Smooth Operations

Application performance and availability in educational environments.

GUEST COLUMN | by Atchison Frazer

CREDIT KEMP TechnologiesEducational institutions face many demanding fiscal challenges when it comes to delivering critical application services for the smooth running of operations. For those people within the institutions responsible for deploying, maintaining and supporting these applications, there is an increasing need to facilitate the highest performance and reliability possible – while at the same time simplifying complexity, removing excess overhead and reducing costs. As student material and the work and communication with their tutors and examiners moves increasingly to Web-based content, the need for guaranteed content delivery has never been so important.

Fortunately, these unique and complex challenges can be addressed through the implementation of highly available and scalable data center infrastructures. Application Delivery Controller (ADC) solutions are often sought to provide support for these needs because they balance priority workload traffic.

Fortunately, these unique and complex challenges can be addressed through the implementation of highly available and scalable data center infrastructures. 

ADCs are considered a critical element in educational infrastructures due to their ability to optimize Web and application infrastructure, provide high availability, high performance, flexible scalability and secure operations while streamlining costs.

In fact, many industry experts consider high availability and disaster recovery among the highest priorities when planning deployments. Students are responsible for submitting their work on time, but if applications become unavailable and the students can’t get their work submitted on time, the student is reprimanded. But if the network infrastructure is in fact the culprit, can this be the fault of the student?

The Evolution of Application Delivery

Until recently, the entry point for server load balancing and advanced application delivery was often cost-prohibitive for educational establishments with strict budget constraints. Today, affordable yet advanced ADC, particularly virtualized or cloud-based solutions providing intelligent features are now available.

The properly deployed ADCs will ensure the high availability and optimization of critical infrastructure and applications. Below are three key requirements educational organizations need for optimal performance:

__The ADC should be available as a Virtual ADC that is able to operate over VMware, Hyper-V, XEN and KVM. If it can operate over Microsoft Azure then it can run in a hybrid on-premise cloud topology! The virtual appliance will allow an organization to deploy ADCs on virtual servers at a fraction of the cost of using dedicated appliances without compromising on functionality.

__The ADCs SSL (Secure Socket Layer – a a commonly-used protocol for managing the security of a message transmission on the Internet through a web browser) traffic should be handled as standard so your content will be secure and hackers will be defeated if they try to access sensitive data. Student records, research results and examination papers need to be on total lock down. With external security threats being a top concern, having an IPS on the load balancing solution is also important. While many ADC solutions offer IDS and/or IPS, these features tended to be “black box” functions that provide very little customization and can only be configured in an “on or off” state. An ADC with an industry-standard Snort format-compatible IPS that can be customized by any administrator familiar with writing Snort rules will be allow more complete customization. The IPS functionality could also be tuned to various levels, allowing administrators to enforce different levels of IPS behavior ranging from highly aggressive automatic threat blocking down to a passive “log-and-alert-only” setting.

__Ease of use and management is also key in that IT administrators need an ADC that can be easily deployed without having to selectively out-task maintenance to expensive IT specialists to make the ADCs work correctly.

Delivering Cost Savings in the Data Center

ADCs not only build in resilience to an infrastructure but also provide substantial value by optimizing the infrastructure that already exists. While all application servers tax resources for backups, maintenance, licensing and energy consumption, according to studies conducted by The Green Grid, only about 10 percent of these systems are actually used efficiently in the average educational data center. When a physical server is idle, it can use up to 70 percent of its available power, causing a massive waste in energy and ultimately, money.

To overcome these issues, IT administrators need to deploy intelligent application delivery solutions that are able to interpret the utilization load on application endpoints, dynamically shift traffic flows to the best available systems, and prevent any single system from becoming either over-utilized or under-utilized.

Furthermore, the ability to direct and data-select optimal application traffic flows at the service level allows for early detection of application bottlenecks, and a seamless user experience by directing user requests only to healthy application endpoints. In educational infrastructures, these requirements are generally a necessity at both the application and data center level. The implementation of an ADC solution that meets these needs ensures the following:

  • Maximizing server utilization by load balancing based on resource availability
  • Optimization of software investment over existing equipment
  • Improvement on performance by intelligent traffic distribution
  • Infrastructure scalability and site resilience
  • Removal of single points-of-failure with endpoint and application-layer security

ADCs for Educational Organizations

A good example of a mission critical application in education that requires high performance load balancing is Pearson’s PowerSchool, one of the fastest-growing, most widely used web-based student information system, supporting 12 million students in all 50 states and over 65 countries. PowerSchool enables today’s educators to 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.

Because of their many hosted services and applications and other unique needs, educational organizations need an ADC solution that delivers power, convenience, and customization in one easy-to-use and secure solution. The right ADC solution will be able to correct the day-to-day operational inefficiencies and improve the availability and performance of workload-critical applications.

Atchison Frazer is CMO at KEMP Technologies.

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