Before installing the Blackboard Learn software, it is necessary to create an environment to host Blackboard Learn. At this stage, decisions include determining the number of servers, the operating system and database software to use, how powerful the servers must be, the appropriate amount of disk space, and whether the network is capable of handling the anticipated traffic.
Steps for Specifying the Learn Environment
Blackboard Learn may be installed on a variety of server architectures allowing for one that best meets your current and future enterprise architecture goals.
Seven steps are required in determining the Blackboard Learn Environment:
- Choose an Operating System
- Choose a Database
- Ensure Hardware Meets Server Sizing Requirements
- Decide on the Number of Servers
- Optional Load Balanced Environment
- File System Storage and Database File Storage
- Optionally Implement Database Clustering
- Optionally install the Collaboration Server
Choose an Operating System
Blackboard supports operating systems from three vendors for hosting Blackboard Learn:
- Microsoft Windows Server®
- Red Hat Enterprise Linux®
- Sun Solaris™
For the exact versions of the operating systems that are supported, see Supported Technologies for Self-Hosted Systems. It is critical that the operating system used to host Blackboard Learn is a supported or compatible operating system.
SPARC hardware is required for to install and run Blackboard Learn under Solaris operating systems.
Choose a Database
This is an easy decision after selecting the operating system because Blackboard supports only one database for each supported operating system. Blackboard supports Microsoft SQL Server®, Enterprise Edition, when Blackboard Learn is hosted on a Windows operating system (the Standard Edition is compatible with Blackboard Learn). Blackboard supports Oracle® Enterprise Edition database when Blackboard Learn is hosted on a Red Hat Enterprise Linux or Sun Solaris operating system (Oracle Standard Edition is compatible with Blackboard Learn, but recommended only for non-production installations).
For the exact versions of the databases that are supported, see "Supported Technologies" in the Release Notes for the release that you are installing.
Database Schema Naming
When upgrading an existing instance, or creating a testing environment for an institution using the legacy database schema names, please refer to the following table. Manual database schema name changes on an existing schema should only be done with the assistance of Blackboard support. Legacy environments should specify the legacy information within the database identifier option in the installer when creating testing environments.
|Schema Name||Legacy Schema Name|
Ensure Hardware Meets Server Sizing Requirements
The Hardware Sizing Information provides detailed information about choosing the appropriate hardware based on size, scalability, performance, and redundancy needs. Read the appropriate section of the help before continuing.
Decide the Number of Servers
For the purposes of running the Installer, match the hardware to one of the following models:
- One server: This configuration hosts Blackboard Learn application software, file system, and database on one machine. Keep in mind that a one-server configuration is appropriate for running a test system.
- Two servers: This configuration hosts Blackboard Learn application software with the file system on one machine and the database on another machine. This configuration is appropriate for institutions with a smaller user base that do not need the performance or redundancy of a load-balanced configuration.
- Load-balanced: This configuration hosts the file system on one machine, the database on another machine, and the application software is replicated on multiple machines to handle more activity. This configuration offers the greatest scalability and redundancy.
Decide Whether to Front Learn with a Web Server
Learn 9.1 April 2014 is delivered without an HTTPd server configuration. If you require to front Learn with a web server for authentication purposes (for example, using Shibboleth) you may choose to do so. The use of a web server front end is no longer required and unless required for authentication services only serves to complicate the installation and configuration, and adds an unnecessary point of failure.
Your choices in this case will be whether to deliver in one of two manners:
- Learn with a Web Server
- Learn with a Web Server (Load Balanced)
Determining this choice will guide the port configurations outlined in the Set Up the Learn Application Server. See (Optional) Front Learn with a Web Server and if using a Load Balanced configuration the (Optional) Set Up for Load Balancing documents for additional setup instruction in these configurations.
Blackboard Learn supports installation across multiple application servers with a hardware load balancer or a software solution. Blackboard Learn performance is better when the servers are dedicated to Blackboard Learn processes and requests. Using a software solution for load-balancing puts additional strain on the processors as load balancing is handled by the application servers, not by a separate piece of hardware.
Load Balanced Configurations
Load-balanced configurations include multiple application servers, a database server (or failover cluster), a file system server, and if installed, a Collaboration Tool server.
Select one of the existing application servers to also act as the Collaboration server. The Collaboration server may not be spread across multiple application servers because all users participating in a Collaboration session must share the same resources.
A hardware load-balancer is optional. Using a hardware load-balancer is the preferred method of load balancing. A network switch is used to handle communications from the client machines to the application servers and the Collaboration server. A separate switch is used to handle a secure, private connection between the application servers and the file system and database servers. The database and file system must be on a secure, private network.
Benefits of Scaling Out with Additional Web/Application Servers
Scaling out distributes the computing workload among multiple servers by balancing server load, and provides the ability to add servers to increase capacity. By distributing the workload, processing resources are spread among multiple servers, improving both performance and the availability of the overall service.
Down time is reduced with a scale out approach because most single points of failure are removed. If a server goes down, other servers pick up the load dynamically, allowing the application to continue servicing clients.
To learn more about configuring a Blackboard Learn environment to achieve the best performance possible, see Performance Optimization.
For a full description of Blackboard operation in a load-balanced environment please follow the Set Up the Hardware Load Balancer and Load Balancing Learn Guidelines knowledge paths.
Installation of Learn in a Load Balanced environment is covered in the installation document.
File System Storage and Database File Storage
In many instances, it is useful to store data, such as the files uploaded to a Course, on separate storage hardware. To learn more, see (Optional) Set Up File System Storage. This is handled at the operating system level by pointing some directories or all directories to a separate storage device. Likewise, it is possible to offload storage of the database files to a separate hardware, such as a SAN.
Some institutions may require database clustering as a redundancy to ensure that the system is always available, even in the event of a database server crash.
Blackboard Learn includes features for synchronous communication such as a Chat Tool and a Whiteboard Tool. These features are wrapped into the Collaboration Tool available within Courses. The Collaboration Tool communications are handled by a dedicated service that requires its own ports.
Select one of the existing application servers to also act as the Collaboration server. The Collaboration server may not be spread across multiple application servers because all users participating in a Collaboration session must share the same resources. A single server must be configured to run the Collaboration server. This server must handle Collaboration sessions and performance will be unaffected by other requests. The application servers are configured to connect users to one server that handles all the Collaboration sessions.
During installation, it is possible to specify that a separate machine will handle all Collaboration Tool communications. This requires that either an existing application server be dual-purposed, or a dedicated server be configured to host the Collaboration server. Those institutions running Blackboard Learn on just one or two servers, obviously would never opt to create a dedicated Collaboration server, and instead dual-purpose the existing application server.
Except where noted in load-balancing and install or Update documentation all references to a Collaboration Server assume that your environment is using a single existing application server that has been dual-purposed as the Collaboration server.