Georgia State University boosts innovation with serverless AWS
Culture of innovation
The university exhibits a core commitment to innovation: testing new ideas and quickly scaling the best ones. Technology is one key component, facilitating better learning experiences and greater digital access for students.
“In our quickly changing world, the need to innovate is just as critical in academia as it is in the corporate sector. Very few organizations have the kind of innovative culture that we have here at Georgia State. We’re creating the digital university of the future.”
This is the story of how one of Georgia State’s many innovations—the Student Dashboard—became a test case for advancing the university’s infrastructure to position for the future and facilitate faster innovation.
Integration as opportunity
The Georgia State Student Dashboard displays up-to-date information and alerts for students, with relevant links to the student information system. Students use it to stay on top of their course schedules, bills, financial aid, and more.
The dashboard met the university’s goals at launch but soon faced operational challenges. It was built on a legacy student portal, which made adding new features and tuning system performance difficult. It also relied on an on-premises infrastructure that was prone to performance bottlenecks during busy periods, such as the beginning of the academic year.
A consolidation with Georgia Perimeter College, a nearby two-year college with six additional campuses and 20,000 additional students, provided a stimulus for Georgia State to reimagine its IT operations. Jaro Klc, director of strategic initiatives and development, saw the opportunity to improve his team’s approach to building applications, starting with the dashboard.
“Both schools had legacy tech stacks, built using a wide range of tools and platforms” says Walt Austin, Slalom practice area director for custom development. “Georgia State chose to leapfrog to the most current technology instead of going incremental. We helped the university's team start fresh and rebuild at the cutting edge.”
Partnering to get cloud right
Through a nine-week partnership, Slalom helped Georgia State’s technology team adopt serverless architecture to achieve scalable performance while eliminating infrastructure management. “Establishing a cloud infrastructure stack and DevOps process was critical,” says Klc.
“We needed a partner with extensive experience to help us architect the new infrastructure and adopt best practices around cloud solution development and delivery.”
The first step was architecting the technology team's vision for the Student Dashboard. Slalom solution architect Scott Hankinson designed a serverless AWS architecture, using Typescript to deliver a mobile and web client based on Angular 2 and Ionic 2.
We then worked side-by-side with the Georgia State team to build, test, and deploy the application. “A big part of it was opening their eyes to the possible and helping them build skills to do development in a new way,” says Hankinson. We led classroom training and spent time in immersive “pairing” sessions—sharing one keyboard and mouse with two monitors—to help individuals learn by doing.
Along the way, Slalom cloud developers helped the team understand DevOps best practices for cloud development and establish the Jenkins automation server as their continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) platform.
Saving money and innovating faster
In its first month of operation, the new Student Dashboard supported more than 50,000 students—serving 4.5 million AWS Lambda requests and 8.3 million Amazon API Gateway requests. The total bill? Just $375.
“Static content is served extremely fast, and the serverless backend scales to meet request volume seamlessly,” notes Klc. The solution enables single sign-on convenience for students thanks to a successful integration with Georgia State’s on-premises OpenID service. It’s also highly available by default because of the geo-redundant nature of the AWS Cloud, so the dashboard is always there when students need it.
This project paves the way for future innovations and cost savings. Georgia State now has production, quality assurance, and development environments in a logical Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) framework. Klc’s team looks forward to moving more legacy applications to the cloud with a serverless approach, minimizing the number of virtual machines, databases, licenses, and support resources they need to manage and provision.
Most importantly, the team now has more time for innovation. They can reallocate time they used to spend on repetitive tasks like patching, upgrades, and troubleshooting to more impactful projects. For example, they’ve been looking at ways to integrate artificial intelligence and exploring a solution for real-time data collection at facilities and student events.
“We’re able to shift our resources to high-value projects, such as next-generation analytics and rapid, responsive solution development,” says Klc. “These are the innovations that truly help Georgia State students, faculty, and researchers to excel.”