Penn State University’s Outreach Information Technology group supports the largest outreach organization in higher education, reaching learners in 67 Pennsylvania counties, 50 states, and 62 countries. Its far-reaching impact is achieved through Penn State’s online World Campus, which provides educational tools to students studying at a distance. Since 2013, Phase2 has provided expert-level infrastructure services consulting to assist Penn State in improving its infrastructure environments, ensuring its educational outreach resources are highly available and automated.
Improving Penn State’s infrastructure environment required in-depth knowledge of a wide variety of automation tools, such as Puppet configuration in conjunction with Vagrant, Jenkins, Mercurial, GlusterFS, and HAProxy. The OIT team at PSU wanted to take advantage of these tools to create a single, consistent production environment which would facilitate a synchronized workflow, continuous code deployment and testing, and easy disaster recovery. An intensive, short-term build would not serve OIT’s purposes; they needed an instructional, on-going consultant who would assist with both improving their infrastructure environment and impart critical knowledge concerning maintenance and tools.
We have helped Penn State’s OIT team bridge the gaps in their automation processes. We worked together with their team to combine multiple disparate production environments into a single consolidated environment consistent across numerous devices and servers. Furthermore, we incorporated automation into all aspects of the infrastructure, from local testing to deployment to hosting. Utilizing our constantly evolving automation toolbox – which in this case included Puppet, Jenkins, and several others – we have been able to enhance OIT’s productivity from ideation to delivery.
Along the way, we worked closely with the OIT group to not only build their new environment but also to engage their team members in a collaborative knowledge-sharing process. To this end, we helped develop the team’s internal ability to deploy code automatically, adjust their architecture for extensibility, continually test and monitor deployed code, and recover from disasters (which encompassed everything from data back-ups to retrieval of lost content within hosted environments).
When we teamed up with Penn State’s OIT team, we embarked on a mutual journey of discovery. For PSU, improving automation infrastructure environments allowed them to transform gridlock into collaboration and unproductive workflows into agile processes, making their development process more efficient, easier to participate in, and of higher quality. For our part, it has been tremendously educational as well, both in terms of managing our expert services offerings and working with and mentoring an external team.