The Pandemic Reveals the Promise of Cloud Migration for the University of Leeds
When the pandemic emerged in 2020 many organizations were forced to quickly pivot to new ways of doing business and interacting with key audiences—universities chief among them. As scores of students and teachers went home to learn and teach, new methods of interaction were a must. Digital technology was an obvious go-to solution but the massive new amounts of information that had to be captured, edited, and shared suddenly put a strain on legacy systems that simply couldn’t handle the new burden.
That was the situation that the University of Leeds, a large research-intensive UK university found themselves in. With more than 40,000 staff and students and a comprehensive class recording strategy that covered more than 300 rooms, Leeds quickly recognized that they needed to make a shift.
Fortunately, because they had already been partners with Mediasite since 2014, they were able to shift quickly and successfully.
In fact, says Luke Haywood, an Application Support Analyst and Mediasite Administrator at the University of Leeds, the project was “a successful, large-scale project that offered many technical benefits as well as real-world benefits for staff and students.” Like all universities, he says, Leeds had to quickly change its traditional face-to-face teaching and learning approaches due to lockdowns and social distancing requirements in the UK.
It was, Haywood says, “both a very challenging time, but also a very exciting time to explore the possibilities of technology and digital solutions.”
The Challenge: Making a Quick Pivot to the Cloud
Prior to the pandemic, in-room recordings were the source of most of Leeds’ Mediasite content, captured via 315 fully automated classrooms that ranged from “bronze” classrooms with no video cameras and recordings of only the microphone and projector to “platinum” classrooms with three recording inputs, tracking cameras, digital whiteboards, and collaboration pods.
Suddenly, though, the university needed to both capture and share information in new ways. As everyone turned to digital access, demand increased, putting pressure on the system. As instructors either taught from home or to empty classrooms, the recording inputs shifted from in-room to their homes where they might be recording on desktops, laptops, tablets, or even smartphones.
A change needed to be made and the cloud was the solution. But now Leeds faced another challenge—migrating a significant amount of content from data that had been on-premises since 2014—over 200 terabytes (TB) to be exact!
The university needed automation at scale, and they needed it fast. They leveraged their existing relationship with Mediasite to make it happen, taking advantage of the opportunity to move to the cloud and explore a full-scale lecture capture and media management (LCMM) solution with very low maintenance.
The Solution: Mediasite Cloud
Mediasite’s cloud-based solution offered Leeds an opportunity to address not only pandemic-related needs but other needs related to an aging infrastructure. Servers were on costly extended support, performance was starting to impact users, and IT was seeing an increase in incident reports to the service desk.
IT at Leeds had adopted a cloud-first strategy with a software-as-a-service (SaaS), support model, as a top priority. Mediasite was already a critical level one service at the university so the decision to migrate the service to Mediasite cloud hosting was relatively straightforward. It was a highly strategic initiative for Leeds. Moving to the cloud helped Leeds meet the goals of clear governance, consistency, and automation at scale, part of the university’s digital transformation strategy.
Financial implications also came into play. Mediasite offers a subscription-based model where users only pay for the services they need. Mediasite also takes on the expensive and time-consuming maintenance of servers and hardware. IT no longer needs to worry about replacements every five years, or patching servers on-premise. Software updates occur automatically so you’re always on the latest version with the latest features.
The cloud also offers easier scalability to quickly increase the number of servers and web storage during busier periods or growth.
Planning was a critical part of the process and preparation for the migration.
Planning for Video Cloud Migration
While noting that every migration is different, Leeds appreciated the advice received from Mediasite based on its extensive experience with other migrations. An important aspect of planning was to reflect on and define service needs and expectations both from a user and technology perspective. Leeds’ Lecture Capture and Media Management (LCMM) process had a detailed service definition document and architecture design document which were critical in planning its cloud migration approach. Service from a user perspective was outlined using a simple, three-step graphic to quickly outline its approach to recording, reviewing and editing, and publishing and sharing.
