Steve Brooks is an economist, former Olympic rower, entrepreneur and consultant providing collaborative consulting services and software to colleges and universities. His firm helps clients in higher education understand their markets for new, incoming students through the extensive use of econometric modeling tools and analysis. His firm was the first to develop a cloud-based, higher-education data warehouse and analysis system (ETools) that allowed clients access to econometric models for simulation and prediction. He is a graduate of Harvard and the University of Michigan (Ph.D.) and earlier worked as a senior economist on the President’s Council of Economic Advisers.
From his Boston-based workspace, Brooks manages and collaborates with his virtual team of five to provide data-intensive consulting services to roughly 30 colleges and universities. For each client institution, the team collects all available data on incoming freshmen, and uses it to craft customized econometric models that can be used to simulate enrollment behavior, predict trends, and ultimately, help higher-education institutions optimize their admissions and financial-aid policies. Brooks recognized that his “homegrown” company was neither scalable enough to support much more growth, nor secure enough to satisfy customers’ concerns about confidential data especially related to the personal characteristics of students and the financial-aid needs of their families. Brooks realized that in order to support an entirely remote team, satisfy high-profile clients, and facilitate future growth, SHBrooks needed a reliable cloud-based solution.
Nurturing a niche business by making the move to the Microsoft cloud
While a reliable infrastructure is integral to the success of virtually any business, it’s especially vital to an organization like SHBrooks, whose services rely and revolve around data exchange. “The kind of consulting we provide is very data-intensive” explains Brooks, “so most of the time we spend with a client is spent understanding their data, making sure we access their data, capture it, secure it, and load it into our own database.” Before moving to Azure, SHBrooks tried a number of solutions—from on-prem servers to co-located servers to hosting machines—none of which enabled the organization to operate with the degree of professionalism it desired for itself or was expected from its clients. “When the power went down, our clients could not access ETools and our geo-diverse staff could not communicate – we lost time” recalls Brooks. The occasional unreliability, coupled with the fact that they “didn’t have any security systems in place,” motivated Brooks to look for an easy-to-navigate cloud-based solution that would allow the company to professionalize its processes and follow best practices.
After exploring alternative cloud-based platforms, and working for a brief stint with a third-party IT firm, Brooks made the decision to begin the migration to Azure. Already leveraging Microsoft’s ClickOnce Applications and a few SQL databases, Brooks was confident in Azure’s user-friendly environment to support, and grow, his business. Despite having to make unanticipated operational changes, Brooks maintains that not only have these changes led to major infrastructure-related savings, but in Azure’s fluid ecosystem, “we’re doing it better, we’re giving better service, and we’re much more confident about the best practices and industry standards.”
Partnering with Metrolink Networks to streamline the migration to Azure
“Most people rely on us for answers” says Brooks, but the economist is quick to credit much of his organization’s successful cloud migration to its partnership with Metrolink, a Maryland-based company that specializes in cloud migrations, and its founder, Husein Sharaf. “We had lots of questions,” says Brooks, “and they were able to answer a great deal, if not all, of them. And that wasn’t like the experience we were having before.” SHBrooks, uncertain of how to approach a data transfer of this magnitude, recruited help from Metrolink to organize several tests before initiating the actual transition.
After considering all of Brooks’ requirements, “Azure was a much better fit” than any other platform, said Sharaf. Azure’s scalable environment and advanced security features would keep SHBrooks security compliant and enable future growth. Certain Azure could support SHBrooks’ existing systems, Metrolink executed the migration and brought it to fruition in less than 30 days.
In partnership with Metrolink, SHBrooks’ “transition to the cloud was easy, the experience was good, and it’s been easy to maintain and optimize functionality ever since.” According to Brooks, clients are “getting a smoother set of services,” and employees are getting an “overall better experience”—a harmony that’s been sustained with ongoing support from Sharaf. “It doesn’t matter how big or small of a customer you are,” says Sharaf, “you get to benefit from industry leading security that Microsoft has spent untold millions of dollars putting together.” Today, with their reliable and advanced cloud-platform, the lean SHBrooks team can approach the world’s leading institutions with confidence.
Enhancing security to win more business with Azure
Bound by the standards outlined in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), SHBrooks knew from the outset that the chief requirement of their new platform was security. They needed a platform they could trust to handle the sensitive and confidential information of millions of college applicants. While the previous on-prem servers weren’t necessarily insecure, they certainly weren’t as secure as Azure.
Azure’s security features, which provide real-time updates and around-the-clock monitoring, are “provided at the platform level” explains Husein, “so things like network security, denial, or service protection, make it really easy to ensure the platform remains compliant to the standards for the type of data they handle.” With Azure, SHBrooks has been able to leverage the advanced and secure cloud environment to satisfy even clients with extensive security requirements.
Illustrating the important role of innovation in industry leadership
For years, Steve Brooks has demonstrated that only by fearlessly embracing change can we effect meaningful change and realize substantial growth. His forward-looking approach has enabled him to transform not only his own business but also universities around the country. As more universities harness insights made possible by his econometric model for enrollment behavior, so too does SHBrooks extend the reach and impact of innovative technologies.