How to properly run an Open edX instance and take advantage of its advanced features while optimizing costs

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The Open edX platform is an advanced technology with a lot of moving parts and advanced knowledge is required to install it, configure it, and operate it to its full potential.

Even if you have the technical and human resources to face the task and you have done it very well so far for your site, you may not want to deal forever with this kind of challenges:

  • Managing the high technical complexities of the day to day operations.
  • Manage the ever-growing and changing body of knowledge involved.
  • Research and develop customizations to cover your specific needs.
  • Doing periodic upgrades to keep up with the innovations and evolution of the technology.
  • Deal with the issues that come with scaling your solution to a large number of learners.
  • Ensuring data security.
  • Protecting data privacy.
  • Finding skilled and experienced talent.

Does it have to be this complex?

All software solutions that tackle big problems and add significant value are somewhat complex. Sometimes the software is completely designed and fine-tuned to deliver one solution approach and hide most of that complexity from the end-user.

As the Open edX technology is not built to be a “one size fits all” solution and as the use cases in online learning are very diverse, having a simple solution that would fit all needs is not likely. Plus, with the continuous development and innovation, the landscape of possibilities is growing everyday, bringing in new challenges that need to be addressed.

The product and engineering teams at edX face these challenges on a daily basis, mostly serving the needs of the edx.org initiative, and the Open edX community at large contributes organically to the project to help serve some common needs, while service providers such as eduNEXT, help organizations provision, manage and optimize the technologies already available and also developing customizations and extensions to tailor to specific needs.

An organization that wants to use the Open edX technology to power its online courses should not expect a solution that is simply installed once, left unattended, and expected to perform at optimal levels. A significant amount of human resources needs to be made available, with the right set of technical skills and knowledge about the specifics of the platform in order to be able to maintain it and support its operations. For many organizations, this results in an elevated total cost of ownership (TCO) as the platform may not require any license costs, but the human resources invested in it certainly will.

What do I need to do?

In case you are decided to tackle these challenges with your own resources, here are the most relevant recommendations you should follow:

Have a dedicated team.  Maintaining an Open edX platform at optimal levels will hardly be a part-time job. You’ll need to have a dedicated professional or team to run the daily operations, monitoring, data protection, maintenance, and more importantly, to keep up with the high volume of information that needs to be researched and understood in order to solve issues and operate properly.

Avoid making arbitrary changes to the codebase. If you are operating the technology for the long haul, you want to avoid making frequent changes to the codebase to solve any specific need, as those changes will rapidly pile up and the platform will become very hard to maintain and to upgrade.  If you must do changes, make sure to use the proper extension points, for example plugins, xblocks, and APIs to have your changes correctly separated from the core of the platform code.

Use a robust infrastructure provider. Even at higher price points, using a reliable and robust infrastructure provided that offers not only the allocation of virtual machines but also key complementary services to help your team manage the infrastructure is much recommended.

Architect the different services according to your specific needs. Open edX is not a monolithic application, but a collection of services and applications working in coordination to deliver the expected results.  Your specific initiative will pose a very specific burden on each of the services, so defining your own architecture is key to make sure that each service has the resource it will need for optimal operations.

Upgrade to the latest versions of the Open edX platform. As the platform and all the technologies it relies on to evolve, new releases of the platform are made available, and although it takes a lot of effort to make the upgrade and data migration to the new version every time, it is something you definitely need to do to keep your platform secure, robust and to help move your online initiative further.

Is there an alternative?

In case you are more keen to invest your time, energy and team in building the learning experiences and in marketing and operating the courses, instead of investing it in maintaining the platform, there are 2 possible solutions, and we at eduNEXT are equipped to help you with either of them.

1.You can move your platform and data to the eduNEXT Cloud subscriptions model, so that you no longer need to worry about the hosting, maintenance, scaling, security and support for the platform, and you’ll be paying a monthly or yearly fee according to the number of real active users taking your courses.

We have found this to be by far, the most cost-efficient way of running the latest version of Open edX and enjoy several other advantages while you focus your energy on creating and delivering great online courses.

2.You can continue to have your dedicated installation of Open edX in your own infrastructure, and engage the services of eduNEXT to take care of running, maintaining, troubleshooting, securing and upgrading your platform for you, while retaining full admin control and all the customizations you may need on the platform.

If you are interested in either of these approaches, we would be more than happy to share a service proposal with you, just let us know your specific needs and we’ll be glad to work alongside you to get them covered.

We have devoted ourselves for more than 7 years to help our customers overcome a wide variety of challenges involving the Open edX platform. Please reach out to discuss how we can be the technology partner that will empower you to take your online learning strategies several steps further.

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