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2020 Blog, Blog, Feature Blog, Featured

As universities deal with the challenging situation in 2020 with remote assets, workforce and students, there is a need to make education frictionless by leveraging cloud based solutions in a pre-packaged model. Working closely with the AWS partnership in trying to make Digital Learning frictionless, Relevance Lab is bringing a unique new concept to the market of University in a Box, that extends a self-contained Cloud Portal with basic applications to power the needs of a university. This new, radical and innovative concept is based on the idea of a school, college and university going from zero (no AWS account) to cloud native in hours. This enables the Cloud “Mission with Speed” with a mature, secure and comprehensive adoption very fast.

A typical university starting on their cloud journey needs a Self-service interactive interface with user logins, tracking and offering the deployed products, provide actions for connectivity after assets are deployed, ability to have lifecycle interactions in UI of Cloud Portal with no need to go to the AWS Console and with a comprehensive view of cost and budgets tracking.

The key building blocks for University In A Box comprise the following

  • University Catalog – Cloud Formation Templates useful to Higher Education packaged as Service Catalog Products
  • Self-Service Cloud Portal for University IT users to order items with security, governance and budget tracking
  • Easy onboarding model to get started with a hosted option or self-managed instances of Cloud Portal

Leverage existing investments in AWS and standard products the foundational pieces includes a Portfolio of useful software and architectures often used by universities.

  • Deploy Control Tower
  • Deploy GuardDuty
  • Deploy Security Hub
  • Deploy VPC + VPN
  • Deploy AD Extension
  • Deploy Web Applications SSO, Shibboleth, Drupal
  • Deploy FSx File Server
  • Deploy S3 Buckets for Backup Software
  • Deploy HIPAA workload
  • Deploy Other solutions as needed, Workspaces, Duo, Appstream, etc
  • WordPress Reference Architecture
  • Drupal Reference Architecture
  • Moodle Reference Architecture
  • Shibboleth Reference Architecture




How to set up and use University in a Box?
The RLCatalyst Cloud Portal solution enables a University with no existing Cloud to deploy a self-service model for internal IT and consume standard applications seamlessly.


Steps for University Specific Setup Time Taken (Approx)
A new University wants to enable core systems on AWS Cloud and the Root account is created 0.5 Hours
Launch Control Tower and Create Core OU & University OU 1.5 Hours
User and Access Management, Account Creation, Budget Enablement 1 Hour
Network Design of the University Landing Zone (Creation + Configuration) 1.5 Hours
Provision of basic assets (Infra & Applications ) from the standard catalog 1 Hour
Enable Security and Governance (Includes VA, PM, Security Hub) 1.5 Hours
User Training and Handover 1 Hours

The following diagram explains the deployment architecture of the solution.



University Users, Roles and Organization planning
Planning for university users, roles and organizations requires mapping to existing departments, IT and non-IT roles and empowering users for self-service without compromising on security or governance. This can vary between organizations but common patterns are encountered as explained below.

  • Common Delegation use cases for University IT
    • Delegate a product from a Lead Architect to Helpdesk, or a less skilled co-worker
    • Delegate a product from Lead Architect or Central IT, to another IT group, DBA team, Networking Team, Analytics Team
    • Delegate a product to another University Department – Academic, Video, etc
    • Delegate a product to a researcher or faculty member


Setup planning considerations on deployment and onboarding


          Hosting Options
        • Option:1 – Dedicated Instance per Customer
        • Option:2 – Hosted Model, Customer brings their AWS account
        • Option:3 – Hosted Model, RL (Relevance Lab) provides a new AWS account
        • Initial Catalog Setup
        • Option:1 – Customer has existing Service Catalog
        • Option:2 – A default Service Catalog items are loaded from a standard library
        • Option:3 – Combination of above
        • Optimizing Setup parameters and Catalog binding for ease of use
        • Option:1 – Customer fills up details based on best practices and templates provided
        • Option:2 – RL sets up the initial configuration based on existing parameters
        • Option:3 – RL as part of new setup, creates an OU, new account and associated parameters
        • Additional Setup considerations
        • DNS mapping for Cloud Portal
        • Authentication – Default Cognito with SAML integration available
        • Mapping users to roles, organizations/projects/budgets


        • Standard Catalog for University in a Box leverages AWS provided standard architecture best practices
          The basic setup leverages AWS Well Architected framework extensively and builds on AWS Reference Architecture as detailed below. Sharing a sample Products Preview List based on AWS Provided University Catalog under Open Source Program.


