AWS technology keeps South Africans learning amid Covid-19 disruption
With its broad line-up of cloud computing solutions, US-based technology giant Amazon Web Services (AWS) is helping South African educational institutions in their digital transformation journeys.
AWS boasts of an impressive portfolio of cloud-based solutions that several educational institutions and organisations of varied sizes are already making use of.
With a market share of 32.4%, a recent report by market intelligence firm Canalys says AWS is the world’s biggest provider of cloud computing solutions.
Digital transformation has become imperative for these learning centres as the Covid-19 pandemic has massively impacted on their day-to-day activities. They are now prioritising online learning to save academics years after closing their gates because of the much-dreaded pandemic.
Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Dr Blade Nzimande, recently said online learning is the future even post the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, in as much as online learning has become an attractive proposition, the education sector is saddled with legacy infrastructure thereby making it difficult to scale and secure their online learning systems and that’s where AWS come in.
“During this unprecedented time of temporary and sustained school closings, many of AWS customers are reaching out for help moving more learning and working online,” said Linda Siso Head of Education South Africa, at Amazon Web Services. “Whether your focus is teaching and learning, better management of your university’s operations, or access to high-performance computing for research projects, AWS has a solution.”
With AWS computing power, instructors, students, researchers, IT staff, and administrators can quickly and affordably access compute, storage, and application services in the classroom, research lab, data centre, or anywhere on campus.
Realising the importance of the South African market, AWS recently opened data centres in Cape Town making data residency and low latency issues a thing of the past.
To the education sector, these state-of-the-art data centres mean institutions can now run their applications and serve end-users in Africa with lower latency and leverage advanced AWS technologies to drive innovation.
For academic institutions looking to go virtual in delivering their laboratories for online distance learning, AWS has Amazon AppStream 2.0, which is a fully-managed application streaming service.
Using this powerful tool, educational institutions can centrally manage desktops and applications on Amazon AppStream 2.0 and securely deliver them to any computer using a web browser.
They can also easily scale to any number of users without acquiring, provisioning, and operating hardware or infrastructure. Amazon AppStream 2.0 supports all types of applications, including graphics applications from AutoDesk, MathWorks, SolidWorks, and more.
With the platform, many types of applications work well as streaming applications, including CAD, CAM, CAE, 3D modeling, simulation, games, video and photo-editing software, medical imaging, and life sciences applications.
These applications benefit most from streaming because the application runs on the vast computational resources of AWS, yet your users can interact with the application using low-powered devices, with very little noticeable change in application performance.
The other innovation from AWS is the ability to deliver personal cloud desktops to support remote work scenarios which have become the norm amid Covid-19. Amazon WorkSpaces is a managed, secure desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) solution.
Like all “as a service” technology, DaaS builds on the concept that its data product can be provided to the user on-demand, regardless of geographic or organisational separation between provider and consumer.
The education sector can use Amazon WorkSpaces to provision either Windows or Linux desktops in just a few minutes and quickly scale to provide thousands of desktops to users, anywhere. Amazon WorkSpaces also helps eliminate many administrative tasks associated with managing a desktop lifecycle including provisioning, deploying, maintaining, and recycling desktops.
Cost reduction is also another advantage of this product, as it removes the need to over-buy desktop and laptop resources by providing on-demand access to cloud desktops that include a range of compute, memory, and storage resources to meet users' performance needs.
With educational institutions having been closed, the contact centres have become important for students to get in touch with their schools.
For this need, AWS technology enables users quickly set up a cloud-based contact centre with Amazon Connect – a low-cost, omnichannel cloud solution for IT helpdesks, admissions, financial aid, and other departments needing to provide inbound and outbound support.
With only a few clicks, they can set up an omnichannel contact centre and agents can begin talking and messaging with customers.
Two of SA’s leading universities – the University of Witwatersrand and University and University of Pretoria – have taken the lead in digitising their learning platforms using cloud computing solutions provided by AWS.
By leveraging AWS’ cloud computing power, the two universities are looking to salvage their academic years that have been massively disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
For example, at Wits, the legacy infrastructure was no longer capable to host the university’s learning management system (LMS) and could not allow scalability.
“AWS came at the right time for Wits University in that a perennial problem of the Learning Management System going down during critical times became a thing of the past,” says Dr. Stanley Mpofu, chief information officer at Wits.
“The professional set up by AWS of guaranteed availability, security, and scaling assured 24x7 access from anywhere – giving Wits the edge. The architecture design was top standard leading to mobile network operators agreeing to zero-rate it after conducting extensive tests to ensure that the design mitigated the issues that MNOs had previously had regarding cloud-hosted solutions.”
The legacy infrastructure issue also recently forced the University of Pretoria, an early adopter of cloud computing, to migrate its LMS and learning analytics systems to the AWS cloud and today lecturers have the ability to collaborate on content, share information, lecture students, upload videos and even assess projects through the next-generation Blackboard Learn application.
According to Dolf Jordaan, Head of e-Learning at the University of Pretoria, Blackboard and AWS enabled the University of Pretoria to offer a level of service which no institution was able to provide previously to its students.
“This allows students universal access to teaching and learning content with no risks of system outages during critical periods of the academic year. A fundamental teaching and learning focus of UP is to provide multiple learning opportunities in a resource‐rich environment by considering the most effective ‘blended’ learning model to support student success. Access to a stable and robust educational technology eco-system is vital to support this and other student success strategies,” Jordaan says.
Primary and secondary Education (K12 and primary education)
AWS technology goes beyond your universities down to K12 and primary education which have also been negatively impacted by the deadly virus.
The Covid-19 pandemic in South Africa has seen the majority of scholars doing classes from home.
The AWS Cloud frees schools and government organisations from the distractions of managing infrastructure, reduces risk, and improves digital equity so they can focus on students.
Schools and the public sector can also access industry-shaping technology at an affordable cost, no matter the scale. From back-end data management to virtual desktops, AWS offers tools so that every student gets the attention they need to thrive.
AWS is thus playing a critical role in improving the country’s education system amid the Covid-19 crisis. The company’s technologies are being embraced right form the primary school level all the way up to universities. “The common trend why these organisations have trusted AWS with their future our capability to enable the institutions to build sophisticated applications with increased flexibility, scalability and reliability,” concludes Siso.