Abilene Christian University’s migration to Liferay Cloud 7.3

Abilene Christian University (ACU) is a selective four-year private Christian university. ACU is the best at providing exceptional academics in a Christ-centered community. The University has been relying on the Liferay platform for its student portal for well over a decade. ACU has more than 1.000  employees and more than 5.000 students that currently make use of this application. Six years ago, ACU started its online curriculum, which has grown to over 1.600 students today. The online student portal has become a vital component to the university as it is the starting point to ACU’s digital information for everybody affiliated with ACU; staff, students, and alumni alike. As the university’s online activity is growing, stability and accessibility to the portal have become paramount.

Jeff Brawley, the university’s Director of Enterprise Applications: “ACU’s IT staff is responsible for keeping hundreds of applications up and running. The Liferay student portal is absolutely in the top 5 of the university’s most essential applications.

Supporting a growing university

Until early 2021 ACU’s Liferay platform was hosted by the university IT staff on on-premises servers. Over the last couple of years however, the university experienced multiple outages that impacted the portal’s availability. These problems affected the continuity of ACU’s online curriculum in a time where enduring online presence is utterly important. Because of this ACU reconsidered its hosting options and found Firelay’s Liferay Cloud offering to be the most suitable solution to reach its goals.

Jeff: ‘We decided that we needed not just any cloud hosting provider, but that we specifically wanted a Liferay specialized hosting provider. We deliberately looked for a partner that could move our Liferay installation into the cloud, and that would also be able to support us whenever we have issues and problems in the future.

Before doing any business together, Firelay connected the ACU team with one of its existing customers in the education sector to make ACU understand the added value of partnering with Firelay.

Jeff: ‘We discovered Firelay through Liferay Inc. We trust the endorsement of Liferay, so we were comfortable with reaching out to Firelay from there. Getting to talk to one of Firelay’s customers to learn more about how Firelay operates on a daily basis, was a deciding factor.

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Upgrading to Liferay 7.3

While ACU was reconsidering its hosting options, it was simultaneously involved in a Liferay portal upgrade project to migrate the portal from Liferay 6.2CE to Liferay 7.3CE. ACU put its in-house Liferay developers in charge of this upgrade. However, during the upgrade process ACU’s developers got stuck trying to upgrade a specific portlet. This portlet, used by both students and faculty members to view and manage courses from a specific term, was originally created using old technologies and versions (e.g. Vaadin 8) that were not well-supported anymore in Liferay 7.3. Hence ACU turned to Firelay for assistance.

After a thorough inspection of the portlet, Firelay offered to rewrite this portlet using Liferay 7.3 natively supported technologies to not only make it run in Liferay 7.3 but also to make it future proof. After ACU’s approval, Firelay rewrote the portlet in limited time while keeping it compatible with the existing data structures.

Jeff: ‘Your team’s ability to scope out and plan and complete the development part was great. Faster response than anybody else was able to help us with.’ He continues: ‘We were trying to get that work done within a certain timeframe, and you were able to get a team available. The overall process of completing that development and testing, providing feedback, and making the changes; it went really well. Money well spent on that one!’

Microsoft Azure based SAML SSO on Liferay CE

As the upgrade of the portal was moving forward, ACU’s developers ran into another issue: enabling portal users to login using Microsoft Azure Active Directory Single Sign-on. This type of authentication requires SAML 2 based Single Sign-on (SSO) and out of the box neither Liferay portal, nor Liferay DXP supports this. For Liferay Digital eXperience Platform (DXP) an additional plugin is available to add this type of authentication, but for Liferay CE this plugin doesn’t exist. Once again ACU turned to Firelay, who created and configured a SAML 2.0 authentication portlet to offer SAML 2 based Single Sign-on specifically for Liferay CE. Firelay can provide managed services for both Liferay CE and Liferay DXP.

Overall ACU is very content with the services provided by Firelay and aims to make more use of these in the near future. Jeff: ‘The type of support Firelay provides for Liferay CE was a decisive point in choosing Firelay’s services. We would definitely look to be using that more in the future as we look to add and enhance additional functionality to Liferay.

About Abilene Christian Univeristy

Abilene Christian Univeristy (ACU) is a selective four-year private Christian university. ACU is the best at providing exceptional academics in a Christ-centered community.

Industry: Education.

Company Size: 1.000 employees, 5.000+ students.

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