UCAS turns to cloud to help with university clearing

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The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) has implemented cloud infrastructure from both Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft to help place students in universities and colleges.

UCAS moved the core of its UCAS Confirmation and Clearing process to the AWS cloud. In doing so, the organisation managed to place 385,910 students into higher education as of A Level results day.

This also forms part of UCAS' plans to modernise infrastructure to make the university admissions process as stress-free for students and as efficient for universities as possible.

Steve Jeffree, Chief Operating Officer at UCAS said the flexibility and almost unlimited capacity of AWS meant UCAS was able to scale to meet the demands of the admissions cycle.

“Both students and universities expect a high level of service with their admissions process. By investing in cloud technologies we were able to give every student and university in the UK the fastest response times and top level of service they expect,” said Jeffree.

As clearing is a massive undertaking but only at this time of year, UCAS was able to take advantage of pay-as-you-go nature of AWS, meaning it could scale up to meet the demand of students, and universities, and only pay for the capacity used. This, it said, eliminated the need to have expensive technology hardware sitting around, lying idle until the same day next August.

The infrastructure used AWS’ European Region in Dublin and ran a selection of its services such as Amazon EC2, Amazon S3, Amazon EBS, Elastic Load Balancing, Amazon Virtual Private Cloud, AWS CloudFormation, Amazon CloudWatch, Auto Scaling and Amazon ElastiCache.

While AWS was handling the back-end, Microsoft's Windows Azure platform was deployed for the student-facing front end. UCAS, worked with Microsoft partner IPL on a system known as ‘Track’ running on Azure that helped to handle around 180 log-ins per second from anxious students via browsers, tablets and smartphones.

“We had to provide a robust IT platform that could withstand a torrent of online access in one 24-hour period – and potentially within as little as one or two hours of that 24-hour period,” said Paul Jobbins, chief executive of IPL. “Practically speaking, this was likely to be over half a million applicants wanting online access through browsers and mobile devices.”

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.