Blackboard Migration to SaaS – December 19, 2019

In 2014, Learning Systems at VCU migrated our Blackboard courses from the University Computer Center to new, offsite infrastructure with Blackboard Managed Hosting. While this has served us well allowing us to leverage new tools and resources that were previously unavailable to us, we are now planning another migration for December 2019. Although, generally we are satisfied with our current hosting arrangement, Blackboard’s SaaS (Software as a Service) solution provides benefits worth the migration.

What will change?

  • VCU will continue using the “Classic” interface (what Blackboard refers to as the “Original Experience”) that we have now, so faculty and students will see only minor changes in the look and functioning of the system.
  • We will be enabling the 2016 Theme in the original experience. The Learn 2016 theme for Blackboard Learn is a modern version of the user interface that incorporates elements from the new Blackboard design language including color, fonts, and spacing for greater consistency between Blackboard Learn, Collaborate, and the Blackboard app. The theme is a first step in improving the experience for mobile users.
  • Blackboard will be delivered on a modern cloud computing architecture for increased stability, data recovery, and faster roadmap delivery. While the platform will undergo a few enhancements, there are significant benefits that may not be as obvious:
    • Zero impact to students and faculty during updates. New features, fixes, and enhancements are delivered with no downtime or routine maintenance windows.
    • Scalability - The platform easily scales during high usage periods and utilizes 2 data centers for recovery and backups.
    • Monitoring - Blackboard support of the system is 24/7/365 with hosting on Amazon Web Services.
    • Integrations - Utilizing industry standards, SaaS hosting allows for tighter integrations between third-party technologies, tools and publishing content.

Blackboard will still manage our systems but they will move from Blackboard’s data centers to Amazon Web Services data centers. Since we will be moving to the same version in the SaaS environment as in the Managed Hosting environment, the move is easier in some ways but will require significant (3-5 days) downtime. Our plan is to schedule the migration between final grade submission and winter break, a time when most users, we hope, will be occupied with thoughts other than Blackboard. Our goal is for the system to be available in time for faculty to begin preparations for Spring 2020 courses.