Ira Strauss, Senior Systems Analyst, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
I like to tell the story of when I came to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) in the fall of 2000. I was handed a CD-ROM with Blackboard Version 5 on it and told, “Here, install this.” Over the next several months, that version quickly upgraded to v.5.5, and it seems that we were constantly on the phone with Blackboard trying to resolve issues with either the application, database or network delivery.
While coordinating assistance for these components, one of our contacts at Blackboard mentioned the company was beginning to provide hosting for a small number of clients. Since ERAU was also investigating off-site hosting for several of our enterprise applications, we decided to investigate Blackboard’s new service to see how it compared to other hosting options.
As one would expect, we discovered small differences in some areas and not so small differences in others, but we couldn’t overlook one strong factor: we desired expert assistance in managing the issues directly related to the Blackboard application. It only made sense that the single best source of knowledge about Blackboard software was Blackboard itself and, so, our decision was made.
Our relationship with Blackboard Managed Hosting (I’m trying my best to avoid calling them “ASP”) has grown through trials and troubles:
- We upgraded to Level III
- The Blackboard system became a truly enterprise-critical application at ERAU
- Blackboard Managed Hosting set up their first true data center, and then a second one
As early clients of the service, I’m sure that we have contributed to the successful “service culture” that they now provide. We worked with our first technical support manager (“TSM” for short, and they weren’t called that back then) and explained to him how important it was for Blackboard to call us whenever there were outages or issues so we could communicate that to our end-users.
As a result, this proactive practice quickly became an ongoing routine. Blackboard also deserves a lot of credit for the people that they hire—not only are they smart, but they’re also passionate. We once had a truly sensitive TSM who confided that she actually cried whenever she couldn’t help us remain online. I think that was around the time of Release 6.
As any smart enterprise business would do, we have more than once reviewed our decision to utilize Blackboard Managed Hosting versus other options. Throughout our seven years working with Blackboard and their hosted environment, the ability to have assistance from those skilled in the Blackboard application, and the relative ease of adding hardware and bandwidth, are the reasons we have chosen to remain clients.
We recently contracted for a complex hosting manager (CHM), who handled our upgrade to the Blackboard Learning System, Release 8.0. Available to me online and by phone throughout the upgrade, our CHM actually handled the application upgrade himself, including coordinating all efforts from ICM and Transaction Services working with our own customizations.
It was definitely one of our smoothest upgrades to date, and an excellent example of how successful Embry-Riddle is because of Blackboard Managed Hosting, whom we look forward to continuing to grow and journey with in the future.
[Ira Strauss is currently a senior systems analyst with the Middleware Services team at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) with responsibility for the Blackboard environment in all university locations. He is an active member of the Blackboard Idea Exchange (BIE) and has been at ERAU for eight years and in education for over 25 years.]