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LMS Applications in Education: Balancing the Cloud Access Imperative

by Kemp
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EDUCASE 2014KEMP Technologies is showcasing its load balancing and ADC solutions at the world’s biggest education event, the Educause 2014 Annual Conference, from September 29th – October 2nd in Orlando.

Colleges and universities now deliver critical services to students and tutors online, using a vast array of servers running a variety of Learning Management Systems (LMS). LMS applications typically run on top of Student Information Systems (SIS), which are found in nearly every school organization and typically configured to satisfy the needs of central-office managers and school-based administrators. LMS application performance and awareness relative to the best routing path to avoid congestion are key uptime considerations. LMS and SIS are normally tightly integrated, and thus require enterprise-class security mechanisms to protect student PID (personally identifiable data).

Data protection and advanced hacker defenses also aid educational institutions in maintaining regulatory compliance in terms of proper use and governance of student and administrator IT resources. The prevailing trend is to move LMS solutions entirely to a SaaS model or at least hybrid cloud, with mobile app delivery fully enabled, especially for tablet devices.

What are some of the more prevalent LMS applications deployed that require enhanced support, scale and security in terms of optimized application delivery?

The Blackboard Learn™ platform, for example, provides students with a web portal tailored to individual needs. Accessed via a web browser, the LMS supplies a powerful suite of applications including calendaring, notification and discussions. Students submit assignments online and view the resulting grades and evaluations in the LMS. Peak traffic is at times ad hoc and unpredictable, in addition to bursts of email and messaging traffic.

Pearson’s PowerSchool is one of the fastest-growing web-based student information systems, supporting 12 million students in all 50 states and over 65 countries. PowerSchool helps educators make timely decisions that impact student performance while creating a collaborative environment for parents, teachers and students to work together in preparing 21st century learners for the future.

With more than 67 million users worldwide, Moodle is an open source learning platform designed to provide educators, administrators and learners with a robust, secure and integrated system to create personalised learning environments. Moodle is designed to scale and can accommodate extremely large user communities.

The KEMP LoadMaster makes scaling these and other LMS applications easy by load balancing user traffic, offloading the security overhead, and allowing additional server resources to be added without any user impact. KEMP LoadMaster is LMS-aware, with templates that make it simple to deploy a scalable LMS environment.

All learning systems have to be reliable and highly available — it’s essential, for example, that students submitting essays via a web interface do not miss deadlines because of an outage. The systems must be secure, storing such information as student records or exam papers.  And they must be affordable. Such mission critical applications require high performance load balancing.

Application Delivery Controllers (ADCs) have become a critical element in educational infrastructures:

  • ADCs distribute traffic and content intelligently over a number of servers, optimizing performance and ensuring high availability.
  • ADCs can take over such demanding tasks as SSL encryption from web servers, boosting performance significantly. An added benefit is that an ADC requires only a single SSL certificate, eliminating the need for many certificates on many servers.
  • ADCs increase security, acting as reverse proxy servers with powerful intruder detection and prevention capabilities.

Texas A&M University is one of the higher educational institutions that have looked to KEMP’s Virtual LoadMaster (VLM) to manage user traffic. IT Administrator Victor Delgado said that several years ago he had few choices in load balancers that met both price and performance considerations. The deciding factors included:

  • Ability to operate over Microsoft Hyper-V
  • Intrusion prevention system (IPS) is highly customizable, unlike other “black box” functions that can be configured only in an “on or off” state.
  • A much more simplified SSL certificate management process
  • Ease of management made other solutions look kludgy. Furthermore, Kemp Virtual LoadMaster’s administration console does not use Java, an additional security advantage given recent concerns.

According to Gartner, IT administrators in education can expect an increased demand for multiple SaaS and/or cloud-based LMS solutions to emerge, particularly as higher education institutions invest in more robust infrastructure deployments that integrate student users for on-campus and off-campus housing. Further competitiveness among institutions to recruit, retain and graduate student admissions, which drive greater profitability, will result in increased adoption of SaaS and cloud-based solutions that can be deployed quickly and efficiently. The KEMP load balancer deployed on-premise or in the cloud enables the university IT department to provide highly available and secure web-based client services with time-savings and increased productivity.

 

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