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IaaS is smart choice for ConnectEDU

Cloud-based compute capacity delivers elasticity, scalability and cost-savings

By , Network World
June 06, 2011 12:08 AM ET

Network World - As most parents and teachers can attest, teenage students have a tendency to procrastinate - not a particularly endearing characteristic, especially if you're a company that helps students with their college applications.

"You know how students are - they leave everything for the last moment, which for us means millions of students trying to file an application on deadline. That makes scalability a huge issue," says Rick Blaisdell, CTO at ConnectEDU, a Boston-based education and career management company.

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And scalability, in turn, makes cloud infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) an enticing alternative to traditional architecture. "The elastic nature of IaaS, the ability to scale up and down and have that directly relate to utility pricing, is the No. 1 reason we decided to go with infrastructure as a service," he says.

That technology driver dovetailed with a critical business decision. Rather than rebuilding legacy software platforms to meet changing business demands, ConnectEDU decided to break up its products and deliver them via the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. Blaisdell came on board in April 2009 to help orchestrate that shift. From day one, he says, the plan to move to cloud-based architecture began taking shape.

"From a CIO/CTO perspective, I always look at simplifying things. If you can simplify, clone and reproduce, you're always in a much better place. So when I started looking at the physical architecture and the number of servers we were maintaining and the number we needed to purchase, I knew from previous experience with virtualization and cloud that that's where I needed to go," Blaisdell explains.

But Blaisdell says he didn't want to deal with management of the cloud environment and so decided to explore managed IaaS options. Three managed services companies came immediately to mind, he says: NaviSite, which Time Warner Cable acquired in February, Savvis (now being acquired by CenturyLink) and Terremark (now Verizon Business).

"I wanted a company that would manage my servers and systems all the way from security to maintenance and, if we had any issues, I needed people there at a 24/7 operations center that I knew would carry out our procedures or, if that couldn't be done, call in my team. I knew I'd be spending more money for that, but it was a baseline requirement for us," he says.

When Blaisdell came on board, ConnectEDU was already doing some hybrid virtualization with NaviSite. And while that was working out well, it had neither the true elasticity nor utility features he wanted, Blaisdell says.

Taking a flyer on Cisco's UCS

He discussed those concerns with NaviSite and learned that his hoster would be one of the first beta and production facilities using Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS). "Would he care to be a beta tester himself?" Blaisdell says he was asked.

Already impressed with Cisco's integrated approach to the cloud, and having further investigated the NaviSite environment and architecture plans, Blaisdell decided to go for it. He tested NaviSite's UCS-based cloud service in late 2009 to early 2010.

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