Think of Moonami as a cloud architecture expertise hub with a grassroots heart, and arms as open as the source code they’ve gospeled for six years. No strings attached, they will take your LMS and do all it takes to bring it towards a higher plane of existence. One hosted in a prime location on the Amazon Web Services cloud infrastructure. For the small and energetic team based on Fishers, right outside Indianapolis, giving you the best cloud experience possible for your LMS is something that feels right doing. In their mindset, compromising your control is anathema to core Open Source values.
For most in the space, this strikes as a scary proposition, perhaps unnecessarily risky. The self-imposed challenge to deliver on quality, service and scalability without contractual lock-ins, however, keeps paying off. Continuous growth since John Porten, President, founded a little “Moodle Tsunami” in 2013, hasn’t changed the willingness to make themselves approachable. The landline only strengthened in 2015, after they achieved the Certified Moodle Partner distinction in the US and the ensuing wave of deals that followed.
“We believe that we are the only Moodle Partner, and perhaps the only cloud-based LMS provider, who delivers this kind of value proposition,” claims a defiant John DeFonzo, Director of Client Relations. But who in the education space, so used to 3 to 5-year contracts, appreciates this? “Just about everyone,” he states. From K-12 to Higher Ed, Corporate and Government, they claim success in every segment they have gone in. A caveat follows. “Everyone who gets to know us.” In the broader US landscape, not many do. It’s hard to compete with the big and the even bigger, oversize marketing premiums notwithstanding. They have successfully taken over the message, and Moodle has been slow to right the record.
The US idea of Moodle is stuck in a local server
Part of the message all Partners still struggle with is an outdated idea of Moodle, featuring a full-time IT admin living next to the server on a basement. “We get these all the time,” DeFonzo refers to clients’ requests, who at first are more aptly considered patients. “Self-managed sites still give Moodle a bad rap.” In one example, the Moodle site of a high-profile college, servicing thousands of users, was found to be self-managed by “Some guy.” Before any paperwork was signed, the site suffered a “catastrophic meltdown”, which Moonami was quick to solve by migrating them over to their AWS infrastructure, free of charge. Most of Moonami’s soon-to-be customers get dozens of hours worth of consulting, all without as much as a letter of intent.
“Many of our customers come from troubled relationships, where the service isn’t there.”
Moonami’s team had their share of experiences at Instructure (developer of Canvas LMS), pre-Blackboard Moodlerooms and Sakai. For DeFonzo, the lightning-fast rise of “Google-ish” Instructure was due to being in the right place, at the right time, all while Moodle was not. The place in question: The cloud. Working at Canvas K-12 division, he witnessed the disgruntled Blackboard and self-hosted Moodle clients moving in droves to the “shiny new box.” Getting big profile clients to bite early on led to a snowball. Not so much because of how groundbreaking the experience was, but because of the relief from not having to deal with self-managed installations. High income universities were happy and able to pay. Deep pocketed, Canvas got the best integrations money could afford, and don’t forget PR. “It’s not about the features,” Instructure successfully convinced the US Higher Ed market.
Low-key world experts in federal intelligence agency-approved cloud architecture
The fact that “no-lock ins” is so prominently featured across Moonami’s communications could mislead you into thinking that’s all there is. Nothing further from the truth. “No contract lock-in is our Trojan horse. Service keeps us at the table.” states Shalimar Anderson, who could be seen as Moonami’s community organizer.
The AWS infrastructure under Moonami’s close-knit management reportedly serves around 100,000 users daily. It services LMS ranging from a couple dozen to tens of thousands of users. Porten warns prospective buyers about the level of AWS expertise claimed by competitors in the space, often just enough for a “checkmark.” He explains:
«Customers come to us because they need help in all different areas, and we help them. Sometimes they need help in articulating a question, or understanding the market. We run a full service shop. We are not just a AWS Moodle hosting organization. We have resources that know Amazon through and through. To our knowledge, no other provider has our kind of AWS expertise, let alone deployed to the levels we have.»
