bksb is the UK’s most popular Cloud-based skills solution for GCSE and Functional Skills. Last year, over 1.2 million individual learners used bksb to improve their skills in English, maths and ICT. In its 22-year history, over 20 million learners have benefited from easy-to-use online assessments and learning resources. Recent statistics show that bksb clients typically experience success rates for Functional Skills that are 18% higher than the national average.
Many people from all walks of life are held back because of a lack of the fundamental English, maths and ICT skills needed to function in the modern world. bksb supports organisations and individuals to improve their skills, increase their confidence and fulfil their potential.
bksb recognised that it could continue to increase the rate of innovation for learners as well as improve operational reliability and performance by focusing on evolving their applications and leveraging newer Cloud-based technologies.
At any time of day, and especially during critical events such as enrolment week and the lead up to it, my team and the CAPSiDE engineers are one step ahead of events as they unfold.
Robert Howe, IT Technical Development Manager @bksb
bksb’s Cloud-based skills solutions are used by thousands of education providers and millions of learners around the world. 89% of colleges use bksb, along with hundreds of schools, training providers, councils, prisons and employers. So, if you decide to become a bksb user, you will be in extremely good company.
bksb was named ‘Company of the Year’ in 2016, 2017 and 2018 at the British Education & Training Technology Awards, also known as the Bett Awards. Its entry received full marks and feedback from the esteemed independent judging panel stated that its outstanding products meet the needs of organisations and that customer service and support is of the highest quality.
The challenge: reliability on AWS
The digital revolution is having a profound effect on the way we live our lives. Information has never been so readily available. Users of online resources have come to expect a seamless, intelligent and frictionless interface with the information they need. This is as true in the learning environment as it is in the consumer environment.
To truly fulfil the potential of individuals, bksb works to stay ahead of evolving expectations, developing a Cloud-based skills solution experience that brings satisfaction and fulfilment to learners.
Unlike traditional classroom education, bksb’s Cloud-based skills solution can be accessed anytime and from anywhere. At peak times of the year, such as the first few weeks of the academic year, this benefit becomes a significant challenge. During this “busy period” it is not uncommon for user numbers to increase drastically at 9:00am with almost immediate increases from 200 to 20,000 being quite typical. Ensuring that systems can scale and perform well under peak load is of utmost importance; as emotions run high, the systems need to run perfectly!
To increase the reliability and pace of software deployment, underpinned by the greatest system performance and resilience, bksb realised that they could be stronger with the right partner. Recognising the partner would need strength in AWS, deep experience of Microsoft middleware and databases, and industrialised processes and tools to handle 24×7 operations; they selected CAPSiDE.
A Cloud Managed Service Provider (MSP) was required to cover the breadth and depth of bksb’s requirements. With significant experience in systems architecture and operations, as well as having used Cloud MSPs previously, Robert Howe, bksb’s IT Technical Development Manager and Project Lead explains,
We have a fantastic track-record of nurturing upcoming tech talent. I want my key people to be surrounded by experts and be able to focus on continually improving our software products. Other Cloud MSPs have understood only the basics of AWS but CAPSiDE stands out in the market. They really are a company of reliability engineers. They understand how to design, automate and operate both the AWS platform and the applications on top.
Operating and optimising the critical platforms is a key deliverable for CAPSiDE but this is just the foundation. Matthew Larder, Engagement Director UK for CAPSiDE, says,
The exciting aspect of delivery is enabling forward-thinking organisations like bksb to achieve their primary mission more effectively. Now that we have further optimised their infrastructure and application stack on AWS, we are well into the process of implementing new Software Delivery Lifecycle Management processes and tools. Using CAPSiDE’s ENZiME product for blue/green releases on AWS unlocks the innovative culture at bksb and empowers their development team to release more reliably, more often.
Together, CAPSiDE and bksb have created rules which produce different behaviours for different seasons allowing the infrastructure to handle the “9:00am rush” during the first few weeks of the academic year and then return to normal behaviour once this period has completed. Both teams have identified that the time is key to the success of the autoscaling operations and CAPSiDE have provided many solutions that will decrease the time that it takes to deploy additional servers when demand is high.
When user growth numbers are increasing at rates of 200 to 20,000 the speed at which you can add additional capacity is critical.
Moving forward, CAPSiDE and bksb are not just harnessing new technology to improve the Software Delivery Lifecycle (SDLC) on AWS. The power of deploying applications on AWS becomes even more compelling as we explore cognitive services such as Amazon Polly, Amazon Transcribe, Amazon Recognition and more to enable an even richer student interaction experience combined with wider machine learning capability of new platforms like Amazon SageMaker to provide greater insights into student performance through machine learning based modelling.