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Open Source Digital Repository on AWS    

AWS Badge logoOpen Source Digital Repository

Digital content and resources span a wide range of asset types in higher education and support many campus stakeholders, including students, faculty, researchers, instructional designers, and library staff. Use cases for digital repositories in higher education include workflow that supports content creation/revision, indexing and searching, along with delivery of content for on-premise and online courses.

openEQUELLA is a digital repository that provides a single platform to house a variety of content and to support this wide range of use cases and activities. openEQUELLA has been deployed for copyright resource collections; research materials; managing and exposing materials through websites, portals, and learning management systems (LMS); content authoring; workflow; institutional policy; and organizational resources. openEQUELLA is currently in use in a wide range of schools, universities, colleges, departments of education, government agencies, and corporations worldwide.

Challenges

The array of digital repository use cases and stakeholders means that an extensive set of digital resources are needed. Stakeholders including faculty, program administration, and curriculum and content designers/authors need to collaborate to design, create, and revise content, align it to learning objectives, search and discover content by a variety of characteristics, and integrate the content into delivery systems such as an LMS.

Content can cover a broad range of formats, for example text in numerous formats (HTML, PDF, Word, etc.), images, and videos. The storage demands, as well as the server capacity necessary to deliver assets with adequate performance and scale, can easily tax infrastructure and staff. Higher education content repositories can easily grow into multi-TB footprints. The infrastructure costs and staffing required to manage a large digital repository can be substantial.

Performance

Content needs to be highly available and rapidly delivered to users. Many online students are juggling the demands of work and family and need to be able to complete course work as planned. For example, demand for content often peaks within common time frames such as the evening hours. Content delivery systems need to be responsive during these workload peaks. Demanding operations such as search based on taxonomy terms, or free-text fields, adds additional load, along with the task of ensuring that requests adhere to security and digital rights restrictions. All of these contribute to a complex load profile and a wide variability in capacity demands, even though the load pattern is predictable on a weekly basis and across the academic calendar.

Storage

As noted earlier, storage of content items can easily climb into the multi-TB range. Even when strong content revision and retirement policies/practices are in place, education content repositories tend to continually grow. Beyond the content assets themselves, there can be additional large storage demands. For education use cases, searching and indexing of content is critical. Often, content assets are tagged with metadata that aligns a given asset to several taxonomies: course and program learning objectives, and taxonomies from professional and educational bodies (such as accreditation or professional certification organizations). These are indices that must be created and maintained over time. Additionally, free search indexes are also often generated for many asset types. In aggregate, the search indices increase the raw volume needs for storage but also require high levels of predictable I/O capacity to provide performant search experiences.

Unicon Services for AWS

The openEQUELLA digital repository has been serving the needs of various institutions for more than ten years. openEQUELLA deployments include Open Educational Resource (OER) repositories and institutional specific learning content. Institutions relying on openEQUELLA have contracted with Unicon to deliver technology services for openEQUELLA, with stringent operational security and SLA compliance requirements.

Unicon’s solution for providing managed services for openEQUELLA relies extensively on AWS services for scalability, performance, security, and reliability. EFS is used to provide app tier EC2 instances with a performant, shared file system without building and managing a reliable NFS cluster. RDS is used to provide database services for administrative, workflow, and other metadata. Security services and features are leveraged extensively to prevent and detect unauthorized activity. The scalability and reliability features are also essential, using CloudFormation, ELBs, AutoScaling Groups, Mutli-AZ configuration, and S3 to implement data protection.

Unicon is an Advanced Consulting Partner in the AWS Partner Network (APN) and a member of the AWS Education Competency Program. This allows Unicon to leverage AWS to its fullest potential given Unicon’s deep expertise in deploying and operating applications on AWS as well as application development. Unicon has operated large scale learning applications serving global users for over seven years. Additionally, Unicon has staff certified in many current AWS certifications, including AWS Certified Professional level Solutions Architects and DevOps Engineers.