Several key decisions needed to be made about the migration:
- Scope of the project and migration approach. Leeds decided to migrate its current environment rather than set up a brand-new cloud instance.
- Leeds had access to a dual data centre approach which gave them maximum resilience.
- Data retention was a key consideration. A robust retention policy and conversations with multiple stakeholders helped to avoid the potential of migrating a lot of content that was no longer needed and paying for unnecessary storage.
Leeds’ governance groups helped to streamline and move this process forward so key decisions could be made. Having governance groups in place is an important best practice, they felt, for helping to make these critical decisions related to data retention and ensure that input is received from all key stakeholders.
Integrations had to also be considered to ensure a successful migration.
Failing to identify and consider the various integrations that would need to link with Mediasite before the migration was important to save time and related expenses.
For instance, Leeds had integrations and custom workflows with many elements being automated—something they recommend both on-premises and in the cloud.
- Prior to the pandemic, 85% of Leeds’ recordings were automatically managed by a timetable system using a custom database and a provisioning application built by Mediasite. This allowed recordings to be automatically created based on previously scheduled events. Leeds needed to build a new application to optimize this in the cloud-hosted setting.
- A custom database was critical for managing data and controlling automated recordings and needed to be worked into the cloud.
- The university’s virtual learning environment (VLE)—Blackboard—update the building block to make sure everything was linked to the cloud.
One especially critical integration for a university is the recorded content created by teachers and others.
Before the cloud migration, Leeds used a manual in-room recording system, a custom-recording application that was developed in 2014. The legacy application wouldn’t work after the cloud migration, so Leeds needed to move to Mediasite’s Record Now application.
Record Now allows manual recordings to be made whenever users would like, allowing teaching staff and guest speakers to start recording manually whenever they would like. During the pandemic, staff would teach in empty rooms requiring them to go in and start a recording without the automated timetable system.
Through it all, one underlying element of ensuring a successful migration was communication—communication with a wide range of stakeholders, not once, but strategically over time.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Change is difficult, even when it has positive outcomes. Communication played a key role in both the planning and the process of Leeds’ migration. Leeds felt it was a key best practice to allow enough time to test applications and integrations and update any training materials needed for the migration.
For instance, users needed to know when servers would be unavailable so they could plan ahead. As a very large university, Leeds needed to communicate with a wide range of individuals and groups. They used a variety of approaches and tactics, including:
- A system message on Mediasite.
- A dedicated IT support page.
- Arranging drop-in sessions for users.
- Running project updates at monthly governance meetings.
- Sending all-staff emails.
- Making announcements on social media and their VLE.
- A video explaining in user-focused language, with examples, exactly how data capture, editing, and sharing would work in various situations.
Communication took place in phases so audiences wouldn’t feel overwhelmed with the messaging.
Internal communication between Leeds and the Mediasite project team was also essential. This involved:
- Two meetings a week with the Mediasite cloud-hosting project team to ensure that all aspects of the project remained on track and that any issues could be resolved quickly.
- Using a parallel implementation, so the new data centers had already been set up and in use for several months. There was a deadline, though, for the live migration of data. This allowed for a simple and immediate transfer of data during the actual migration—made possible only by months of planning and coordinating very closely with Mediasite and key stakeholders.
Leeds’ efforts in partnership with Mediasite were well worth the time invested and the focus on communication, planning, and process. It resulted in an outcome that from all perspectives was not only successful—but exciting.
The pandemic, of course, was a key driver of a massive uptick in usage, producing record-breaking stats. In 2021 they had more than 3 million views with more than 423 thousand hours of content watched—or about 48 years’ worth of content!
These numbers dramatically illustrate just how critical Mediasite has been to Leeds’ learning and teaching experience over the past several months—and its potential for the future.
The migration to the cloud allowed the university to support the massive increase in usage without any major incidents or service downtimes. It provided confidence in the system, the university, and its cloud-first approach. The benefits of the cloud were instantly realized in an unprecedented year.