Business Management

Michael Crandell (US) - Digital Learning in the Cloud: Pearson's Challenge Part 2

In the first part of this article, I discussed how education software company Pearson needed to move its flagship SuccessMaker server-based customized learning product to a cloud-based SaaS architecture. But Pearson director of architecture, Jerry West, realized that he could not just take his code and throw it up on a virtual machine in a public cloud. This may have saved server costs but would have still entailed a lot of repetitive manual configuration of each server environment and application stack - exactly what he hoped to avoid in the cloud. Rather, West knew he needed to build a large, virtual private cloud with sophisticated automation that could make it push-button simple for his team to spin up test, and live environments both for developers and customers.

There are a handful of automation solutions for cloud users on the market. Pearson elected to use the RightScale cloud management platform because of our ability to operationally define cloud deployments and because of our track record in cloud automation. With a single mouse click, Pearson's developers can now create multiple server environments in the cloud based on Pearson's defined templates for application stacks and operating system environments.

Time to deploy test servers has fallen from days to minutes but, equally important, because creating test servers has become a self-service process developers can test more rigorously and more quickly without waiting for a machine to be set up. Using the automation offered by RightScale, Pearson's team can precisely replicate the software and hardware environment a customer will see and ensure that everything runs smoothly before the launch of a pilot or a real production deployment.

Moving Pearson's SuccessMaker application to a SaaS model to enable the quick spin up of customer servers without needing to set foot in a district data center made it much easier for school districts to agree to test drive SuccesMaker - which correspondingly increased sales. Onboarding time for customers has dropped from two to four weeks to less than a week. This has sped up the sales cycle and accelerated growth. The sales team is happy. The developers are happy. The customers are happy. And Pearson is spending less money than it did before on a per case basis on customer roll-outs while delivering even better results and more flexibility.

So what are the key takeaways from Pearson's cloud experience for other companies looking to move into the cloud?

1) Decision makers and their teams must clearly define the IT and business problems they face and flesh out the business case for why a cloud solution will solve those problems.

2) Once an organization decides to pursue a cloud solution, the team must evaluate how processes and applications currently running on a physical server will translate into operational steps and ongoing management in a cloud environment.

3) Identify solutions to automate, streamline, and simplify these operational complexities in order to ensure that the cloud deployment solves the problems outlined in initial discussions and creates the expected ROI for the organization.

Michael Crandell is the founder and ceo of RightScale, the leader in cloud computing management



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