Web Applications, Platforms, and Integrations

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Ember provides SLA to University of Nottingham
The University of Nottingham trust Ember Platforms with their Service Level Agreement that ensures any issues with their Moodle platform (one of the largest in the world) are addressed quickly and effectively.

Project Title

Custom session handler (Moodle)

Project Type

Online Application Development

Brief

Research and develop a replacement for the native Moodle session handler mechanism

The University of Nottingham are always seeking ways to maintain end user response times while adding new functionality to their extremely large and busy Moodle platform.

Ember platforms were invited to analyse the installed platform and identify performance bottlenecks, particularly with the database servers. After a thorough investigation culminating in a detailed 28 page report, a number of key areas of concern were identified with the session handler mechanism being a high priority.

Ember Platforms were invited to research and develop an alternative to the native database based mechanism that Moodle deploys out of the box.

A custom Moodle plugin has been developed and is currently in testing at the University based on the open source Redis KV store engine.

More updates soon.

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Project Title

Upgrade an obsolete version of Moodle

Project Type

Onlone application Development

Brief

Upgrade from an obsolete version of Moodle to the current stable release

Stourbridge College was an early adopter of Moodle beginning with version 1.3. Due to the Moodle user base growing rapidly, requests for new features and bug fixes from users that featured in the latest release needed to be addressed.

As with other web platforms Moodle cannot simply be upgraded from version to version in a single jump. As it is not straight forward, an upgrade action plan, and from that a schedule of testing minimizing outage was produced.

After testing the upgrade took the production servers from 1.3 through 3 separate upgrades to version 1.8 (then current stable release). Later, patches were applied to this version to address the latest security exploits and patch features.

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Project Title

Deploy Joomla as a College Intranet

Project Type

Consultancy \ Development

Brief

Find the best fit leading open source web platform to meet the feature brief \ Customise and develop that platform to meet the brief exactly

Solihull College had decided to replace the in-house developed Intranet with a Content Management System to ease administration and reduce the need for web services staff to be involved with day-to-day content updates.

A brief had already been formulated that outlined exactly a minimum set of functionality and an additional wishlist.

Staff at Ember Platforms were initially invited to research the functionality existing in the main open source CMS solutions, produce a matrix of specifications, then install and demonstrate each web platform to stakeholders.

After the functionality matrix had been produced and the live demonstrations delivered, the college decided to go with Joomla (over Alfresco, Drupal and Moodle as Intranet).

Ember platforms staff provisioned servers, installed and configured the Linux environment and packages then went on to provision a Joomla production platform. This platform was heavily customised with a Joomla theme, stock plugins and custom developed code to integrate the new Intranet, sourcing users from existing systems and integrating with AD for authentication.

The system was later extended by Ember staff to support Kerberos, which added external authentication.

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Project Title

Scoping Works for Moodle-Equella plugin

Project Type

Online Application Development

Brief

Analyse the functionality of the in-house developed Moodle to Equella plugin and assess the work needed to implement import/export functionality.

Ember platforms were engaged to scope the scale of works needed to add import and exports functionality to an in-house developed Moodle plugin / integration.

A custom Moodle plugin had been developed that seamlessly integrates the universities Pearson Equella solution. The Pearson solution enables Moodle to localise file uploads (learning materials, video's etc) geographically nearer to the users who will download them.

The University approached Ember Platforms to get an idea of the works needed to extend the plugin to enable time / goal based content availability. We were also asked to see what was needed to enable the import and export functions of Moodle for content uploaded through the plugin.

The work culminated in a detailed report aimed at developers explaining the topology of the plugin and the key architectural changes needed to enable the extensions to happen.

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Project Title

Moodle performance report

Project Type

Consultancy

Brief

Analyse the installed Moodle platform and identify performance bottlenecks

Ember Platforms were invited to analyse the University of Nottingham's Moodle platform and produce a report identifying potential performance bottlenecks.

Using Nottingham's already deployed monitoring tools (Fluke, New Relic and Nagios) as well as custom developed monitoring utilities, a period of analysis and data collection began.

After a thorough analysis of the data produced from the monitoring tools, a detailed 28 page report was produced detailing nine main areas of concern ordered by impact and time to break/fix.

During a series of onsite meetings, the report was handed over to University staff along with a verbal rationale and discussion around the areas of concern.

Developments have already begun to address the issues outlined.

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Project Title

Auto Upload Users

Project Type

Moodle Integration

Brief

Create a plugin that would automatically synchronise data with the Student record system for account creation, update and removal

The University of Nottingham operate an in-house built student and course records system called SATURN based on Microsoft SQL Server with an ASP front end.

The University decided to dispense with the paid for Blackboard VLE and opt to use the open source Moodle VLE. On the Blackboard system the data for Student starters and leavers were sent to an administrator by email and accounts had to be created, deleted, and updated manually in Blackboard.

Staff at Ember Platforms designed a workflow, plugin, data formats, transfer methods and a schedule to enable the data to be read from the SATURN student system automatically at set times of day. A Moodle plugin was developed (AutoUploadUsers) that would listen for the files to arrive from SATURN and act upon them depending on a strict and lengthy set of business rules.

Ten's of thousands of accounts at a time can now be automatically transferred, sorted, acted upon and reported. The system tracks exactly with the SATURN system, saving 100's of hours in staff time each month.

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Project Title

Design a new self hosted Moodle infrastructure

Project Type

Servers and Infrastructure

Brief

Provide an installed infrastructure after specification and costing to support a specified target of concurrent Moodle users

Stourbridge College had seen it's Moodle VLE grow in user number month on month since it went live 18 months ago and with a dramatic increase in multimedia resources being uploaded they decided to enlist the help of Ember Platforms to provide a specification, costing and installation of the new infrastructure.

While adhering to the College's strict procurement policies and prefered suppliers list, a detailed specification for the new Infrastructure was provided and agreed.

Staff at Ember Platforms carried out the installation of two new rack servers, a Direct Attached Storage (DAS) device and a tape library system all provided by Dell. A backup strategy was devised and the system was handed over to College IT staff.

The Moodle VLE is now able to support the large volumes of multimedia data and around three times as many registered\concurrent users as before.

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Project Title

Migrate Moodle to new infrastructure

Project Type

Online application development

Brief

Fix a standing issue with the Moodle database that prevented upgrade\migration, migrate Moodle to new infrastructure.

Stourbridge College, after seeing a long period of growth in Moodle user numbers decided the infrastructure (dedicated onsite Red Hat Linux frontend and backend database servers) was to be upgraded.

Staff at Ember Platforms carried out that infrastructure upgrade and were asked to continue the project to fix a standing issue with the Moodle database that prevented any upgrade or movement, and to carry out the actual migration.

After an investigation it was found that an issue with a previous Moodle upgrade had caused the MySQL database to have incorrect character set\ and collation configuration. This had allowed much data to build up in the wrong collation. The entire MySQL configuration was revisited and re-tested, then a tool was developed that would seek out and fix any data in the wrong collation.

After the database issues were fixed the new system was Migrated to the upgraded infrastructure.

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