Higher education today is a highly competitive industry facing technology-driven disruption. Staff, faculty, and students have higher expectations for availability, flexibility, and speed, and these clash with IT budget constraints, legacy infrastructure, and a patchwork of often-siloed applications and lines of business.
Houston Community College (HCC), an open-admission public institution of higher education serving nearly 70,000 students across 21 locations in the greater Houston area, has chosen to face these challenges head-on.
HCC’s IT team concluded that migrating the college’s infrastructure to the cloud was the best approach to supporting its goals well into the future, explains Bill Carter, Vice Chancellor of Information Technology. Cloud computing offers educational institutions like HCC a unified, ubiquitous platform on which to run its administrative and research applications along with essentially unlimited computing power and storage.
As a first step in its cloud journey, HCC chose to deploy two Oracle SuperCluster systems. Based on Oracle’s newest SPARC T5-8 servers, the integrated solution provides the scalability, reliability, and security of Oracle Solaris; the optimized database performance of Oracle Exadata storage; and the accelerated middleware processing of Oracle Exalogic Elastic Cloud—all of which are deployed, managed, and serviced as a single engineered system. Because SuperCluster uses the same systems and data structure as the Oracle Public Cloud, HCC is able to “move and improve” applications onto the cloud at will as well as seamlessly leverage the cloud for data storage and backup.
“What we were able to do is work with Oracle to engineer two systems that would replace 70 pieces of hardware, reducing the time and effort required to patch, to run the systems,” Carter says. He adds that the consolidation allowed his team to load all the college’s databases into the memory of a single system to dramatically reduce the time it takes to service student needs.
Another problem that many educational institutions face is application and server sprawl. Individual departments, schools, and programs grow impatient with the centralized IT model and purchase their own solutions, resulting in multiple overlapping applications across the organization—sometimes even multiple instances of the same application. This inevitably leads to server spread, rendering infrastructure complex and costly to maintain. Cloud solutions, by contrast, provide a single standardized and highly scalable IT infrastructure upon which to deploy any application that individual business units require—all easily maintained by a central IT department. Cloud-ready engineered systems are an essential first step toward this standardization. Without it, an organization risks simply transferring application sprawl from its own infrastructure to the cloud.
Once an educational organization has a toehold in the cloud, thanks to cloud-ready infrastructure it can reap cost savings by shifting from a CapEx model to an OpEx one. It also gains the ability to scale capacity on demand, bursting workloads to the cloud, or leveraging cloud storage to seamlessly back up and archive data while enhancing data governance.
HCC is currently in the process of moving its PeopleSoft Finance, PeopleSoft HR, PeopleSoft Campus Solutions and Oracle BI/Data Warehouses to the Superclusters which will integrate well with the LMS, Bookstore and library applications already in the Cloud. Carter expects to see a large performance boost with the college’s highly complex class scheduling processes and is considering which services to consolidate next.
Another possibility is the adoption of Oracle Student Cloud. “Oracle Student Cloud may be our next step as we move forward into our cloud-first strategy,” he says, noting that student financial planning, which is subject to numerous rules and regulations, would benefit from Student Cloud’s advanced capabilities.
Cloud-ready engineered systems like SuperCluster allow organizations to do more with fewer IT resources. In a standard infrastructure model, an organization would require multiple experts, such as systems administrators, storage administrators, network administrators, and database administrators. With cloud-ready engineered systems, a smaller, cross-trained staff can better manage a consolidated system and, eventually, cloud vendors as their strategy progresses.
Preparing IT teams for these new roles will be a crucial challenge for managers. Ensuring that operations teams understand how to navigate these changes effectively is key to a successful transition. “The hardest part about any change is dealing with people who have been in an institution a long time, making sure they feel value in what they're doing,” Carter explains, adding that his goal is to transition his staff from programming, development, and systems work to a functional end-user support role.
The journey, which has begun with on-premises cloud-ready infrastructure, will continue on into the cloud itself. “As I am moving forward, I know that in 2020 I will be taking a look at how I am going to move all of my systems to the cloud and start the planning process,” he concludes. By leveraging SuperCluster on premises for a private cloud, HCC can ease into its transition to the public cloud, allowing the organization to refocus IT priorities away from keeping the lights on and toward making the student experience better through technology.