When the ITS Middleware Services team rolled out Carolina CloudApps on October 20, campus users expressed excitement that ITS provided a managed platform for developing Web applications.
The Carolina CloudApps platform allows campus faculty, staff and students to request development containers via a self-service portal, at no cost. It also provides an environment for developing and deploying Web applications using the Red Hat OpenShift Enterprise Platform as a Service (PaaS) solution to provide secure, multi-tenant containers for application development. ITS centrally manages the server hardware, operating system infrastructure and programming language software, which enables developers to focus on delivering the application code, functionality and content needed to meet their business needs.
Focus on what you want to do
Previously, campus users would use personal or departmental space offered on www.unc.edu as a makeshift development platform. They would provision a server from ITS or another hosted provider or they would run the application from one of their primary workstations. In the latter two cases, users were responsible for the installation, configuration and patching of the underlying software components. With CloudApps, ITS maintains and secures the environment while developers focus on what they want to: development and/or content.
“The CloudApps service provides campus an autonomous development environment where users are given complete control of their container. They choose the tools to use and the programming languages they want to rather than us forcing those choices,” said Patrick Casey, Manager of the Middleware Services team. “Users are given permissions they have not had previously relating to administrative access as well as having additional database choices such as Mongo and Postgres.”
“The initial feedback we have received has been very positive, but we are continuing to try to enhance our offering so that it can provide as much value to the campus as possible,” he said.
Some sites ready within a few minutes
Some initial users expressed skepticism with the service offering, Casey added, but the CloudApps team has been able to demonstrate how easy some tasks are. In one notable case, the CloudApps team showed users that Drupal and WordPress can be set up in two to three minutes by initiating a single quick-start command.
“The ability to quickly test and deploy services will allow campus users to create new, innovative solutions for UNC-Chapel Hill. We are trying to provide a secure place for this to happen and we believe we have done that,” Casey said.
The CloudApps team held an initial workshop in November that drew more than 40 people. Users learned how to use the service, how to deploy an application and how to debug problems. The team plans to hold more workshops in January and hopes to cater some to student groups.
In the first eight weeks of Carolina CloudApps, more than 145 people have registered to use the service and there are currently 87 active Web applications. These containers are being used for a variety of purposes. Some are being used for developers to test applications while others are being used to host production Web applications.
Dan Dickinson, a postdoctoral fellow at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Goldstein Lab, is using Carolina CloudApps to build an application written in Perl. His software, which he hopes to launch sometime in January, implements an algorithm that he developed for designing synthetic genes. “I expect the app will mainly be used by other academic researchers (from UNC-Chapel Hill and around the world) who want to design genes using my algorithm,” he said.