A hybrid cloud helps California State University more easily support peak demand periods, says CIO Patrick Perry of the chancellor’s office.

How to Use Hybrid Clouds to Manage Demand Peaks

Institutions improve performance and achieve cost savings by crafting the right mix of private and public clouds.

When it comes to running enterprise applications, higher education institutions don’t always get what they pay for.

Until recently, California State University, a 23-campus public university system with nearly 500,000 students, ran its Oracle PeopleSoft enterprise resource planning system in a private, on-premises data center in Salt Lake City. 

With the ERP powering CSU’s finance, human resources and student modules, demand for resources grew annually. And every semester, during registration, demand peaked.

That forced the university to choose between two unattractive options: Buy additional hardware that would often sit unused, or watch application performance degrade during high-use periods. 

“In a situation like that, where you’re in your own private data center, you have to keep buying hardware to match whatever your peak load is,” says Patrick Perry, CIO for the CSU chancellor’s office. “Our peak load kept getting higher and higher, and we had to keep buying more hardware. Most of the time, that hardware is sitting idle, which is a waste.”

51%

The percentage of enterprises employing a hybrid cloud strategy.

Source: RightScale 2018 State of the Cloud Report

Inefficient use of resources wasn’t the only problem. Performance also suffered. “The system didn’t crash, but there were slowdowns,” says Perry. “You might have to wait a few seconds for a transaction to complete.”

With the data center hardware aging and difficult to support, CSU put the hosting of its ERP system out to bid. It ultimately went with the same provider, but the system is now delivered via a hybrid cloud architecture that incorporates both on-premises hardware at a Santa Clara colocation center and public cloud resources.

On premises, the infrastructure features all-flash arrays and Dell EMC Power Edge Blade Servers with VMware — in all, fewer than 30 devices, down from more than 100 large servers in the previous setup. The move has improved performance and is saving $1 million a year.

“It’s much faster,” Perry says, noting that overall application speed has jumped about 35 percent. “Those performance issues have really gone away.” 

MORE FROM EDTECH: Key considerations for your next higher education cloud storage solution.

Hybrid Cloud Offers Customized Control

“All of the same drivers for going to the public cloud — things like scalability, flexibility and, to some extent, cost — those are the same drivers for hybrid cloud,” says Betsy Tippens Reinitz, director of the enterprise IT program for EDUCAUSE. “But then, one reason people take a hybrid approach is that they often don’t want to give up control over certain workloads. And there may also be things that are just more cost-effective to run in your data center.”

That was the case for the University of North Texas, which adopted a hybrid cloud model in 2014. At that time, several teams managed disparate systems on campus.

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“The operating cost was pretty high to manage something like that,” says CIO Rama Dhuwaraha. “At the time, most of the advice was go to the cloud. After I ran a cost model, I decided we needed a hybrid solution. Some of the systems were not cloud-ready, and it would cost us more to run them in the public cloud.” 

A custom strategy let North Texas keep in-house only those systems where it made sense to do so. 

Universities Use Hybrid Cloud to Fit Their Needs

Manhattan College, a private institution in the Bronx’s Riverdale neighborhood, ended up pursuing a hybrid cloud strategy almost by accident.

“It happened organically,” says CIO Jake Holmquist. “We were able to identify things that it made sense to move immediately, as well as things we needed to hold off on. It really grew over time. Over time, we dubbed it a hybrid data center.”

The college began pushing resources to Google Cloud Platform primarily to simplify its data center. It now runs parts of its ERP system in the public cloud while keeping other portions in-house.

Patrick Perry
“Our peak load kept getting higher and higher, and we had to keep buying more hardware. Most of the time, that hardware is sitting idle, which is a waste.”

Patrick Perry CIO, California State University Chancellor’s Office

“We’re a relatively small institution in New York City, and staff retention has always been our challenge,” Holmquist says. “Now, if we’re unable to retain somebody, the amount of time it takes me to get a new person up to speed is much less.” 

The CSU project, by contrast, required 150 IT professionals to spend six months setting up servers, securing necessary bandwidth and preparing to migrate 23 campus ERP systems. The project won a 2018 Innovations in Networking Award for Cloud Applications from the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California.

“It was very seamless,” Perry says of the move. “It took about six months of prep work, but when we cut over, we did it in a weekend, and it came back up without any flaws whatsoever.”

MORE FROM EDTECH: See how universities can overcome top cloud challenges.

Institutions Invest in Cloud Infrastructure Slowly but Surely

The University of North Texas, for now, runs applications such as Salesforce and Canvas in the public cloud, while continuing to host its PeopleSoft ERP system, data analytics solutions and other workloads in-house. 

“I’m sure that more of our services will move to the public cloud over time, but it has to be the right fit,” says Chief Enterprise Architect Andy Mears.

North Texas is already going into its first refresh for the private cloud portion of its hybrid architecture. It’s rolling out Dell EMC VxRack SDDC, a hyperconverged solution that lets the university rapidly expand its private cloud infrastructure and integrate seamlessly with public cloud providers.

Early on, Manhattan College nearly abandoned its hybrid cloud strategy because of performance issues, but IT staff was able to solve the problem with configuration adjustments. Although the institution now has a cloud-first policy, it continues to run a few workloads in-house because of support and licensing complexities.

“We invested a little bit more in our network to make sure it was robust enough to support the hybrid cloud environment, but we haven’t made any other investments in our data center for the past two years,” says Holmquist. “There will always be things you have to run on campus, at least looking through the lens we have now. But in five years, who knows?”

To see how one institution is using hybrid cloud to expand its reach, check out "Relay Graduate School Supports Growth with Hybrid Cloud ."

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Photography by John Davis
Feb 12 2019

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