Case Study: Hamilton College

The Web team at Hamilton College has the same demands as any other top-ranked university; they have to provide a great public website, a highly personalized portal for students and employees, as well as a native mobile application. In fact, the Hamilton College website is so good that it was just recognized as one of the best school/university websites in America in the 2018 Annual Webby Awards. And yet, because Hamilton College is a small college with less than 2000 undergraduate students, they have only 3 developers on the Web team. So how do they do get so much done? They use CFML and Lucee.

Small Team, Big Results

Hamilton College, located in rural New York state, dates back to the 1700s. But it is very much a modern college, with cutting-edge technology enabling the college to provide information to prospective and current students as well as employees.

Michael Sprague, Director of Business Intelligence and Web Services, estimates the team has developed over 200 unique applications across the two main sites (public and portal), and they also host academic websites and student websites, with all of it running on Lucee Server, hosted internally on a VMWare-based infrastructure.

The award-winning public website (www.hamilton.edu) showcases Hamilton College for prospective students and other external audiences. The site is published via a custom-developed CMS, which features inline editing, reusable content modules, user roles, and much more.

The web team built the MyHamilton Portal to provide students and employees with a single, unified interface for all Hamilton-related information. The Portal aggregates and integrates data and media from a wide variety of sources, utilizing Lucee for LDAP/Active Directory authentication, Google G Suite APIs for email and calendaring, various SQL Server, Oracle, and MySQL data sources, and Java libraries for interfacing with internal administrative systems. The Portal also includes a popular mapping feature that helps with alumni networking, and uses Lucee to interface with the Google Maps APIs.

The Hamilton College mobile app, which is available on iTunes and Google Play, uses Lucee as the back-end application server. Lucee aggregates the data from various sources, and outputs JSON objects for consumption by the mobile app. One of the more popular features is the dining menus, which show hours of operation, daily menus, nutrition information, and more.

CFML - Productivity Central

Michael Sprague credits the extraordinary productivity that CFML and Lucee provides as the key to the big results his team delivers year in and year out. “Our team of three developers has been able to deploy several large applications each year, and hundreds of applications over the last decade. We are able to rapidly deploy features and prototypes by packaging up applications with their context directory, and deploying them in a new context on a development or test server. At times, we have made a major change to our entire Web infrastructure, and deployed it all on a new server in just a few minutes.”

The syntax flexibility available in CFML gives Hamilton College the ability to get new developers up to speed quickly. Michael Sprague says: “If they are coming from the HTML or front-end side, they can adapt to the language using the tag-based syntax, or if they are coming from other languages like Python or Java then the script-based syntax makes more sense. Once they adapt to the language based on their past experience, it is fairly easy to then move them to our preferred syntax model in the application they are working on.”

Lucee Server - The Engine of Choice

Hamilton College was a long-time user of another popular CFML engine, but after experiencing some performance and support frustrations, decided to explore a move to Lucee Server.

The Hamilton College team decided to take one of their existing applications and port it over to Lucee. What they found was that most of their code worked seamlessly, but whenever they did encounter an issue, the Lucee community support was rapid and accurate. Michael Sprague says: “If we ran into a problem, I’d post to the developer group, and I was finding that I'd get responses within an hour. One of the issues we had was actually a bug we found in Lucee Server itself, which I submitted to the bug tracker, and that was fixed really promptly. We quickly realized that the frustrations we had with our previous engine were gone with Lucee. They're paying attention to the product, and they're improving it. It was just a very positive experience.”

“And I will say that we saw a lot of advantages we didn't even expect ... a lot of that had to do with performance. We found that it performed so much better under the Lucee environment, which required a lot fewer resources and stayed up the whole time.”

Working with Rasia for Lucee Support

Michael Sprague first learned about Rasia when he met Rasia’s CTO Gert Franz at a software conference.

“I met Gert after one of his sessions, and we started talking about what we're doing with Lucee. He showed me some demos of some things he was working on. Just the help that he was able to give us before we even were a paying customer, I think is probably what sold us on working with Rasia. Once we became a Rasia support customer, we started with a training session early on to review how the Lucee admin runs, which gave us some insight and tips on things that aren't necessarily obvious, and since then we've been using it more in an ‘open a ticket when we need it’ sort of situation.

“We’ve seen a great improvement in response time and overall helpfulness compared to our previous support vendor, and the fact that we’re able to work with the core Lucee team when we have a question or problem is really fantastic.”

About Rasia: Rasia provides high performance software for users worldwide, and offers a range of services to help our clients succeed at ambitious web and application development projects. If you’d like to discuss a move to Lucee, or getting professional support for your use of Lucee, please get in touch with us at office@rasia.io

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