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By Robert Landon
Innovation is deep in the institutional DNA of Universidade do Sul de Santa Catarina (Unisul). Since its founding in 1964, the private, not-for-profit university has had a very public mission: "Harness innovation both to better the lives of its students and advance the region's social and economic development," says Unisul Provost Sebastião Salésio Herdt.
Over the last five decades, the university has served more than 150,000 students, many of whom have gone on to contribute significantly to the growth and development of Santa Catarina, a state in southern Brazil. Thanks in part to Unisul's efforts, the state's economy is considered the most entrepreneurial in the country, with one business for every 40 inhabitants. The state's economy has grown 340 percent over the last three decades, significantly outperforming the overall Brazilian economy.
The university serves 20,000 traditional students and has opened nearly 100 smaller facilities to support long-distance learning across Brazil, from the Uruguayan border to the northern Amazon region. Its "virtual university" enrolls an additional 10,000 students. Unisul plans to grow its enrollment by as much as 60 percent, from 30,000 to 50,000 students, in the coming years.
Wherever they may be in Brazil, talented students can access and work with these state-of-the-art technologies as part of the curriculum.
—Sebastião Salésio Herdt, Provost, Unisul
To enable that kind of growth, Unisul knew it had to upgrade its PeopleSoft Campus Solutions, a platform for everything from enrollment and degree planning to learning management, that it first deployed in 2005. But given the university's deep commitment to innovation, administrators quickly saw the upgrade as the catalyst for a much larger organizational transformation.
After evaluating eight campus software suites, Unisul decided to stay with PeopleSoft Campus Solutions. However, that selection process underscored the fact that its hardware was sorely in need of updating. The performance of Unisul's IBM Mainframe, adopted a few years before, was no longer acceptable—and wouldn’t allow the university to consolidate all of its applications, including those from third parties, on a single system.
"During the proof-of-concept phase, Unisul saw the excellent results we could expect running our applications on Oracle Exadata and Oracle Exalogic—17 times faster than x64 and four times faster than the IBM mainframe," says Unisul CIO Tatiane Leal. The deep integration of the applications was just as compelling, Leal says.
And once Unisul decided to run Oracle applications and engineered systems, it made sense to extend Oracle to "all three layers of our architecture, including middleware as well as applications and hardware," explains Salésio Herdt.
By relying on a single set of deeply integrated technologies, we are achieving all the scalability and reliability we need—even with a limited IT team.
—Tatiane Leal, CIO, Unisul
In the end, Unisul decided to deploy Oracle Exadata and Oracle Exalogic to run its production systems, Oracle Business Process Management Suite and Oracle Portal (which powers their student, employee, partner and public websites) at the middleware level, and the latest versions of PeopleSoft Campus Solutions and Oracle CRM applications.
However, the university was determined to take one more bold step: It adopted Oracle Cloud Platform to use Java Cloud Service and Database Cloud Service. According to Leal, they’re cost-effective and easy to deploy and manage. But for the provost, the cloud services are having an even more profound impact, powering what he calls “innovation centers.”
"Wherever they may be in Brazil, talented students can access and work with these state-of-the-art technologies as part of the curriculum," he says. Because the services are in the cloud, the university can dramatically expand access to online students across Brazil—all they need is a decent internet connection.
"Currently we can serve 2,000 students, but by leveraging the cloud, that number can grow to more than 12,000," Leal says.
For Salésio Herdt, that expansion is not just a matter of growing his institution. It is also a social good. "Now, talented students who once had no chance to access this kind of technology can do so from home, at work, or wherever they have access to the internet," he says.
Oracle plans to add a data center in Brazil.
Both the provost and the CIO say that a unified platform is helping them perform their jobs much more effectively. "Now we have a platform to drive innovation and move the university forward into the future," says Salésio Herdt. "We always refer to Oracle as our partner, not our supplier."
And by adopting a single set of deeply integrated technologies, the IT department has “all the scalability and reliability they need, even with a limited IT team. This means they can support Unisul's growth even as we reduce costs and optimize current resources," says Leal.
Oracle's Database Cloud Service and Java Cloud Service offerings are a key part of the equation. Currently, they are limited to educational functions. But Leal has plans to leverage them for internal development and testing, so that on an ongoing basis her team can innovate both more quickly and at significantly lower cost.
What’s most important to Salésio Herdt is the ability to inspire students as they move forward with their professional endeavors. And ultimately it is about unleashing the kind of creative and entrepreneurial energies that spur social and economic development both in Santa Catarina and throughout Brazil.