As part of 3P Learning’s continuing drive to bring our resources to as many schools (and devices) as possible – we are excited to announce that Mathletics has transitioned to be hosted fully “in the cloud”, part of our ongoing relationship with our friends and partners at Microsoft.

To mark this huge technical milestone in the history of Mathletics, we spoke to 3P Learning’s Chief Technology Officer, Mitch Nicholls, about why this is so important for the resource and our community of users…

Mitch-Nicholls-250pxWhat is Azure and why is Mathletics now hosted there?

Azure is Microsoft’s flagship cloud computing platform, a collection of integrated services – analytics, databases, networking and storage. It means Mathletics can be powered by Microsoft’s huge global network of servers etc, so we can deliver the resource faster and more economically than having to power everything from banks of computers in a fixed location.

It’s also limitless, which is great because it means we can continue to grow as fast as we have been doing without worrying about running out of power!  

Why now?

Back in our earliest days, the entire Mathletics platform was powered by a single server (now preserved in a glass case at Mathletics HQ!). Forecasting our future growth, we first looked at moving away from physical servers about five years ago. At the time, the cloud was in its infancy and we as a team weren’t quite ready to embrace it. So we did what most companies at the time would do, and put in place physical data centres that consisted of 96 servers in 2 locations. That infrastructure is now getting to the end of its life. Over the past 6 months we noted a few issues creeping up within the inner workings of our hardware, so it was decided that 3P was going to the cloud!

Why Microsoft Azure?

We launched a project to explore the options and find the best solution for our unique technical challenges. Having a fair few .NET developers, it did make sense to us to choose Microsoft Azure as our platform. Our close ongoing partnership with Microsoft has certainly made that decision much easier. Looking into all the services that exist on Azure, there is plenty of technology that we can play with and learn from, in order to make a better platform and experience for our students and teachers around the globe.

There has been plenty of learning to do, but we live by our motto of Love Learning so it’s been enjoyable! It has also been fascinating to watch the incremental changes that Microsoft have made to the platform. Similar to what we do with our platform, they have just continued to push out improvements and added features which are really exciting.

What is the most exciting part about this move?

Data. We love data and the cloud gives us both the ability to host more of it – and process more of it – than ever before. This will allow us to provide a different level of reporting and analytics to our schools, as well as new abilities to analyse the usage of our resources by our users.

By embracing the cloud we are no longer bound by the limitations of physical hardware. We have pretty easily recreated a virtual version of our hardware, in a matter of weeks, and deployed to it. Monitoring performance is vital, we can now slow servers down if they aren’t used, or even turn some off for the holidays when our students are out of school. This helps us in saving cost. Every time we release a new feature, we usually monitor a spike in usage, now we can simply add more servers at the push of a button. It is also exciting for the upcoming World Education Games where we can double, or even triple our capacity. Once the event is over we can take them all down and only pay for what we use.

But the most exciting part of embracing the cloud is that we can start to take advantage of new technologies. We have some feature releases coming up where we are using technology that we couldn’t do without having the platform on the cloud, taking advantage of the continuing evolution of technology. Our technology team has been asking to use some of the latest technologies like Redis, or even NodeJS and with the cloud we can now give them that opportunity!

Bygone era: The original Mathletics server sits preserved at Mathletics HQ!

Bygone era: The original Mathletics server sits preserved at Mathletics HQ!