NIIT’s Learning Curve with the Cloud

by Vivek on February 16, 2016


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NIIT is among the world’s leading skills and talent development corporations — offering learning across sectors such as Banking, Management, Digital Marketing, E-Commerce, Retail, and new-age IT programs. The global leader is powered by a rich and robust IT infrastructure backed by the Cloud.

A pioneer in its field, NIIT has always used appropriate and relevant technology in education delivery, adopting the Internet way back in the early 1990s. NIIT uses blended learning models — combining brick learning centers with online learning capabilities and synchronous learning technology — to impart its training. Going a step further, the education conglomerate launches NIIT.tv — an exciting new initiative that encompasses all of NIIT’s initiatives and offers free courses to audiences at large. With NIIT.tv, NIIT furthers its commitment to making learning and skill development truly accessible for all.

NIIT.tv — A Truly Disruptive Technology

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Mr. KN Jayadevan, Head of Systems Integration at NIIT’s Education vertical, describes the Internet TV portal as a ‘disruptive technology’ that can be accessed on a computer, tablet, or smartphone on an anytime-anywhere basis. In addition, NIIT plans to launch live-streamed courses based on the fast-evolving needs of the industry. Among other pathbreaking initiatives are NIIT’s Cloud Campus and the recently launched CBSE refresher course — a carefully curated online training program to help students ace their 10th and 12th CBSE Boards. Today, a staggering 100+ countries are registered with NIIT.tv, with over a 1,000 users accessing content on a daily basis.

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Speaking about the motivation behind the platform, Mr. Udai Singh, Chief Strategy and Technology Officer, says, “At NIIT, we believe that learning is not a one-time event; it’s an ongoing process. The ability and agility to learn and constantly evolve as a professional is critical.” Mr. Singh elaborates that NIIT.tv was born out of this belief, with the team wanting to create a platform that would engage an individual through a lifelong journey of learning.

“Look at the targets set by the Government for Skill India and Digital India,” elaborates Mr. Singh further, “Training and certifying nearly 500 million youth over the next 8-10 years is a humongous ask. It will be impossible for traditional, on-ground teaching models to scale and achieve these targets. Even as we increase our footprint on the ground by adding new centers and locations, it will solve only a fraction of the problem. The true need of the hour is something disruptive.”

But Mr. Singh isn’t convinced that a pure online solution would suffice either. “Over the past 5-7 years, MOOCs have become increasingly common. Today, India is probably the second largest consumer of such courses, after the U.S. While the power of such open-sourceplatforms cannot be denied, they need to be accompanied by a physical mentor or facilitator on ground. This is precisely what NIIT.tv provides — an interesting combination where the learner can attend live courses at our centers or learn at his or her own pace, time, and convenience.”

Cloud is Key

There’s no denying that India’s Internet user base is rapidly on the rise. Today, there are over a billion cellphone users in the country. Many are mobile-first Internet users as opposed to users of traditional devices, such as desktops or laptops. This is precisely why NIIT.tv was designed to have a clean and simple UI. “We want users to be able to quickly browse through our offerings and choose a course within a minute or two of being on the site. We designed the platform to be mobile-friendly, intuitive, and responsive for tablet users and traditional device users alike.”

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While the NIIT team’s vision was crystal clear, they quickly realized that there was a lot of interest in the platform all over the world (though they did very littleto actually promote it). Mr. Singh’s team correctly assessed that the Cloud would enable the portal’s accessibility to users everywhere. What’s more, the objective for NIIT.tv was to create a scalable design right from the beginning. This led to the platform being engineered as a Cloud application.

 Paving The Way For An Early Adoption

 NIIT has enjoyed a long-standing association with Microsoft. Both organizations, accordingto Mr. Singh, strongly believe that skill levels drive the adoption of technology. And out of the introduction of new technology arises the opportunity to skill people. “Since we have been teaching Microsoft tools and technology from the early days, we are naturally considered early adopters and heavy users. Microsoft has always been an intrinsic part of our teaching infrastructure,” asserts Mr. Singh.

“Five years ago, when we envisioned what the next-gen of deployment scenarios would look like, it was natural for us to participate in Microsoft’s early adopter programs. And around three years ago, when we were conceptualizing the Cloud Campus portal, we realized it made no sense for us to host it in multiple data centers across the world. We were looking for a platform that would allow us to focus on features, functionalities, and what we wanted to do with our learners rather than bother with back-end complexities.” Fortunately for NIIT, this was around the same time Azure was being stabilized. After an extensive pilot program, NIIT decided that the Singapore data center was most appropriate for servicing its APAC customers. The seamlessexercise gave NIIT the confidence in Azure’s maturity as a platform, which was backed by the commitment of Microsoft’s senior executives. Seeing the software giant’s dedication to timely delivery and visibility in the growth roadmap, it was a nobrainer for Mr. Singh and his team.

 The Azure India Story

 NIIT’s relationship with Microsoft was further cemented when the education services provider decided to go live with NIIT.tv at the time of Microsoft’s India data center launch. NIIT became an early adopter of the Indian data center when it moved its production apps from the erstwhile Singapore data center. The hybrid offering uses both IaaS and PaaS models with plans to scale up as more services are added. Mr. Jayadevan was instrumental in designing the architecture of the entire IT platform and providing Cloud infrastructure for setting up, integrating, and deploying the ambitious project.

