In the world of high-tech e-learning, Moodle is one of the largest and most dependable technologies available today.
This post will give you an introduction to Moodle, including some of its technical requirements and challenges that come with deploying the platform with cloud-based resources. We’ll also show how Cloud Volumes ONTAP can help make it easier to use Moodle in the cloud.
What is Moodle?
Moodle is an open-source learning management system (LMS). Currently, it is one of the most popular LMS options available, and it has recently entered into a partnership with the industry leader, Blackboard. It offers users an accessible and easy interface that comes with dashboard personalization, collaboration tools, calendars, file management resources, built-in support for media files, and much more.
Using Moodle, class sites can be customized and designed, courses can be created and assigned, payments can be made via PayPal, and workflows can be established for class projects. Altogether, Moodle offers an innovative and complete LMS package for educators and students around the world. As you might guess, the platform wasn’t built overnight. Moodle was first founded in 1999 as the brainchild of Australian developer Martin Dougiamas and it’s been growing ever since.
On a more technical level, Moodle has a number of core APIs that can be used by developers to use the platform. Moodle supports the IMS-LTI and SCORM open standards that allow the LMS to integrate with other learning software tools. It also provides logs, reporting, and notifications. Moodle has a high level of interoperability with custom plugins and other applications, such as Cloud Volumes ONTAP, which can easily work with the LMS, as we’ll see later in this article.
Storage for Moodle Hosting
Storage for hosting Moodle has a few requirements. All of those papers that get turned in for class need to be stored somewhere, so the number one storage requirement for the platform is scalability. For enterprise-level educational institutions, that scaling requirement can be quite large.
Moodle requires the use of a database for these massive amounts of data to be stored. Databases also require data protection via application-consistent snapshots, availability, and high-performance demands. Any data that is lost due to an interruption will affect the students and educators using the platform, so solutions need to be in place to prevent data loss and site downtime.
Because Moodle is a dynamic learning platform, its users can be anywhere around the world and they will all need access to files of all different types for use in their classes. That makes the requirement for shared file storage a must for Moodle. Linux deployments will require NFS and Windows SMB / CIFS; however, more complex, enterprise-level institutions might need Moodle to work with both of those protocols.
Moodle Cloud Deployments
It’s clear how the education vertical is benefiting from cloud computing, and the same is true for Moodle. Running Moodle based on cloud resources is an innovative way to make the platform available to users, but it comes with some unique storage challenges.
Obviously, scale is not generally an issue for the cloud. The unlimited room presented by the public cloud gives Moodle admins all the room their deployments will need. But there are other issues that come up when using Moodle in the cloud that do directly relate to the storage element: these include availability requirements, massively-shared file storage, and database size limitations.
The cloud provider you choose will also affect the way that you use Moodle. AWS and Azure users can make Moodle work directly with their native services through their respective management consoles and through their CLI utilities. But as with any deployment in the public cloud, not all of the features that storage admins would like to see for their data management needs are available.
As stated above, the class materials that are stored by Moodle require a powerful file service solution to make sure that the performance, security, and scale are provided. There are a number of public cloud file services available today. The two public cloud giants, Azure and AWS, both offer fully-managed file services in the cloud. Azure Files gives users an SMB solution, while AWS offers Amazon EFS for NFS and Amazon FSx for Windows Server. The main issue that is apparent is that if you’re using a system that requires both Linux and Microsoft access, one of these solutions will not be enough.
While the preferred method for DB storage is on bare metal, the public cloud has a few options for the use case. That being said, hosting a database solution in the cloud for deploying Moodle will present some challenges. Amazon RDS currently still has a maximum database size of 16 TB; any Moodle database greater than that will not be able to use the service effectively, without some kind of a workaround. For SQL databases, Azure offers comparable services in Azure SQL Database, Azure Database for MySQL, and Azure Database for PostgreSQL. Database size will be a factor here as well, as with max size limit is 4 TB for Azure SQL, and 1 TB for both the MySQL and PostgreSQL services. Session caching in Moodle may take place on the DB, so this size limitation is a real concern.
These databases will also need protection. Backup mechanisms need to be consistent, efficient, and cost effective. Availability for the file and database services mentioned above can be in multiple availability zones, however, they may not be in multiple regions. That leaves open the possibility of a total site failure if the entire region goes blink.
For each of these challenges for using Moodle in the cloud, Cloud Volumes ONTAP can help.
Getting More from Deploying Moodle with Cloud Volumes ONTAP
Cloud Volumes ONTAP is built on top of AWS or Azure resources to give you the full benefits of NetApp’s trusted data management software in the cloud. It’s an easy way to make sure that Moodle deployments based on cloud resources have enterprise-grade capabilities that aren’t available or aren't practical using cloud-native builds.
The biggest advantages to using Cloud Volumes ONTAP for Moodle include its file service, database, high availability, data protection, and hybrid and multicloud capabilities. When it comes to the database limitations mentioned above, Cloud Volumes Service provides a way to free up space with its automated storage tiering feature. With storage tiering, infrequently-used Moodle database data can be tiered to less-expensive object storage on Amazon S3 and Azure Blob. Cloud Volumes ONTAP also serves out iSCSI, SMB / CIFS, and NFS protocols for files, giving you a solution for how to mount NFS in Linux as well as for mounting SMB / CIFS with Windows, or both protocols for Moodle. And availability is ensured through the Cloud Volumes ONTAP HA (high availability) configuration for Azure or AWS high availability ensures that no Moodle data will be lost and that Moodle sites will recover in less than a minute in any failure scenario.
There are many features that support these benefits for Moodle users. Data protection is available via SnapMirror® and ONTAP Snapshot™ copies. Databases are provided with consistent snapshots via SnapCenter®. DevOps pipelines get the advantage of instantaneous and zero-capacity data clones via FlexClone®, greatly improving time to market (TTM). All of this on top of tools to help migrate you to the cloud and keep your data stored there as efficiently as possible, so your total operating costs can actually come down.
Right now, NetApp has a handy resource for Moodle and Cloud Volumes ONTAP users to quickly and easily set up the two services together. If you’re already using Cloud Volumes ONTAP or if you’re a Moodle user trying to find a better way to deploy the LMS in the cloud, this will give you a definite work plan for setting up an alternative solution. Get the guide to using Moodle and Cloud Volumes ONTAP here.
Using Moodle in the cloud opens up a lot of different opportunities for scale, file access, flexibility, and cost-management. As advantageous as they may be, you’re still going to have to deal with a few challenges along the way.
All it takes is a few easy steps to configure Cloud Volumes ONTAP for use with Moodle. Download the guide now to read a complete walkthrough of the setup process.