About Seton Hall
Seton Hall is a Catholic university with 10,000 graduate and undergraduate students. Seton Hall’s IT department includes the Teaching, Learning, and Technology (TLT) Center, which provides support for faculty in the classroom, training, and research resources. The TLT Center houses three technology-specific rooms that are available to the University for teaching classes, hosting events, or conducting meetings that have a special technology requirement. The TLT Center uses an on-campus data center that has its own virtualization process, and builds technology solutions that the faculty needs to enhance their curriculum in the classroom.
The TLT Center needed a way to quickly enable faculty members to run pilot programs and to stream live media for 10-12 events a year, without requiring IT staff time to procure and provision servers. As the technology center for a university, the TLT Center has a broad set of responsibilities and needs to be able to respond quickly to customer requests while keeping costs down. Requests can range from streaming the visit of a high-ranking United Nations official to enabling off-site users to access network resources.
As a small university, resources can be a bit constrained, says Michael Soupios, Associate Director. “It was critical to us to deliver services without having to pull resources from other projects or build a business case for buying new equipment,” Soupios says. “We needed to provide faculty with the technological freedom to explore without requiring grants or other resources that involve a long time to secure.”
Why Amazon Web Services
AWS helped enable the TLT Center to meet the demands of a diverse set of customer requests, Soupios says. In one instance, Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary General, visited the campus. The university wanted to broadcast the event live, but the speaking engagement was planned quickly, without much time to put a streaming media server in place. “We didn’t want the demand to take down the campus infrastructure, and we couldn’t spend weeks or months creating a new infrastructure,” Soupios says. “So we installed a Wowza server on AWS. It took about a day, and it worked without a hitch.”
Another project, a joint effort between Seton Hall and a major telecom provider, calls for enabling off-campus users to access a data-gathering platform. The TLT Center is running AWS outside the traditional, on-premises Seton Hall infrastructure, which makes it easy to sidestep problems with adding user accounts and troubleshoot firewall issues. “AWS helped us avoid all the problems we’d experienced in the past—setting up a virtual private network, licensing, all of that,” Soupios says. “And as this partnership grows, it will be very easy to clone and spin up new instances to support the workload. We are expecting exponential growth with this project, and AWS is the perfect environment for it.”
Currently, the TLT Center uses Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) and Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances. In addition, they use Windows, Linux, Wowza Media Server, Linux databases with a WAMP or LAMP stack, and Ruby.
AWS runs separately from the university’s infrastructure, which has helped the TLT Center manage its security concerns. “We don’t worry as much about security when using AWS,” Soupios says.
The TLT Center staff has partnered with AWS Support to leverage AWS features more fully. “AWS Support helped us solve 99 percent of our issues in a couple of days,” Soupios says. “AWS Support helped us make the most of AWS.”
In a cost analysis, Soupios found that running AWS has resulted in significant annual savings over using on-premises infrastructure. “The cost to run AWS is about $40 a month,” Soupios says, “whereas if we had to build our own infrastructure and support it, we would be paying more than $30,000 annually.”
The TLT Center has also improved its time to market for new projects. AWS instances can be set up and dismantled quickly, without requiring a business case or time to procure and set up an on-premises infrastructure. Both projects—the visit from the UN Secretary-General and the data-gathering project with the major telecom provider—took only a week to complete. “Before AWS, if a faculty member had an idea, it may have taken some time to pull the planning and resources together and get that project onto the IT calendar,” Soupios says. “Now we can let our faculty explore quickly and safely. What could have taken all semester now takes a few days.”
The flexibility that AWS affords is another benefit the TLT Center has enjoyed. Soupios says, “I would not have been able to offer bandwidth for short-term projects without AWS. AWS gives us a level of flexibility we didn’t have before, especially when re-allocating resources could be time-consuming and painful.”
All in all, AWS has enabled the TLT Center to offer more services to its faculty and keep costs low. “AWS allows you to spin up quickly and suspend quickly at a low cost,” Soupios says. “Our IT team does a fantastic job of keeping us operating at a very high level. AWS gives us that much more flexibility, while also saving time and money.”
Moving forward, Seton Hall is exploring the use of AWS to capture classroom lectures. “We will look to AWS to create environments rather than spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on hardware,” Soupios says. “We know we can pay for AWS without having to maintain it long term. Spin it up, use it, and close it down.”