          University Catalog Portfolio Portfolio of useful software and architectures often used by colleges and universities.
          WordPress Product with Reference Architecture This Quick Start deploys WordPress. WordPress is a web publishing platform for building blogs and websites. It can be customized via a wide selection of themes, extensions, and plugins. The Quick Start includes AWS Cloud Formation templates and a guide that provides step-by-step instructions to help you get the most out of your deployment. This reference architecture provides a set of YAML templates for deploying WordPress on AWS using Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC), Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), Auto Scaling, Elastic Load Balancing (Application Load Balancer), Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS), Amazon ElastiCache, Amazon Elastic File System (Amazon EFS), Amazon CloudFront, Amazon Route 53, Amazon Certificate Manager (Amazon ACM) with AWS Cloud Formation.
          Scale Out Computing Product Amazon Web Services (AWS) enables data scientists and engineers to manage their scale-out workloads such as high-performance computing (HPC) and deep learning training, without having extensive cloud experience. The Scale-Out Computing on AWS solution helps customers more easily deploy and operate a multiuser environment for computationally intensive workflows such as Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE). The solution features a large selection of compute resources, a fast network backbone, unlimited storage, and budget and cost management directly integrated within AWS. This solution also deploys a user interface (UI) with cloud workstations, file management, and automation tools that enable you to create your own queues, scheduler resources, Amazon Machine Images (AMIs), and management functions for user and group permissions. This solution is designed to be a production ready reference implementation you can use as a starting point for deploying an AWS environment to run scale-out workloads, enabling users to focus on running simulations designed to solve complex computational problems. For example, with the unlimited storage capacity provided by Amazon Elastic File System (Amazon EFS), users won’t run out of space for project input and output files. Additionally, you can integrate your existing LDAP directory with Amazon Cognito to enable users to seamlessly authenticate and run jobs on AWS.
          Drupal Reference Architecture Drupal is an open-source, content management platform written in the PHP server-side scripting language. Drupal provides a backend framework for many enterprise websites. Deploying Drupal on AWS makes it easy to use AWS services to further enhance the performance and extend functionality of your content management framework. This reference architecture provides a set of YAML templates for deploying Drupal on AWS using Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC), Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), Auto Scaling, Elastic Load Balancing (Application Load Balancer), Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS), Amazon ElastiCache, Amazon Elastic File System (Amazon EFS), Amazon CloudFront, Amazon Route 53, Amazon Certificate Manager (Amazon ACM) with AWS Cloud Formation.
          Moodle Reference Architecture Moodle is a learning platform designed to provide educators, administrators and learners with a single robust, secure and integrated system to create personalised learning environments. This repository consists of a set of nested templates which deploy a highly available, elastic, and scalable Moodle environment on AWS. Moodle is a learning platform designed to provide educators, administrators and learners with a single robust, secure and integrated system to create personalized learning environments. This reference architecture provides a set of YAML templates for deploying Moodle on AWS using Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC), Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), Auto Scaling, Elastic Load Balancing (Application Load Balancer), Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS), Amazon ElastiCache, Amazon Elastic File System (Amazon EFS), Amazon CloudFront, Amazon Route 53, Amazon Certificate Manager (Amazon ACM) with AWS Cloud Formation. This architecture may be overkill for many Moodle deployments, however the templates can be run individually and/or modified to deploy a subset of the architecture that fits your needs.
          Shibboleth Reference Architecture with EC2 This Shibboleth IdP reference architecture will deploy a fully functional, scalable, and containerized Shibboleth IdP. This reference architecture includes rotation of IdP sealer keys, utilizing AWS Secrets Manager and AWS Lambda. In addition, the certificates that are part of the IdP as well as some of the LDAP settings (including the username/password) are stored in AWS Secrets Manager. This project is intended to be a starting point for getting the Shibboleth IdP up and running quickly and easily on AWS and provide the foundation to build a production ready deployment around. Be aware that if you do delete the stack, it will delete your CodeCommit repository so your customizations will be lost. Therefore, if you intend to use this for production, it would be a good idea to make a copy of the repo and host it in your own account and take precautions to safeguard your changes.
          REDCap on AWS Cloud Formation This repository contains AWS Cloud Formation templates to automatically deploy a REDCap environment that adheres to AWS architectural best practices. In order to use this automation, you must supply your own copy of the REDCap source files. These are available for qualified entities at projectredcap.org. Once you have downloaded your source files then you can follow the below instructions for deployment. In their own words – REDCap is a secure web application for building and managing online surveys and databases. While REDCap can be used to collect virtually any type of data,including 21 CFR Part 11, FISMA, and HIPAA-compliant environments, it is specifically geared to support online or offline data capture for research studies and operations.


          Summary
          University in a Box is a powerful example of a specific business problem solved with leverage of Cloud integrated with existing customer specific use cases and easy deployment options to save time, money and achieve quick maturity.

          For Universities, colleges and schools trying to use AWS Cloud infrastructure, applications and self-service models the solution can bring significant cost, effort and compliance benefits to help them focus on “Driving Effective Learning” than worrying about enabling cloud infrastructure, basic day to day applications and delegation of tasks to achieve scale. With a combination of pre-built solution and a managed services model to handhold customers with a full lifecycle of development, enhancement and support services, Relevance Lab can be your trusted partner for digital learning enablement.