“We are heartened by Microsoft’s strategic decisions and reassuring investments over the years, and are happy to see the evolution of their enterprise offerings for customers like us who need to work across multiple platforms. On Azure, you can deploy different enterprise systems, you’re not restricted to Windows servers, and you have a wide choice of databases and support for many open source tools and technologies. As an enterprise, we have the freedom of choice and are not locked into one in any way. This is a truly great aspect of Azure,” affirms Mr. Singh. A

Hiccup-Free Road

 “We faced a few problems when it came to deployment of, testing, and support of apps in the earlier Beta launch. But this time around, I am happy to report that there were no issues and challenges whatsoever.” Mr. Jayadevan attributes the seamless, hiccup-freeAzure adoption to the Cloud’s evolution over the years. Having encountered hurdles in its previous avatar, Microsoft flexed its muscles to make sure the platform had a robust infrastructure. Mr. Jayadevan admits there were a few minor issues with the subscription time, but these were solved within a few days thanks to the intervention and support of Microsoft’s senior management . “All in all, it was a completely hassle-free and seamless deployment and migration,” asserts Mr. Jayadevan.

Mr. Singh adds that it’s still early days for the platform. He believes that it’s imperative to gauge comparable costs. “Almost 15 years ago, NIIT stopped hosting its applications out of in-house data centers for critical and scalable systems. We were among the first tenants of the Reliance data center at Vashi, Mumbai. Today, when we think of moving out from a public or third party data center to the Cloud, traditional in-house vs external comparisons don’t make much sense. For us, it was a real possibility where we didn’t know how NIIT.tv would turn out. With Cloud, we could easily scale up or scale down based on how the platform was received. This would not have been made possible in either a private or a third party external data center (such as Reliance) where the equipment still belongs to us.”

Immediate Gains

 The benefits of adopting Azure are manifold. In all likelihood, NIIT.tv users may seek other offline programs with NIIT once they are comfortable with thetraining programs. This naturally impacts the brand in a big way. A key driver for the platform is allowing consumers to experience NIIT’s methodology firsthand. Elaborating on the favourable pricing policy of Azure, Mr. Singh says “We’re reassured by the fact that Microsoft has publicly stated that they will match pricing policy of competitors like Amazon. Just because we’re locked in, it doesn’t mean that we are not eligible for favourable price changes. As price changes are announced in the market, they reflect automatically in the next billing cycle. This gives us the advantage of increasing economies of scale and passing it back to our customers.”

The Cloud Is The Future

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 Mr. Singh sums up the Cloud migration exercise perfectly when he says, “Today, whether you’re a small business, an individual entrepreneur, or a medium or large business owner — Cloud technology is equally relevant for you. With the Cloud, you can literally get started overnight and are guaranteed scalability.” Mr. Singh reflects that business leaders expect agility from their IT teams, with CIOs being given the power to transform traditional businesses into digital businesses. As businesses evolve, Cloudis going to be the way forward. “2016 is definitely going to be the inflection year as far as Cloud is concerned.”

Mr. Jayadevan too is optimistic that more companies will migrate to the Cloud in the future. “While the question of a legacy system vs the Cloud will always remain, I believe that Cloud is definitely going to be the way forward, especially for new business models. It may be difficult to move existing internal legacy apps, but it definitely pays off in the long run. There is no point investing in data centers anymore, all the more so for startups and new initiatives.” The benchmark of user experience has now changed — even a few seconds of downtime is sacrilege.

Mr. Jayadevan believes customers today demand service that is:

1 Real-time
2 On-demand
3 On time
4 Online
5 Integrated with social networking sites

— all of which are offered by Azure.

Providing such a robust experience  means accounting for large infrastructure  and a large team to manage the platform  round-the-clock. Azure, he feels, is the  right choice because the Microsoft  team manages everything for the user  as long as design and infrastructure  provisioning are right. Adopting Cloud  technology also means that one need  not worry about software updates — a  yearly burden for any IT team. The Azure  upgrade is online, and activities such as  testing and compatibility checks are all  provided for.

“Working with the Microsoft team  is always a pleasure,” Mr. Jayadevan,  signing off. “The accounts team is  always at hand for any support required.  I am very happy that this has been a  seamless migration!”

Mr. Singh is enthused by the success  of NIIT.tv. “Over last 25 years, NIIT has  achieved respect and admiration from  individuals, Government, and society  at large. This is our way of giving back.  We took a bold decision, backed by our  Board, to launch NIIT.tv for free and we  are very optimistic about the progress  of the first few months. The deployment  and execution was smooth, but our  journey has just begun.”

Digital India 

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Digital India is the Government  of India’s flagship program with  a vision to transform India into  a digitally empowered society  and knowledge economy. Digital  Technologies which include Cloud  Computing and Mobile Applications  have emerged as catalysts for  rapid economic growth and citizen  empowerment across the globe.

Skill India 

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“Today, the world and India need  a skilled workforce. If we have  to promote the development of  our country, then our mission has  to be `skill development’ and  `Skilled India’. Millions and millions  of Indian youth should acquire the  skills which could contribute towards  making India a modern country.  My brothers and sisters, having  taken a resolve to enhance the skill  development at a highly rapid pace,  I want to accomplish this.’’  – Hon’ble Prime Minister of India,  Shri Narendra Modi’s Independence  Day 2014 Speech

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