August 17, 2021

Article
6 min

CDW’s Classroom-in-the-Cloud

CITC is a low-cost, secure and scalable solution for creating computer labs in AWS.

CDW's Classroom-in-the-Cloud

Demands for different classes in an educational institution may fluctuate dynamically based on many factors such as economic growth, recessions, number of job openings in each area, etc. To some extent, demand for classes consisting mainly of theoretical lectures only could be handled by upsizing or downsizing the classrooms.

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However, for certain types of learning, classroom lectures followed by lab exercises and experimentation in a smaller group are a must for reinforcing the material learned in theoretical lecture rooms. These include classes on topics such as operating systems, computer networking, cybersecurity/ethical hacking, programming, web application development, etc. Some examples include popular packages such as Autodesk, Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Illustrators, and so on.

Challenges of Cloud-Based Lab Environments

Unfortunately, due to limitations in the available resources, educational institutions could face some obstacles for scaling classrooms requiring lab exercises. These institutions have the requirement of setting up and running a multitude of lab classes during academic semesters for catering to different levels of students. For many institutions, these classes are traditionally setup in an on-prem environment where the instructors interact with school IT administration for setting up such classes. There are many challenges in this approach:

  • As the demand for classrooms is very dynamic, it is difficult to forecast the computing hardware resources anticipated for the classes. Even then it can take a few months, if not years, for capacity planning and going through the school’s procurement process. There would also be the need to refresh the hardware at regular intervals.

  • After the procurement, there are challenges for administering and provisioning computer lab classes including infrastructure, networking, OS and additional software installation and configuration services. Also, consider reconfiguration, reallocation and moving of servers from one classroom to the next.

  • Management overhead associated with lab classes such as scheduling rooms, administration and handling of idle resources.

  • Besides the infrastructure and configuration management, there is the provisioning of students and the classes they are enrolled in to consider.

The Solution: CDW’s Classroom-in-the-Cloud

Thus, due to the reasons explained earlier, management and the creation of classes has always been a challenge in an on-prem IT environment. CDW has created a cost-optimized solution that provides greater flexibility and usability for setting up classes in the AWS cloud – thus removing the burden of managing infrastructure for these customers. CDW’s Classroom-in-the-Cloud (CITC) allows institutions to realize that experience. The instructors are able to concentrate on their high value area, i.e. designing classes for providing maximum benefit to students. Customers using this solution have been able to save up to 82 percent by moving this type of on-prem solution to the cloud.

High-Level Architecture of CITC

The following diagram illustrates the high-level architecture of CITC:

CITC Diagram

Here is a quick list of functionalities provided by different components in this architecture:

  • Amazon S3:
    Stores HTML/JavaScript files and provides the front end for the web-based landing page for accessing the solution.

  • Amazon Cognito/AWS Directory Service:
    Provides authentication and authorization for users (students as well as instructors) for accessing the solution portal. Directory is configured with user IDs, classes they are enrolled in and associated role.

  • Amazon API Gateway: 
    Provides RESTful HTTPS service endpoints for accessing different solution components (such as user authentication, authorization, restarting workspaces/EC2 instances, etc.) via AWS Lambda functions.

  • AWS Lambda:
    Implements business logic when triggered via an event such as incoming HTTPS request from API gateway. When a user logs on, S3 provides the login UI, the authentication request is handled via API gateway and the API gateway invokes Lambda function for authenticating the user. The Lambda function then queries Amazon Cognito to verify the validity of the incoming request.

  • Workspaces:
    Service that provides the desktop in the cloud for implementing the customer’s classroom requirements.

  • VPC:
    Service for building a private network for customer in the AWS cloud.

  • EC2: 
    Compute service for building the servers – Linux and Windows on AWS.

CITC Improves the Customer Experience

One of the major objectives of the CITC solution has been to improve end-user experience. CDW has created a plug-and-play type of solution that does a majority of the “undifferentiated heavy lifting” with some customer specific customizations. We have also implemented many automated workflows to leverage the AWS infrastructure suitable for addressing the requirements dynamically. This would help instructors and educators be able to focus more on the content without worrying about infrastructure components and non-functional requirements, in particular:

Creation of Initial Classrooms

  • The instructors start the process by providing a list of students and classes in which they are enrolled. 

  • The instructors provide the base operating system (Windows, Linux variants, etc.) and a list of software required for these classes. Alternatively, they can access the base OS image created by CDW and install additional packages per their needs.

  • CDW then creates required infrastructure in AWS for the classrooms. CDW has implemented several automations in this area for creating and configuring classes in no time.  

Ongoing Operational Support

  • The instructors can submit change requests via the customer portal. 

  • For premium managed services customers, the infrastructure is monitored 24x7 by CDW. If any anomalies are detected, corrective actions are taken to mitigate the problem appropriately.

  • The solution provides a few self-serve operations to instructors. For example, if a student’s workspace is not responding, the instructors can restart the service for the students.

  • Due to tight budget, the instructors may be concerned about cost overrun of the cloud solution. CDW has implemented an automation that generates periodic reports regarding utilization of resources. The instructors have found this very useful for monitoring cloud consumption. 

  • Allocation of lab-time per-class per-student basis. This allows to accurately budget the cost of the lab exercise. 

  • Scalability: The ability to increase or reduce the resources required for classrooms based on number of students enrolled for the class.

Termination of labs

  • Once the semester is over, the labs are taken down to reduce the operating costs of the cloud environment. The only cost incurred would be any configuration settings and templates being reused during the next semester.

The CDW Classroom-in-the-Cloud solution allows customers to significantly lower their on-premises infrastructure cost while simultaneously reducing operational complexity. Additionally, this AWS and CDW solution provides lower development costs and ongoing support and maintenance due to automation included in many workflows.

CDW’s AWS Practice

CDW has a mature AWS practice, both in the professional and managed services areas, that includes highly technical resources such as solutions architects, delivery engineers, technical account managers (TAMs) and operations and DevOps engineers. CDW is an advanced consulting partner for AWS and has acquired many competencies including Migration, Storage, Solution Provider and MSP partner. Our professional and managed delivery engineers have achieved the highest level of professional and specialty certification. CDW can assist your organization by providing thought leadership to help you in your cloud journey.

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