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Here at Rustici Software, we’ve been spending a lot of time lately hosting SCORM Engine and Content Controller installations on behalf of our clients. And we have learned a lot of interesting lessons from the experience. I’ll be talking about hosting SCORM Engine here, but all of this stuff applies directly to Content Controller as well.

We started hosting things for folks because we realized several things all at once:

Our clients are having to spend way too much time and money to host our products themselves. We kept seeing integrations falter because of delays in provisioning infrastructure and cost issues. Finding dev/ops folks that can deploy and manage web applications is really difficult and really expensive, and so a lot of our clients were settling for inadequate deployments that didn’t scale and didn’t hold up well under pressure

Hosting web applications well is really hard. It’s not too hard to stand up a server and run Engine on it. It’s a lot harder to build a secure, highly available Engine environment that can hold up under heavy traffic spikes, scale to meet demand, and not cost a fortune.

We are really good at hosting web applications. Our experience building SCORM Cloud taught us that we’re actually really, really good at hosting web applications at scale, and it felt like we were in a great position to provide a useful service that saved our clients time, money, and hassle.

What’s a user? How many can we support?

When folks are integrating with SCORM Engine, two questions always come up: “how do I build a system that can serve X number of users?” and “I’m not really sure how many users I have, how do I spec a system based on a wild guess?”

We thought about this a great length, and decided that there are two numbers that really matter:

Concurrent Users – The number of users that the system can serve at once.
System Population – The system’s ability to serve a given annual user base.

System Population, in particular, is a number that we thought about a lot. Engine installations very rarely have every registered user of the system engaged at once. But sometimes (like right before a deadline) they all pile on at once, so we designed our Managed environments to be able to grow and shrink so that they can meet peak demand without costing the Earth.

Once we figured that out, we went and locked ourselves in a dungeon laboratory*  for a few weeks and ran load tests against every kind of setup we could think of. We came out of that with a set of system specs that we could look at and say, “yup, this will do the job for X Concurrent Users and Y System Population, and here’s what it will cost to make it go.”

Value

When we looked at the economics of our clients hosting a robust, production-quality web application, it was clear that the cost of the computer hardware wasn’t the problem. Nor was datacenter space, bandwidth, storage, or any technical bits. It was the human beings and human intelligence needed to build and maintain that were our client’ greatest cost and most scarce resource.

When you add it all up, the annual costs for hosting a production-quality web application that is going to serve a population of 50,000 users quickly goes north of $150,000. That’s too much. Way too much.

Fortunately, we’ve got a lot of people here at Rustici that do this kind of thing all day long and are really good at it, which lets us provide Galaxy-class Managed Hosting of our products at a fraction of what it would cost our clients to host themselves. We can provide a production quality, geographically redundant, highly secure, zero-touch Managed environment for under $35k annually. That’s a huge savings in time, money, and effort. To get an idea of what it might cost using our services to host your instance of Engine or Content Controller, check out our fee schedule.

So, when considering Engine or Content Controller, remember that you have options when it comes to who handles the deployment. We’re here to help. Just ask.

 

 

*Well, it was more like a nice sunny office with hot coffee, snacks, and ping-pong, but a dungeon sounds way cooler.  

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Update for May 12th, 2016:  We are continuing to observe the situation. The European Commission has released details of the new Privacy Shield Framework designed to heighten protections for transferring European Union residents’ personal data to the U.S. Procedural barriers still inhibit its approval, but it appears thus far to be a viable solution for US companies that need to respond to the invalidation of the Safe Harbor Framework. 

We expect that approval of the Privacy Shield Framework may come as early as June 2016. To that end, we are putting into place the processes and policies necessary to ensure that we can properly comply with all new data protection regulations. Rustici Software is fully committed to ensuring that we are able to protect your privacy and security.

The situation is still fluid, and we await further information from the European Commission and related authorities.   The US Department of Commerce has indicated that it will continue to administer the Safe Harbor program in the interim.

Until the Privacy Shield framework is approved, two alternatives are available:  EU Model Contract Clauses and Binding Corporate Rules (BCRs).  Because of the significant administrative burdens and lengthy approval process of BCRs, many companies have elected to implement Model Contract Clauses in the interim. Rustici Software currently uses Amazon Web Services (AWS) for all data transfers between the EU and US that are affected by the recent ruling.  AWS released a Customer Update on October 9th where they announced that they have fully implemented Model Contract Clauses:

Today, we’d like to confirm for customers and partners that they can continue to use AWS to transfer their customer content from the EEA to the US, without altering workloads, and in compliance with EU law. This is possible because AWS has already obtained approval from EU data protection authorities (known as the Article 29 Working Party) of the AWS Data Processing Addendum and Model Clauses to enable transfer of personal data outside Europe, including to the US with our EU-approved Data Processing Addendum and Model Clauses. AWS customers can continue to run their global operations using AWS in full compliance with the EU Data Protection Directive (Directive 95/46/EC). The AWS Data Processing Addendum is available to all AWS customers who are processing personal data whether they are established in Europe or a global company operating in the EEA. For additional information, please visit AWS EU Data Protection FAQ.

The full text of the AWS advisory is available here.

AWS’ Data Protection whitepaper further describes the effect of the Model Contract Clauses:

On March 6, 2015, the AWS data processing addendum, including the Model Clauses, was approved by the group of EU data protection authorities known as the Article 29 Working Party. This approval means that any AWS customer who requires the Model Clauses can now rely on the AWS data processing addendum as providing sufficient contractual commitments to enable international data flows in accordance with the Directive. For more detail on the approval from the Article 29 Working Party, please visit the Luxembourg Data Protection Authority webpage here: http://www.cnpd.public.lu/en/actualites/international/2015/03/AWS/index.html.

It appears that AWS’ implementation of Model Contract Clauses will allow our EU-based clients that utilize our Cloud Services to continue to comply with all relevant laws and regulations.  However, we are currently making a closer examination of these matters to ensure that we are correctly protecting our EU clients’ interests and fully complying with all applicable regulations.

We will update this page and our privacy policy as developments warrant.  If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us via your normal support channel, or send an email directly to our privacy team at safeharbor@scorm.com.

Warm Regards,

Your Friends at Rustici Software

 

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