By Sramana Mitra and guest author Shaloo Shalini
SM: What is the architecture of your solution in terms of dealing with these fragmented student information systems? How does that work?
RB: Basically, what we have done is developed an import tool that allows us to map data. So, as soon as we find out an SIS system that we have to work with, if most of the systems can export data, we would set up an automatic routine that will import the data. But first of all, we will look at the data and the fields, and we map that information into the right fields and formats. That is how the information would come into our system in an automated fashion. And because there are so many different systems, there is no standard to be able to deal with the variety of formats in which data is stored. Because of that, you have to do a lot of mapping. You have to lay a good example. There are some instances where there is no standard, and without a tool you can re-map it to a standard. Once we set that up for the SIS system, it is basically done in an automated mode, where then we can take the data and bring it into our tools on a frequent basis.
SM: You are bringing the student data into your system?
RB: That is correct.
SM: Where is that data hosted?
RB: It is hosted at NaviSite, which is our partner.
SM: NaviSite is your data center provider where you are hosting the student data?
RB: That is correct. It is in a SaaS level 2 environment, in our hosted facility.
SM: So, in a manner of speaking, you are delivering the high school solution in a cloud environment. You are bringing in data from the disparate high school SIS, bringing that data into your cloud environment and processing that data. You are also working with the colleges in a similar fashion. What is your architectural interface in case of colleges?
RB: In a college solution, for example, we are able to send transcripts and applications to colleges and college systems. The schools’ SIS vendors are not in best shape as is the case at the college level. There you have the much larger banners, PeopleSoft, and those types of environments. There are standards, but you still have to map whether it is the EDI or XML. You have to map to those systems at the college SIS level. We send transcripts and application information securely, once the student approves it, and then it automatically goes from the high school to the college.
SM: Interesting! Is there anything more in that architecture that is worth discussing, in the context of cloud computing or something else?
RB: The architecture again is to do with scale and with physical environment. One of the hardest things to do in this industry is work through the ebbs and flows. There are times when students need to fill in applications and send their transcripts to multiple colleges. In late fall and December, we open the college application process. It happens all at once, with a lot of students applying for college admissions.
When I came to the company and looked at the reports based on a large amount of existing hardware, the infrastructure that we had, I couldn’t even tell when I normalized it over a year about the usage pattern. I couldn’t even really see the CPU or even the bandwidth movement at all. I mean, it was a single-digit percentage. But when you look out at several weeks of the year and certain weeks of the year, when you have hundreds of thousands potentially millions of students on your system, that is when you need all the scale. It is almost an impossible environment, from a CTO perspective, to be able to plan on buying enough hardware to support that type of environment. So, really, the only way to handle it would be with a cloud-based solution.
SM: That is very interesting! You are working with a vendor who is willing to give you flexible infrastructure during your peak usage?
RB: Yes, absolutely. I wish I really had the chance to show you this environment. I could show you that as my need is increasing, I am being alerted. Then I can line up hundreds of other cloud servers and be ready for the surge when I need the scale. In addition to that, I pay only for what I need and then take them down after my peak hours. That is the real beauty of this environment that our partner has provided us with.
SM: UCS, you mean?
RB: The UCS and NaviSite partnership that we have.