          For demo video, please click here.

          To learn more about this solution or participate in using the same for your internal needs feel free to contact marketing@relevancelab.com



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          2020 Blog, Blog, Featured

          With the growing need for cloud adoption from various enterprises, there is a need to move end-user computing workload and traditional data center capacity to the cloud. Relevance Lab is working with AWS partner groups to simplify the cloud adoption process and bring in best practices for the entire lifecycle of Plan-Build-Run on the cloud. Following is the suggested blueprint for cloud adoption and moving new workload on to the cloud.


          • CloudEndure to enable automated Cloud Migration
          • AWS Control Tower is used to set up and govern a new, secure multi-account AWS environment
          • AWS Security, Identity and Compliance
          • AWS Service Management Connector for ServiceNow with Service Catalog management
          • AWS Systems Manager for Operational Insights
          • RLCatalyst Intelligent Automation

          As part of our own organization’s experience to adopt AWS for both our workspace and server needs, we have followed the following process to cater to needs, of multiple organization roles.

          Since we already had an AWS Master account but did not use AWS Control tower initially, the steps followed were as follows.


          • Setup & launch AWS Control Tower in our Master Account and build multiple Custom OUs (Organizational Units) & corresponding accounts using account factory
          • Use CloudEndure to migrate existing workloads to the new organizations under Control Tower
          • For two different organizational units, there is a need to publish separate service catalogs and access to the catalogs controlled by User Roles defined in AD integrated with ServiceNow. Based on the setup only approved users can order items relevant to their needs
          • Used AWS Service Management Connector to publish the catalogs and integrate with AWS resources
          • Implementation of RLCatalyst BOTs Automation for 1-Click provisioning
          • Different guardrails for workload being provisioned for AWS Workspaces and AWS Server Assets based on organization needs
          • Management of AWS server assets by AWS Systems Manager
          • Mature ITSM processes based on ServiceNow
          • Proactive monitoring of workspaces and servers for any incidents using RLCatalyst Command Centre

          Based on our internal experience in adopting full-lifecycle of Plan-Build-Run use cases, it is evident that multiple solutions from AWS integrated with ServiceNow and automated with RLCatalyst product provides a reusable blueprint for intelligent and automated cloud adoption. Answering the following quick questions can get your Cloud adoption jumpstarted.


          • List down your desktop assets and server assets to be migrated to the cloud with an underlying OS, third party software and applications
          • Designing your AWS Landing zone with security considerations between public- facing and private facing assets
          • Designing your networking elements between your organization’s business unit segmentation of assets and different environments needed for development, testing and production
          • List down your cloud cost segmentation and governance needs based on which a multi-organization setup can be designed upfront, and granular asset tags may be implemented
          • Capacity planning and use of Reserved Instances for Cost optimization
          • User Management and Identity management needs with possible integration to existing Microsoft AD infrastructure (On-Cloud or On-Prem) and Single Sign-On
          • Capture the needs from the IT department to provide the organization with Self-Service Portals to be able to Order Assets and Services in a frictionless manner with automated fulfilment using BOTs
          • The use of Systems Manager, Runbook design & automation and Command Center are used to proactively monitor any critical assets and applications to manage incidents efficiently
          • Ability to provision and deprovision assets on-demand with automated templates
          • Automation of User Onboarding and Off-boarding
          • ITSM Service management with Change, Configuration management database, Asset Tracking and SecOps
          • Disaster Recovery strategy and internal assessments for readiness
          • Cloud Security, Vulnerability testing, Ongoing patch management lifecycle and GRC
          • DevOps adoption for higher velocity of achieving Continuous Integration and Continuous Deliveries

          Most organizations moving to cloud is a competency discovery process which lacks best practices and a maturity model. A better approach is to use a solid framework of technology, people and processes to make your cloud adoption frictionless. Relevance Lab with its pre-built solution in partnership with AWS and ServiceNow can help enterprises adopt cloud faster.

          For more details, please feel free to reach out to marketing@relevancelab.com


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          2020 Blog, Blog, Digital Blog, Featured
          Working with a large enterprise customer supporting B2B and B2C business we leveraged Shopify to launch fully functional e-commerce stores enabling new digital channels in a very short window. Post Covid-19 pandemic disrupting existing business and customer reach, large companies had to quickly realign their digital channels and supply chains to deal with disruption and changes in the consumer behaviour. Businesses needed to have a frictionless approach to enable new digital channels, markets and products to reach out in a touchless manner while rewiring their backend fulfilment systems to deal with the supply chain disruptions. Relevance Lab worked closely with our customers during these challenging times to bring in necessary changes of empowering e-commerce, enterprise integrations, and supply chain insights helping create and maintain business continuity with a new environment.

