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MC website improved

Barry McNamara
04/25/2011
It was famous radio personality Kasey Kasem who used to say, “Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars.”

When it comes to information technology services, Monmouth College can relate. According to chief information officer Daryl Carr, MC’s toes are just getting wet in terms of being “in the cloud.”

“The best way to describe ‘in the cloud,’ from a layman’s point of view, is that it’s getting information technology services from a remote site,” explained Carr, a 1988 Monmouth graduate who began working in MC’s computer center while he was still a student. “For example, Netflix streaming is a ‘movie cloud.’ It’s getting a service from somewhere else. Most institutions of higher learning have been providing their own servers and services, such as email and file storage. ‘In the cloud’ means that someone else will be providing the services. Our infrastructure will be farmed out to somebody else.”

The college is also beginning to farm out some of its services, such as the WebCAPE testing site for modern foreign languages. Carr said Monmouth’s “feet are wet” when it comes to farming out services, and “our toes are wet” on the server front.

The college’s website is now served from Amazon’s web hosting facilities in Virginia. In the past, the college’s site could be knocked out by connection problems during severe storms or by construction crews accidentally digging up our Internet lines outside of town. Hosting it in a major metropolitan area has allowed the college to tap into high-end connections with near perfect uptime.

“Our website has evolved,” said Carr. “It’s used by internal and external users. About two or three years ago, we made the conscious decision that our website was targeted for offsite use, primarily prospective students. When the external site is down, you look bad.”

Currently, the only change is that the servers for Monmouth’s website are no longer on the lower level of the college library.

“Nothing else is different yet,” said Carr. “In the old model, we had to do everything here. We had to create the servers, implement the software and set up the structure.”

The college’s IT personnel were certainly up to the challenge, but they are now deferring to the “big boys.”

“Amazon is very good at creating servers that run,” said Carr. “They’re selling that service. They’re essentially saying, ‘We have the IT background, and we can make money farming it out.’”

Carr said reasons for the move included “it was cost effective, it returned campus Internet bandwidth to students and it gave users quicker and more reliable access to our web presence. … The project was cost effective as it allowed for us to access higher-end equipment and we only have to pay for what we use. Rather than paying for a fixed amount of services, we’re able to pay for the amount of storage, computing power and bandwidth that we use. This also allows for us to scale quickly. If there’s a surge in traffic, we can tap more resources quickly.”

About two decades ago when Internet services began to be required, Carr said the college needed a 56-kilobit line. That has now grown nearly 1,500 times higher, to 80 megabits per second.

“That’s a reflection of the increased use,” said Carr, who said the college was limited in how often it could increase its capacity due its location in western Illinois. “We were taking everything we could from our Internet provider.”

Now, thanks to being “in the cloud,” you might say the sky’s the limit.