Crafting modern DevOps practices in EdTech

Blackboard provides learning management solutions to institutions across the world. From K-12 to higher education, they facilitate digital interactions between students, teachers, and parents. 

We helped Blackboard reduce their annual AWS spend by over $1MM by improving the way they were leveraging AWS for their SaaS-based Learning Management System.

What We Did

DevOps Automation, Collaborative Product Discovery, Cloud Development, Story Mapping

Tech Stack

AWS, Python, Jenkins Pipeline as Code, Java, PHP, Terraform, Chef

Opportunity

Technology plays a major role in today’s education system. Learning Management Systems (LMS) foster collaboration between schools, teachers, and students. Our customer, Blackboard, is the world’s largest global EdTech company, providing LMS solutions in 90+ countries for over 100 million learners. 

Blackboard deploys their Learn LMS product in three ways: self-hosted, managed-hosted, and as a cloud-based SaaS. As they expanded the user base of Learn SaaS, they needed to streamline their deployment process to ensure security, repeatability, and a reliable experience for their users. 

Blackboard manages SaaS deployments and automation for nearly 700 distinct institutional customers. This was leading to significant hosting costs per customer, as well as a complexity and fragility. 

Blackboard and SEP teamed up to use modern DevOps practices to minimize Blackboard’s cloud hosting costs.

Solution

As Blackboard onboarded more users to the Learn SaaS system, they found their infrastructure was leading to an unsustainable AWS cost per customer and was lacking important security features needed for growth. We facilitated discovery sessions with them to explore their strategic DevOps objectives. There were many concerns and stakeholders to consider: a product manager representing clients, product and security architects, customer support, and the key time constraint in the EdTech world: the school year. 

The largest AWS costs were tied up in databases and system event logging. The existing architecture was consuming too many AWS resources and running on too many machines. We developed an alternative solution by building a new microservice. We also worked with Blackboard’s product architects to build a background task that allows client admins to view download logs.

The second concern was around security. As with many global companies, localized data security is key. We worked to strengthen regional data security. We also implemented a feature to temporarily elevate a user’s security privileges, an important aspect needed to pass government-level security audits. 

We worked to build upon Blackboard’s existing tools to make these improvements sustainable. We improved the code by using agile software development practices such as writing unit tests, refactoring, and introducing the use of static analysis tools. By doing this, we made the code easier to understand and more maintainable – making any future changes faster and less prone to error. 

Result

With the improvements we made in the areas of security, reliability, and automation, Blackboard is now saving over $100,000 each month in AWS costs. With these changes, Blackboard can now scale to support their increasing customer base without increasing cloud service costs.

The security improvements position Blackboard to secure more government contracts. In addition, the improved site automation allows Blackboard to open up new regional sites closer to the institutions they serve. The automation also enables them to administer hundreds of deployments quickly, reliably, and with minimal downtime to the customers.

Interested in learning more about our work with Blackboard? Read about our other engagement here.

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