Mission possible: From on-prem to online exams for 14K students in a week, during COVID-19 lockdown
Updated: Jun 23
Jain Group of Institutions (JGI) achieved the impossible in under a week. They moved their exam application to AWS, and transformed their IT teams to deliver online exams to 14,000 students. In this blog, Venkat Hari – Managing Director of India Operations for MontyCloud writes how he and our team in India, along with our partner Intuitor, helped JGI provision, configure and automate operations of AWS Cloud Accounts and 8 specialized higher-ed exams, and enabled JGI and Intuitor for successful cloud operations. Over 14,000 students successfully completed their exams, and JGI’s central IT team is now looking to expand their digital transformation program university-wide.
India's 4th largest city locked down overnight to contain COVID-19 as 14,000 students were eagerly waiting to take their end of semester exams. Like a lot of schools, Jain Group of Institutions, one of India's premier private universities, had to react overnight and pivot to online instruction and testing. Their on-premises infrastructure was not scaling to administer the exams. JGI's IT leadership took this mission head-on, and worked closely with MontyCloud and Intuitor Softech Services (Intuitor) to make this mission impossible, possible - and delivered! MontyCloud’s DAY2™ platform accelerated AWS adoption, automated day two operations for the team, and in the process, also reduced infrastructure spend by 80%.
"We looked up to our IT heroes to find a reliable and effective fix for the challenge of designing and conducting online examinations for a large number of students during these uncertain times. I am proud of the team behind our accelerated transition of all the modules to the cloud. Congratulations to the Examination team, IT team, the MontyCloud team, and Intuitor for making this happen with MontyCloud DAY2™." - Dr. Chenraj Roychand, Chancellor, Jain Group of Institutions
Two days to go before end of semester exams and infrastructure was unstable
On May 27th, at about 5 PM, I got a call from Intuitor, one of our partners. Jain Group of Institutions (JGI), a premier university, based out of Bangalore, was scheduled to start administering end of semester exams to 14,000 students, online, starting June 1st.
14,000 students scheduled to take exams and traditional scaling methods were failing
JGI’s exam application was written in .NET on SQL server, connecting 8 different SQL databases on Windows Servers, protected by traditional firewalls and front-ended by a web-UI. The application was remotely monitored by Intuitor. The application had to support 14,000 students, with four exams per student and 3,500 concurrent connections. In addition, the test setting by the professors, the test-taking by the students, and the grading needed to be secured.
Testing showed that JGI’s application was unable to support the scale, and traditional scaling methods like adding more servers were failing. All options were on the table including postponing the exams while they moved their current application to the cloud, or they bought and implemented a SaaS-based testing platform which would cause business process and other unknown training related disruptions.
Digital transformation is hard. Accelerated transformation doubly so
When MontyCloud was brought in, the JGI team was overwhelmed with the 24x7 work to keep their classes running, while also getting this exam application right. We did not have any test or load data to work with. And we sure did not know we had 2 business days to get it right before the first at-scale test with 500 students was scheduled.
Always look on the brighter side of life
The bright side - A motivated IT department that relentlessly pursued excellence under the threat of COVID-19, MontyCloud DAY2™ - an intelligent cloud management platform, and a super talented cloud team that was excited with the challenge, all came together to make it right by the students. We quickly agreed that under the circumstances it was best to migrate the existing application to AWS, and close the skill gap with an automation platform focused on outcomes and delivering SLAs.
The team devised a phased plan with the following goals for the 1st phase
Provision, secure and enable guardrails for well-managed AWS cloud accounts and environments
Move away from the on-prem application to a well-managed MontyCloud DAY2™ powered cloud application that can be spun up on-demand, and scaled as needed
Start a pilot for 500 students to take their mock exam, monitor, tune and right-size the infrastructure
Automate routine operations and remediation based on learnings from the pilot and configure for next phase for supporting 2,000 students
Complete exams for all 14,000 students. Manage the university’s infrastructure & all 8 exam applications with MontyCloud DAY2™
The stopwatch started with a countdown for 5 days to accomplish all of the above.
With MontyCloud's well-architected blueprints, customers AWS infrastructure was set up, configured, hardened, and tested in about three hours. Next, the exam applications were deployed using custom blueprints by the end of day one. After testing the exam application on the second day, JGI was ready to test run a pilot exam with a small batch of 500 students.
Rightsizing for on-going operations
Cost was not a factor in phase 1, so we over-provisioned infrastructure to ensure a smooth conclusion of the scheduled exams for this semester. However, the projected $35,694/Month AWS bill was neither tenable nor required. Having administered the exams at scale, with DAY2™ Monitoring the team now had enough data to right-size the infrastructure.
What started as USD 35,694/Month projected in cloud costs when we initially moved to AWS, has now been reduced by about 5x to USD 7,616/Month. This was accomplished as part of the accelerated transformation while still delivering on the primary mission, thanks to both well-architected blueprints, and ultimately well-managed applications powered by DAY2™.
Intuitor provides ongoing monitoring and support with DAY2™
We are now in the next stage of helping our partners at Intuitor to continue monitoring and managing the JGI’s AWS infrastructure via DAY2™. As an MSP, Intuitor uses MontyCloud DAY2™ to provide 24X7 cloud operations and support for clients.
The Landing and the next flight
With the successful completion of the exam, we are now engaged with Intuitor and JGI on scaling these best practices for other applications. Also, our architects will be bringing to you a technical look at how we architected the infrastructure and rightsized it. Stay tuned! Until then, thank you for reading this and adios amigos. Stay safe, stay happy, and always look on the bright side of life. We all are in this together.
About Venkat Hari
Venkat Hari is a co-founder and the Managing Director of India Operations for MontyCloud. Apart from overseeing the day to day operations, Venkat is also deeply engaged with customers and partners in the region, helping successful cloud adoptions. As is evident Venkat is also a fan of MontyPython. He urges us to always look on the bright side of life.