Humber College fast-tracks virtualization for remote students

The campus accelerated its digital education strategy on AWS, giving students remote access to over 300 academic applications during COVID-19 lockdown.

Humber Industry Education Challenge

When its campus shut down in early 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the college needed to rapidly enable remote student access to over 300 academic applications through any device in any location.

Solutions Cloud, Cloud Management & Operations, Multicloud, Public Cloud, Private Cloud Platforms Cloud, Amazon Web Services (AWS)

Professional & Managed Services

Professional Services

Our customer

Humber College Institute of Technology & Advanced Learning in Toronto, Canada, offers 30,000 students a broad range of advanced academic programs and the latest technologies to emulate real-world environments and experiences.

“Rackspace's efforts and support have helped us provide academic stability to our students during these challenging times with minimal disruption.”      
Ryan Burton, Director, Digital Solutions, Humber College Institute of Technology & Advanced Learning

Humber College leverages AWS for remote access

Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning in Toronto, Canada, was in the Proof of Concept (PoC) stage for a long-term digital education strategy when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020 and shut down higher education campuses. The college’s 30,000 full-time students were forced to continue their education remotely from home. But they were facing a massive disruption to their studies and the ability to achieve their learning outcomes because they didn’t have remote access to the institution’s 300-plus academic applications.

Working with its Amazon Web Services (AWS) Premier Consulting Partner, Humber College pivoted from the planning stage to launching an AWS solution as rapidly as possible. To meet the unprecedented urgency, Humber College and its partner, Rackspace Technology, accelerated the campus’s move from on-premises workstations to cloud accessibility.


Humber College was up and running in their new app in only 10 days, instead of the industry-standard 45-day turnaround time.


How we helped

Conscious of the impact any downtime in academic resource access would have on the students, Humber College fast-tracked all internal processes so that Rackspace could resource the project in one day, which eliminated weeks of lag time. Along with five representatives from Humber College, Rackspace brought in a dedicated technical team to implement the project. Together, they delivered a remote connection to students in 10 days, allowing the students to get back to learning quickly.

The original goal of Humber College’s digital education strategy was to give its students remote access to all of its academic applications. This would give them the flexibility to access course resources on any device when they were away from the physical campus. It would also help students overcome the limitations of the college’s current systems, which only provided access to academic applications on its 2,450 on-premises Windows workstations that were located in dedicated on-campus locations.

As the largest college in Toronto, Humber offers a broad range of advanced academic credentials, and provides the latest technology and teaching methodologies in state-of-the-art labs and learning spaces designed to emulate real-world environments and experiences. Driven to transform the future of post-secondary education, Humber College decided to invest in digital infrastructure to foster innovation and collaboration among its community and enable the best possible future for its students.

Also, the campus wanted to optimize its resource investment and reduce the number and size of its computer labs by enabling a Bring Your Own Device model, whereby students could access academic resources from anywhere using their own devices.

As part of its strategic digitization goals, Humber College has been in communication with Rackspace regarding AWS capabilities. The campus had requested a PoC to determine how the platform would work and to gain confidence using cloud technologies. When its three campuses were abruptly shut down by public health authorities following governmental social distancing directives, Humber College rapidly accelerated its first digitization initiative — deploying AWS.

Along with discussions to implement virtualization, Humber College was also working with Rackspace on a student and financial information system cloud migration project. Humber College immediately sought its partner’s AWS expertise and requested a rapid route to an effective remote-access solution. Conscious of the impact any downtime in academic resource access would have on students, Humber College fast-tracked all internal processes.

Rackspace developed a clear path forward that used an AWS business continuity solution — Amazon AppStream 2.0. AppStream was selected to deploy Windows-based applications on AWS, because it provides per-application deployment, which simplifies application distribution. Rackspace designed, tested and implemented a production-grade AppStream environment integrated with the campus’s on-premises data center.

Rackspace also employed several AWS services to deploy the solution, which includes a Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) maintained across two availability zones. Amazon Route 53 is used for domain name system (DNS) resolution. AWS Network Address Translation (NAT) gateways give the private subnets internet access through the internet gateway (IGW). An AWS application load balancer (ALB) handles internal applications deployed to AWS Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) instances.

In addition, the solution uses an Amazon FSx for Windows File Server for file sharing, and Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) for other storage. AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) provides user and role authentication, authorization and management. Humber College’s on-premises VPN terminates in the AWS Transit Gateway (TGW). An AWS Lambda function switches the AppStream fleets between day and night modes, which reduces costs during low-use hours.

From 0 to 83 academic applications in 10 days

The environment for the first wave of 83 academic applications was spun up to AppStream in just 10 business days. This represents a significant acceleration in turnaround time for AWS projects, where a typical schedule to the first PoC application is at least 30 days, and another 15-plus days for a production release. It is expected that by the project’s completion date (targeted for Summer 2020), at least 80% of the academic applications will be available remotely through AWS. Due to licensing and compatibility challenges, some applications aren’t candidates for streaming, but solutions to address the outliers are in development.

Humber College has gained several advantages from its rapid AWS deployment. Now, equipped with a remote-access solution, it’s no longer limited to manually provisioning and maintaining a set number of desktop systems that serve only a handful of students. It also eliminated the need to provision more Windows desktops, which is a complex, time-consuming and resource-intensive process. The campus has also lowered its operating costs thanks to the built-in scalability and resiliency of the AWS cloud, allowing operations to quickly scale up or down as needed. Further, the campus has gained an opportunity to repurpose its lab space for other campus uses.

Humber College has discovered that one of the greatest benefits of its new digital solution is its students’ secure and flexible accessibility to academic resources on any device from any location with internet access. This allows the campus to maintain its business model despite a total shutdown during a global pandemic. The campus can now support its students with the educational resources they need to continue their studies and achieve their learning goals — on campus or at home, now and in the future.

About Rackspace Technology

Rackspace Technology is a hybrid, multicloud solutions expert. We combine our expertise with the world’s leading technologies — across AI, applications, data and security — to deliver end-to-end solutions. We have a proven record of advising customers based on their business challenges, designing solutions that scale, building and managing those solutions, and optimizing returns into the future. 

As a global hybrid, multicloud technology services pioneer, we deliver innovative capabilities to help customers build new revenue streams, increase efficiency and create incredible experiences. Named a best place to work, year after year according to Fortune, Forbes and Glassdoor, we attract and develop world-class talent to deliver the best expertise to our customers. Everything we do is wrapped in Fanatical Experience® — our obsession with customer success that drives us to help each customer work faster, smarter and stay ahead of what’s next. 


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