The Instituto Colombiano para la Evaluación de la Educación (ICFES) administers standardized tests to students in Colombia. To reduce costs and better manage online queries when scores are posted, ICFES moved to a cloud-based system built on the Windows Azure platform. With help from Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Asesoftware, ICFES has cut costs by 80 percent and provided students a faster and more reliable solution.Business Needs
The Instituto Colombiano para la Evaluación de la Educación (ICFES)
, based in Bogotá, Colombia, is a government-run organization that offers assessment services at all levels of education and supports the Ministry of Education in carrying out national examinations. Every year, hundreds of thousands of students take tests administered by the ICFES, including the Examen SABER 5° y 9° evaluations for fifth and ninth grade students, and the Examen de Estado para ingreso a la Educación Superior SABER 11, which is the national entrance examination for post-secondary education.
In 2005, ICFES built a new technology infrastructure to support its activities, but the capacity was inadequate during critical periods of peak usage, such as the first few hours after exam scores are posted when students access the results online. As a result, ICFES needed to hire contractors and third-party services to enhance system capacity during these periods.
ICFES predicted that 600,000 students would take the 2010 SABER 11 exam—a significant increase over previous years. In order to effectively manage this volume, ICFES established a new IT department to evaluate technology needs and make improvements. “There were many disparate solutions in place, and a number of systems needed upgrading,” says Adolfo Serrano, Information and Technology Director at the Instituto Colombiano para la Evaluación de la Educación. “So, we began an enterprise architecture project to unify and strengthen our infrastructure.”Solution
To assist with planning and implementing its improved infrastructure, ICFES enlisted the help of Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Asesoftware
. To develop a cloud-based application for posting exam scores, Asesoftware proposed that ICFES use Windows Azure
, the Microsoft cloud services development, hosting, and management environment. Windows Azure provides developers with on-demand computing, storage, networking, and content delivery capabilities
through Microsoft data centers. The platform includes the Microsoft SQL Azure
relational cloud database service, which is built on Microsoft SQL Server database technologies.
||We often hear that government institutions are a step behind when it comes to technology, but moving to the cloud with Windows Azure enables us to prove that ICFES is on the cutting edge.
Information and Technology Director, Instituto Colombiano para la Evaluación de la Educación
The technology department felt Windows Azure was a good solution, and presented it to the ICFES Board of Directors, which unanimously approved its deployment provided that the system was sufficiently tested for reliability before using it in a real-world situation. “With a cloud-based solution using Windows Azure, we do not need to invest in hardware, infrastructure, or management,” says Serrano. “This was a very attractive option, because the cost reductions were significant.”
Asesoftware built a solution for ICFES in two weeks using the Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 development environment with consulting assistance from Microsoft. “We could easily apply our existing Microsoft .NET programming experience to Windows Azure development,” says Alejandro Salamanca, General Manager at Asesoftware. “We didn’t need to make any significant changes to our usual development and deployment methods.”
Load and scalability testing on the new solution went well, and ICFES got approval to deploy the system to post October 2010 SABER 11 test scores. ICFES used the new system and the old system in parallel for the first few days after results were posted to be sure the new version ran properly, and then switched to just the Windows Azure solution. “It was a totally transparent transition,” says Serrano. “The platform was able to handle a large load of queries, and we are very satisfied with the results.”Benefits
With its cloud-based solution based on Windows Azure, ICFES has significantly reduced its technology infrastructure costs, and it has a solution for posting test scores that is fast and reliable, and Asesoftware will use its Windows Azure experience to expand its offerings into new areas.
Significantly Reduced Costs
The cost of deploying the Windows Azure solution is 80 percent less than the prior ICFES system. “The cloud model is perfect for organizations with limited budgets
for infrastructure and hardware acquisitions,” says Serrano. “For a very reasonable price, we get high levels of security, high-capacity data storage, and reliable service, even during times of peak usage.”
New Business Models for Development
In addition to the benefits ICFES is seeing from its new system, Asesoftware sees benefits for technology partners. “In the past 20 years, we have witnessed tremendous software transformations, but nothing compares to the ease of access and management of cloud solutions,” says Salamanca. “We can now develop new business models that were not previously viable because of large infrastructure investment requirements. Windows Azure is truly revolutionary.”
High Performance and Reliability
When ICFES put its Windows Azure solution into production, it found that it worked well, providing response times of 1 to 1.5 seconds for exam score queries. Because the Windows Azure hardware is hosted and managed by Microsoft, ICFES is able to achieve high availability and stability without worrying about security
, load balancing, or software patches. “This is a robust platform with very high quality standards worldwide,” says Salamanca. “It ensures uptime levels that are hard to achieve with an on-premises system. The performance of all of the Windows Azure components was excellent.”
Having such a technically advanced system improves not only the services of ICFES, but also its reputation. “We often hear that government institutions are a step behind when it comes to technology, but moving to the cloud with Windows Azure enables us to prove that ICFES is on the cutting edge,” says Serrano.
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