tirelessly to ensure success. The initiative required strong involvement and support from the functional teams and all came together for smooth transition to the AWS platform.”

Benefits

By using AWS, UWIOC accelerated its digital transformation and achieved multiple business benefits. “Adopting AWS Application Migration Service was key to highly automate the university’s migration and accelerate its digital transformation,” says Chen.

The university was also able to offer even better services to a higher number of users. According to Ramharry, “the first day of student registration is when the ERP is under the most stress, so how well it performed on that day would be the first real world test.” On the first day of registration, 20 percent more students were able to register compared to the previous year, and registration continued for several weeks with no technical issues.

UWIOC re-platformed its learning management system (LMS), Moodle, to dynamically scale on demand by using AWS Auto Scaling with Amazon Elastic File System (Amazon EFS), and Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) MySQL. “We also achieved an 80 percent reduction in the amount of time it took to build new LMS instances. We went from days to minutes by using open source Ansible to orchestrate builds,” says Anil Ramnanan, Learning Management Administrator.

UWIOC also realized a 50 percent reduction in TCO compared to its on-premises environment by purchasing a one-year Savings Plan and reservation for dedicated hosts. After running on AWS for six months, the campus identified the potential for further savings by utilizing new storage and instances using AWS Graviton processors, as well as leveraging AWS Compute Optimizer to further right-size instances.
 
Chen says that replacing on-premises architecture with the AWS environment meant a great financial benefit, since the UWIOC had no capital expenditure. “Compared to the on-premises architecture, IT’s performance and operational efficiency in the university increased significantly,” he adds.

Future Plans

"We look forward to working with AWS as we implement the One UWI Enterprise Architecture vision in which cloud technologies are preferred so that UWI can benefit from the scalability, resilience, agility, cost and compliance benefits of Cloud Computing", recalls the University CIO.


About the University of West Indies

Starting from the University College of London in Jamaica with 33 medical students in 1948, the UWI is a now an internationally respected, global university with approximately 45,000 students and five campuses. Mona in Jamaica, St. Augustine in Trinidad and Tobago, Cave Hill in Barbados, Five Islands in Antigua and Barbuda and its Open Campus, and 10 global centers in partnership with universities in North America, Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Europe.
 
The UWI offers over 800 certificate, diploma, undergraduate and postgraduate degree options. As the Caribbean’s leading university, it possesses the largest pool of Caribbean intellect and expertise committed to confronting the critical issues of our region and wider world.
 
The Open Campus is the online campus of the UWI and offers a diversity of courses and programs online and face-to-face through the 42 country sites located in 16 Caribbean countries. The courses range from short courses to bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees.

Benefits with AWS:

  • No capex on infrastructure
  • Highly automated migration using AWS Application Migration Service
  • 50% Reduction in TCO
  • Increase in performance
  • Increase in operational efficiency


AWS Services Used

AWS Application Migration Service

AWS Application Migration Service minimizes time-intensive, error-prone manual processes by automatically converting your source servers from physical, virtual, or cloud infrastructure to run natively on AWS.

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Amazon EFS

Amazon EFS automatically grows and shrinks as you add and remove files with no need for management or provisioning.

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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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Amazon EC2

Amazon EC2 is a web service that provides secure, resizable compute capacity in the cloud. It is designed to make web-scale cloud computing easier for developers.

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