Blackboard Uses the AWS Cloud to Transform Digital Learning Worldwide
Blackboard provides innovative education technology and services that help drive student success.
Every day, in thousands of classrooms in every corner of the world—from Shanghai to South Africa—teachers and students depend on Blackboard products to advance education. Whether students are using Blackboard tools to create their own blogs and collaborate on group projects, or teachers are using them to lead interactive discussions and guide students through online courses, Blackboard products have become an increasingly important part of the instructional landscape.
But as Blackboard’s growth skyrocketed—its applications are now used by more than 100 million users and 16,000 clients in 90 countries—the company found it more and more difficult to scale its business. That’s because the company’s most popular applications, including the Blackboard Learn learning-management system, were hosted in 29 data centers throughout the world.
“It was not easy for us to scale our applications and our operations, because that meant constantly opening new data centers and acquiring and purchasing new hardware,” says Peter George, chief product officer at Blackboard. “The data center model was not conducive to our strategy. We want to continuously improve the quality of service we deliver, to steadily reduce costs, and to develop and deploy new products faster. Meeting all these goals, while keeping pace with our growth, is hard using a traditional data center model.”
As the company tried to determine the best path forward, it also needed to ensure it had the most reliable technology in place. “If our underlying technology doesn’t work, we’re in big trouble,” George says. “Tens of thousands of educational institutions rely on our solutions every single day, 24/7.”
Going All-in on the AWS Cloud
To solve these challenges, Blackboard made a bold choice in 2015: to move its next-generation Blackboard Learn application to the cloud. “The cloud really made a lot of sense for us,” says George. “We want to focus on delivering excellent educational applications to our customers, not maintaining data centers.” The company quickly decided on Amazon Web Services (AWS) as its cloud provider. “We recognized AWS as the leader in cloud technology and that it offered the broadest selection of services,” he says. “And AWS and its partners continue to innovate and develop faster than the competition.”
Blackboard began its cloud journey by migrating many of its Blackboard Learn clients to AWS, taking advantage of several key AWS services, including Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) and Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS).The company has already begun shutting some of its 29 data centers on four continents and is moving additional key applications—including its Collaborate online collaboration tool, Connect notification tool, and Web Community Manager communications solution—to the cloud. The migration will involve moving thousands of virtual machines and multiple petabytes of data to AWS. “We know AWS will help us grow our business,” says George.
Empowering Teachers and Learners
By running its learning-management systems in the AWS Cloud, Blackboard has the agility to develop new products and features more quickly than it could in its data centers. “With a data-center model, it can take a lot of time and money to get new products launched,” says George. “We can develop and launch new applications more quickly and easily using AWS. As a result, our pace of innovation speeds up, and teachers and learners are getting new educational tools in their hands extremely fast.”
Blackboard is also in a better position to quickly and cost effectively bring its applications to new markets, thanks to the global reach of AWS. “By relying on the global footprint of AWS and leveraging the expertise and technology of the AWS Cloud, we can move into emerging markets much faster than we ever could before,” says George. “Opening up new data centers in some of the global markets where we’re looking to expand would typically cost roughly $1 million for each data center. Because AWS is already in many different regions, our cost of entry is much lower. And, leveraging AWS Availability Zones, we can deliver a high level of reliability and redundancy as we enter each new market.”
Improving Learning Worldwide
Because it can lean on AWS to manage its technology platform, Blackboard will not have to worry about building, provisioning, and maintaining data centers on its own. Blackboard can also leverage advanced platform services provided by AWS and partners in the AWS ecosystem. “By using AWS to run Blackboard Learn and other learning applications, we can focus our engineering efforts on developing solutions that build value for our customers,” says George. For example, the company has already been able to leverage these benefits while developing a new predictive-analytics solution it hopes will help educators identify opportunities for intervening earlier with students experiencing learning challenges. “That is a solution we might not have been able to create so quickly on our own,” says George.
And with the agility to roll out new products and services faster than before, Blackboard will be able to focus more tightly on its core mission: improving the learning experience for people worldwide. “Developing innovative educational software is what we do best, and we can spend more time doing that by partnering with AWS for our computing infrastructure,” says George. “We also believe running our applications in the cloud provides the best possible experience for our clients and their students, which means educators and learners everywhere can be more successful. That’s our goal, and we can get there faster using AWS.”
“Developing innovative educational software is what we do best, and we can spend more time doing that by partnering with AWS for our computing infrastructure. We also believe running our applications in the cloud provides the best possible experience for our clients and their students, which means educators and learners everywhere can be more successful. That’s our goal, and we can get there faster using AWS.”
Peter George, Chief Product Officer