The University of Pennsylvania Finds Security, Stability, & Efficiency by Standardizing on Pantheon for EDU

A single contract covers the entire university for ease of administration, budgeting, and reporting.

Summary

The University of Pennsylvania is a centuries-old institution that serves over 20,000 full-time students. The university standardized on Pantheon to reduce IT overhead, enforce best practices, and simplify processes.

The University of Pennsylvania (Penn) was founded in 1740. Today, it is a world-class educational institution with more than 6,000 faculty members serving the needs of nearly 25,000 students. The university combines the experience of its heritage and tradition with the latest learning methodology to provide students a truly state-of-the-art education.

Penn is a large, distributed organization, and over time, each School and Center within the university chose their own CMS and hosting solution for their website(s). This decentralized approach led to a wide variety of site types, from Drupal and WordPress, to one-off, custom builds. In an effort to improve their web presence across campus, Penn set out to find a single hosting and website management solution they could standardize on across campus.

They chose Pantheon as a secure, stable platform with the development environments each stakeholder needed to create and maintain their web presence.

As a developer, I love Pantheon. And I know a lot of other developers across campus love it. They enjoy the ability to move information back and forth quickly across environments—from Dev to Test to Live—and they love Multidev.

—Rick Ward, Senior Application Developer & Web Content Management Service Manager, University of Pennsylvania

Choosing Pantheon: One Platform to Unite Them All

When Penn ISC began their research, the university’s communications team had already found Pantheon and had arranged a contract for a few of the university’s sites. The ISC team evaluated Pantheon and several competing platforms, surveying developers across campus to see what solution would best satisfy the largest number of people.

Pantheon was able to roll all the existing contracts into one agreement that covered the entire university. One umbrella contract meant new efficiencies not only in development and hosting, but in financial services and administration. “We have one master agreement that covers everything; it gives our purchasing group more insight into the usage of the service. This gives us a lot of efficiencies on our end, because we’re not re-negotiating several different contracts every year,” Ward says. 

The Pantheon team was great at coming up with creative ways we can use the platform to meet our communications needs and our budgetary needs.

Life with Pantheon: New Standards and Best Practices for Peak Performance

While Penn is still in the process of migrating sites over to Pantheon, they are already seeing benefits from the transition. “We now have fewer one-off sites running a custom CMS that we need to support,” Ward says. “Even the sites that are different are much more alike than before, since they’re running on this standard infrastructure.”

The university’s interactions with the Pantheon support team have been positive—and minimal. “The need for support service hasn’t been that high,” Ward says. “This is a massive improvement from what we had been dealing with. It’s very self-service, and it just works, and we’re happy about that.”

For the Future: Beyond Website Building

With Pantheon as a firm foundation, Ward and his team are looking at taking the university to the next level of data management. “We’re becoming aware of how we can use the CMS systems to address needs that go beyond website building, services like automated data communications,” Ward says. “That’s something we wouldn’t have had the resources to explore before Pantheon.” 

Ward and his team are also continuing their standardization work, amplifying best practices from various colleges throughout the school. As teams become more proficient with the platform, they also have begun innovating on their own: The communications group built a Drupal upstream that can service small departments associated with the President’s office, making it easy to spin up sites with the same look and feel as the central university site, but with custom content and configurable widgets for each site. Pantheon makes it possible for developers across campus to experiment without risking the integrity of any live site, and to share their new knowledge with everyone else on the platform.

For a complex ecosystem like a major university, web developers need the right balance of standardization and independence. With Pantheon, Penn has found a partner that can maintain that balance for years to come. Ward says, “We find that the infrastructure works for our needs, the dashboard tools are very useful, and the service [Pantheon has] provided for us has been fantastic.”

Benefits

  • Standardization in CMS and platform

  • Risk-free development with dev-test-live and MultiDev

  • More efficient use of budget and human resources

  • Freedom to innovate with less IT overhead