Universidad de Los Lagos built an online learning solution in three weeks that scales to support one million students and professors by engaging AWS Partner CloudHesive. Previously, the state university in Chile used an on-premises online learning system that could not scale to meet increased demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. Working alongside CloudHesive, the university built an AWS-powered learning management application that can deploy in less than ten minutes, has 99.95 percent availability, and can be accessed by students and professors 24/7 from any device and location. Through this project, Universidad de Los Lagos was able to promote a culture of online learning and innovation.
Launching a Virtual Learning Management System Quickly
When students and professors of Universidad de Los Lagos in Chile flooded its online learning system during the COVID-19 pandemic, the application experienced outages that impacted service. The university had three weeks to launch a new solution for 10,000 students and 1,000 professors. To do so, it enlisted CloudHesive, an Amazon Web Services (AWS) Partner, and they created a virtual learning management system on AWS that has high availability, redundancy, and scalability.
CloudHesive is a managed service provider with 75 engineers that serves customers from its offices in Fort Lauderdale, USA; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Santiago, Chile; and Bogotá, Colombia. It has seven AWS Competencies, including the AWS Education Competency, meaning that it offers solutions for teaching, learning, and academic research efforts that follow AWS architectural best practices.
Seeking to Build a Robust Solution to Support Increasing Demand
Universidad de Los Lagos is a state university in Santiago, with campuses in Osorno, Puerto Montt, and Chiloé. It offers technical and job training as well as undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Its students come from underserved areas of the country: nearly 80 percent attend the school for free, and the rest receive support from the state. Prior to early 2020, the university relied on Moodle, an open-source online learning solution. However, Moodle’s monolithic on-premises architecture was unable to scale to support increased demand during the COVID-19 pandemic, and experienced outages as a result. “Moodle was just a bucket to store data, and only 5 percent of the students were using it,” says Luis Muñoz Jaramillo, Head of the University’s Engineering Department.
CloudHesive and Universidad de Los Lagos began building the new application in March 2020. Because of the tight timeline, CloudHesive used the AWS Well-Architected Framework to quickly teach university staff how to use AWS services while they built the solution together. Using the AWS Well-Architected Framework helped both teams ensure that the application was secure, reliable, efficient, and able to perform at the scale that the project required.
Achieving Availability, Redundancy, and Scalability on AWS
First, CloudHesive and Universidad de Los Lagos redesigned the on-premises monolithic architecture, decoupling the application layer, the database layer, and the socialized layer. They built a new environment on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), a web service that provides secure, resizable compute capacity in the cloud, and took advantage of Amazon EC2 Auto Scaling, which automatically scales capacity up and down according to defined conditions to meet traffic. Next, the Moodle MySQL servers were decoupled and migrated to Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) for PostgreSQL, which makes it simple to set up, operate, and scale deployments for PostgreSQL, an open-source relationship database, in the cloud. “We migrated from MySQL to PostgreSQL to achieve scalability and usability,” explains Fernando Castillo, Expansion Manager at CloudHesive. “We chose Amazon RDS to manage the database instead of having an engineer monitor it 24/7.” Amazon RDS for PostgreSQL has read replicas that make it simple to elastically scale out beyond the capacity constraints of a single database instance. It also helps the application deploy in multiple Availability Zones at the same time, which enhances uptime and protects the system against unplanned outages.
“We migrated from MySQL to PostgreSQL to achieve scalability and usability. We chose Amazon RDS to manage the database instead of having an engineer monitor it 24/7.”
– Fernando Castillo, Expansion Manager, CloudHesive
To migrate the internal assets of the previous system to AWS, CloudHesive used Amazon CloudFront, a fast content delivery network service that securely delivers data, videos, applications, and APIs with low latency. Amazon CloudFront speeds up the delivery of the university’s web content across two Availability Zones by using a global network of edge locations. When students or professors request content, those requests are automatically routed to the edge location that gives them the lowest latency. By using AWS CloudFormation—which treats infrastructure as code to model a collection of related AWS and third-party resources, provision them quickly and consistently, and manage them throughout their lifecycles—the university can deploy the entire stack of the application in less than ten minutes in different environments.
Supporting Online Learning on AWS
Universidad de Los Lagos’s new Moodle application on AWS launched in April 2020. Now 11,000 students and professors use it, and the scalability of AWS means it can support up to one million users. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the university’s Moodle website received about 10,000 visits in six months; but between June 2020 and July 2021, after the university launched the new application, the site has received 950,000 visits. CloudHesive optimizes costs by taking advantage of the pay-as-you-go pricing model on AWS, a model it mimics with Universidad de Los Lagos so the university can save money as well. The virtual learning solution has garnered the university two awards. Because of the scalability of AWS services, Moodle can integrate with BigBlueButton, an open-source virtual classroom software, and grow to support 40-person classrooms without any disruptions to service. “Students can break off into separate rooms without opening a new browser,” says Castillo. “They can go from one room to another with one click, and the application will respond perfectly because we can increase the compute needs.”
CloudHesive built the capability to record 60 one-hour classes a day on Moodle, which can later be viewed by students. If a teacher forgets to record a class, they can use a built-in feature on the application to retrieve the video retroactively. Because staffing costs are lower for remote learning, widespread usage of Moodle further reduces spending for the university. Through Moodle reports, the university can analyze data to understand what is and isn’t working for students and professors. Additionally, CloudHesive installed an IntelliBoard that provides deeper data analytics capabilities to drive insights that improve the student and teacher experience. On AWS, the solution has 99.95 percent availability and can be accessed 24/7 on any device. “This situation gave birth to the idea of lifelong universities—students are with the university their whole lives,” says Jaramillo. “They can study from anywhere in the world and have the same credits and degree. It has a social and psychological impact.”
Expanding Learning Opportunities on AWS
Universidad de Los Lagos is working with CloudHesive on five other projects, including migrating two other applications to AWS and building a data lake to better analyze students’ data. The university is also considering offering 100 percent of its classes online and developing new digital courses for its students. “CloudHesive provides very comprehensive support so that we can improve the teacher and student experience,” says Jaramillo. “They were fast and efficient and answered immediately with everything we needed.”