Why choose the cloud? A Q&A with Principia College

Why choose the cloud? A Q&A with Principia College

By Ellucian on Monday, March 27, 2017


In 2016, Principia College migrated its Banner systems to the Ellucian cloud. We spoke with Holly Webster, Director of Administrative Systems, on Principia’s decision-making process and experience to date.

Ellucian: What started the discussion about moving to the cloud?

Webster: We were due for a hardware refresh, so we took that as an opportunity to think about what the institution needed to support future growth and innovation. Since the previous refresh in 2009, server and system maintenance had become too complex and time-intensive for our onesystems and database administrator. This left him unable to keep up with other support demands in the Banner environment. From a hardware standpoint, we knew we would eventually need more horsepower, but not exactly when and how much. Moving servers and maintenance to the cloud quickly became an attractive option.

Ellucian: What was the decision-making process like?

Webster: We looked at several different cloud providers. What I found was a real disconnect between what they were offering and what we were trying to do with our Banner ERP. Higher education needs are different in many ways, and I think it can be hard for third parties to relate. In the end, it just made sense to go with Ellucian. They have that dual expertise in higher education and cloud services, and they were able to work with us to meet our specific needs.

The partnership between Ellucian and Amazon Web Services (AWS) was a key factor. AWS is basically synonymous with security and reliability, so that gave us a high level of comfort as well.

Ellucian: What was the main benefit that swayed Principia’s leadership?

Webster: Cloud hosting was the right model to advance our institutional goals. We were able to refocus our system administrator on strategic priorities in application support and have more flexible, sustainable systems in place. Since we only had one administrator, we didn’t necessarily save costs. Rather, we shifted what would have been an investment in new staff to an investment in experts at Ellucian and AWS. The strategic return should be considerably higher.

Ellucian: What was the migration process like?

Webster: We were one of the first institutions to take advantage of Ellucian application hosting with AWS, so I like to think we helped them streamline their process! It took longer than Ellucian originally projected, so we had to manage expectations internally. But there was very little disruption in the run up to go-live. We followed Ellucian’s careful process for gathering requirements, testing, and preparation. And we worked together to troubleshoot any technical issues during and after launch. I think we smoothed the path for the many institutions that have since followed us to the Ellucian/AWS cloud.

Ellucian: How has cloud hosting impacted the constituent experience?

Webster: Before the migration, we had people asking whether things were going to be slower or less secure if our servers were no longer on site. But they quickly saw it was just the opposite. And now they take the speed and reliability for granted.

In fact, we did some measurements and found that nearly every activity our users are doing, such as generating reports, is running ten times faster than it used to.

We also have less down time. Before the migration, the system would go down for six hours a night to do backups. That doesn’t happen anymore. We have continuous service and a more stable, secure environment.

Ellucian: What else would you tell other institutions considering cloud hosting?

Webster: I would emphasize that there are many benefits to hosting your applications in the cloud, as well as many factors to consider. Make sure you ask the right questions up front—particularly whether cloud will help advance your institutional goals. And choose a provider that can meet your business needs as well your hardware needs.

While there is potential to save costs and reallocate resources, in the end, the deciding factor should be whether cloud hosting improves your ability to ensure student success.

To help you plan your journey to the cloud, please visit our Pathways to the Cloud page.

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