High-stakes; Low Pulse: Resilient e-Assessment | Inspera

E-assessment solutions need to ensure continuous availability. And, handling failures effectively is a crucial part of any resilient e-assessment service. To meet this challenge, Inspera Assessment has a robust architecture to manage local network or internet failure, and server, zone and cloud failures.

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E-assessment offers many advantages to educators and learners alike. Educators save time and money, and increase security as they dispense with paper-based exams. Assessors can improve their exam papers, as they can benefit from learning analytics and new digital tools to optimise questions and examination formats. In turn, combined with BYOD, Learners take their own digital devices that they use for everyday learning scenarios into the examination room. Rather than simply replicating traditional assessment in digital form, e-assessment caters for the use of advanced digital tools, simulations, audio, and video to support new and innovative assessment forms.

The richness of the functionalities and data required by e-assessment platforms puts extra demands on the resilience, architecture, and stability of the platform. For high-stakes exams, failure is simply not an option. While downtime may be harmful for e-commerce, it is potentially disastrous for e-assessment. Online assessment platforms have to be able to handle a great amount of traffic in short amounts of time, while maintaining responsiveness and maintaining low load times, even when there is an Internet outage. 

While downtime may be harmful for e-commerce, it is potentially disastrous for e-assessment

To ensure continuous accessibility to the service, Inspera Assessment has resilience built in. Our motto, “high stakes; low pulse”, serves as a practical guideline for everything we do, from DevOps to new product feature design, to developing and maintaining our service. Handling failures is a key focus of our resilience strategy, and spans four major areas.  

First, our architecture is designed to handle Local Network or Internet Failure. The work of Learners is stored locally on their computers, and is synced to the Inspera Assessment platform once normal operations of networks and of the platform are resumed. In case of longer interruptions in service or local infrastructure, Inspera Assessment has support for downloading submissions locally.

Second, any successful e-assessment platform needs to be able to deal with Server Failure. Inspera Assessment’s application servers are stateless, and therefore resilient through a server or service reboot or relaunch. Because stateful information is not stored on any single instance, the loss of an instance - or even an entire zone - will not impact availability of the service.

Third is the case of Zone Failure, where more than just single servers fail. All layers in the Inspera Assessment technology stack are configured with multi-zone redundancy, including automatic failover. This ensures that there is no single point of failure, both in terms of individual parts of the stack as well as individual availability zones (physical locations).

The multi-availability zone feature of the Amazon infrastructure, gives Inspera Assessment no single point of failure

Fourth and finally, our solution is robust to Cloud Failure. On rare occasions, multiple zones in a region can experience outages due to system-wide issues - the April 2011 Amazon Web Services (AWS) outage is a notable example. At Inspera, we are building a multi-region architecture as a pilot light configuration, where a minimal version of an environment is always running in a different pilot light region. The pilot light region environment will be ready and on cold standby, to offer failover and ensure business continuity.

For the whole calendar year 2017, Inspera’s measured availability was above 99.999%

Inspera’s high-stakes, low-pulse strategy is clearly paying off. In 2017, 1 million assessments were successfully delivered by Inspera. For the whole calendar year 2017, the measured availability was above 99.999%. These levels of availability guarantee that Inspera delivers a robust and scalable solution. And, we will continue to invest and improve our solution to maintain these levels of service in the future.

Learn more?

Do you want to learn more about how to conduct online exams and assessments, and how Inspera Assessment can make your assessments accessible, secure, valid and reliable? No worries, we wrote a "Guide to Online Exams and Assessments".

Topics: digital assessment, EdTech, resilience, e-assessment

Hans Fredrik Unelsrød

Written by Hans Fredrik Unelsrød

CTO - Inspera Assessment