          The existing customer had invested in a full fledged but heavy e-commerce platform that was slow and costly to change. With Shopify we quickly enabled them to achieve setting up a fully functional e-commerce store in Canada with standard integrations with region specific context and positive revenue impacts.

          It all boiled down to identifying an e-commerce platform which

          • Is easy and fast to set-up
          • Is secure and scalable
          • Incur least total cost of ownership
          • Provides the convenience to shop on multiple devices
          • Customizable as per requirement

          We have configured the Shopify built-in theme to meet branding requirements and purchase workflows. Payment was enabled through multiple channels, including credit card, PayPal, and GPay. The store was also multilingual supporting two languages x`– English and French. We were able to go live in just four weeks and provide complete functionalities covering over 500 products delivered with a very cost optimized Shopify monthly subscription plan.

          In parallel to building the storefront, the operations team simultaneously enabled

          • Adding new products to the online store
          • Configuring tax/discounts
          • Configuring customer support
          • Validating standard reports such as sales reports etc

          The merchant had a complicated tax calculation GST, PST, QST across 13 regions which were simplified by the out of the box country-specific tax configuration in Shopify.

          Feature Configuration and Customization Details

          • Customization of Shopify theme to make the store stand out and look great on web and mobile
          • Extended store functionalities such as translation, user review, product quick view and product pre-order using apps from Shopify Marketplace
          • Shopify’s own payment provider to accept credit card payments
          • Blog publishing through Shopify native blog features to help customers make informed decisions
          • Enabled multiple languages from Shopify admin and created separate URLs for translated content
          • Shopify Fulfilment Network offered a dedicated network of fulfilment centers that ensure timely deliveries, lower shipping costs, and a positive customer experience
          • Shipping suite provides tools to calculate real-time shipping rates, purchase and print shipping labels, and track shipments
          • Using Shopify built in tax engine to automatically handle most common sales tax calculations
          • Shopify native Notifications Module to automatically sent email or SMS to customers for confirmation of their order and shipping updates
          • With minimal effort we have configured Shopify Email to create email marketing campaigns and send them from Shopify
          • Over 500 products were imported in a matter of minutes using the product Import feature. More advanced features including associating multiple product images to product and meta data were out of the box
          • Advanced store navigation was configured using collections and tags which helped customers to easily discover products of their choice
          • Shopify’s analytics and reports provide means to review store’s recent activity, get insight into visitors, analyze online store speed, and analyze store’s transactions

          Solution Architecture
          Key components of Shopify platform are

          • Partner Dashboard: This provides capabilities including API credentials, track metrics for your published apps, create development stores, and access resources that help you to build your business
          • Shopify App CLI: Bootstrap a working Shopify app with Shopify command-line tool
          • Shopify App Generator for Rails: A Rails engine for building Shopify apps
          • App Bridge: JavaScript library to embed your app seamlessly in the Shopify admin
          • Shopify Admin API Library for Ruby: A handy software to simplify making Admin API calls in Ruby apps
          • Shopify Admin API Library for Python: A Python library to simplify making Admin API calls in Python apps
          • Shopify Admin API GraphiQL explorer: Interactive tool to build GraphQL queries using real Shopify API resources
          • Shopify Storefront API GraphiQL explorer: Interactive tool to build GraphQL queries for Shopify’s Storefront API
          • JavaScript Buy SDK: Add Shopify features to any website
          • Android Buy SDK: Add Shopify features to Android apps
          • iOS Buy SDK: Add Shopify features to iOS apps
          • Polaris: Create great user experiences for your apps with Shopify’s design system and component library

          Leveraging the above standard Shopify components, the solution was delivered with following storefront architecture.



          Relevance Lab Differentiator
          Relevance Lab empowers Digital Solutions covering e-commerce, Content, CRM and E-Business. Within e-commerce platforms there are deep specializations on Salesforce Commerce Cloud, Adobe Experience Manager, Shopify.

          With a complementary expertise in Cloud Infrastructure, Business Analytics and ERP Integration we help our customers achieve the necessary flexibility, scalability and cost optimization to adopt Cloud platforms covering SAAS, PAAS and IAAS. Based on the context of the business challenge, we provide an end to end perspective in identifying areas of friction and leveraging technology to address the same. In this case there was a quick recovery from Covid-19 induced disruptions and a solution was delivered at a fraction of regular costs with quick ROI achieved. The collaborative approach to deeply understanding customer business problems, ability to consult on multiple solutions and bring in deep expertise to enable the outcome is part of Relevance Lab unique capabilities.


          For more details on how we have help achieve frictionless digital business and leverage Cloud based platforms like Shopify for e-commerce feel free to contact marketing@relevancelab.com



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