Moonami is the only LMS provider known to support the high-maintenance GovCloud instance of AWS, designed to comply with rigorous demands like proper handling of sensitive information, regulated workloads and thorough screening of staff authorized to manage the instance. It also means some of their most reputable customers cannot be disclosed in promotional materials.
A higher purpose. Will it pay?
Moonami is happy to be considered the “slow food” of Moodle Partners. They purposely deemphasize sales and marketing activities to focus instead on support, infrastructure and development. This allows them to keep lower overheads. It has refined a culture of close relationship with its customers, core of its unique business model. “We go out of our way to please,” according to Porten.
Every strategic decision Moonami has made, including achieving the Partner Status, was taken after considering the benefits of their clientele. “We wanted the legitimacy above all,” Anderson explains, “and to send a message.” It stands to reason that her favorite Moodle event is “freedom-loving” MountainMoot in Helena, Mont. (Moonami regularly sponsors the “Moot.”)
One of their most rewarding experiences involves Andrews University. They performed the migration of their Moodle site to the cloud “100% free of charge.” For the Michigan-based institution, the suspicious practice quickly became a breath of fresh air. “We are aligned with a message of care, compassion, ethics,” adds Anderson, as visions of her brief experience at Moodlerooms flash back: “You don’t have to be a number.” Copious efforts have been made to build real relations with partners, to blur the lines between a provider and one more member of the team.
Instead of contracts or agreements, the leadership prides in the “dialogues” they have with each customer. “It defines us, and I think it charms in a way that they have no doubt left about coming on board. They no longer feel they are just choosing a vendor.”
An argument can be made in which commitment to openness offers strategic advantages in the marketplace. Deploying a fully fledged solution, even months before formal agreements and financial terms are secured, grants Moonami special freedoms. “We can anticipate the business cycle,” DeFonzo argues, meaning that by the time a customer is able to make a procurement decision, they can be fully acquainted with Moonami’s solutions and customer experience.
Another common peril in the LMS procurement cycle is the “surprising” bill a customer can get, one or two years in. The risk of sharp price increases looms long before the contract is over. Contract-free Moonami prevents itself from that kind of practice.
Usability is still a serious challenge, and something the high spenders in US education note above all. Perhaps the only way to convince the marketplace that Moodle can be as “shiny,” seamlessly integrated and easy to use like Canvas, is by furthering on the open principles that made Moodle global in the first place. Anderson is aware that, paradoxically enough, its self-managed origins are what allowed for the Moodle community to thrive. If a user wanted a new feature, he could just make it and share it. The wealth spread quickly and without intermediaries. Learning from history, Moonami today strives to cut down in bureaucracy for the benefit of customer relationships, which Anderson could not enjoy more. “Every day I have meaningful interactions with our clients.”
The 5 fears you can forget about if Moonami handles your LMS
- Fear of losing control. Moonami goes out of their way to emphasize your freedom and possibilities. Moonami will not force you into broad decisions, including upgrades. Everyone’s LMS is cared for in a one-on-one basis.
- Fear of disintegration. Over-achieving cloud architecture expertise guarantees a smooth transition that protects every existing third-party integration.
- Fear of giving away your data. Your data stays encrypted, owned and accessible by nobody but you. Federal agencies can host their LMS on GovCloud, a solution designed for sensitive data hosting and stringent compliance requirements. A level of safety only Moonami is in the ability to deliver.
- Fear of compromising your business. With Moonami’s pioneering “no lock-ins” service deal you will know exactly how much you are paying each month, and be able to cancel at any time. Per-user hosting rates are also very competitive among Partners.
- Fear of commitment to your vendor’s change of heart. Moonami’s customers have no contracts, so they always have leverage over the financial relationship. To Moonami, this unique business model reflect the true spirit of open-source.
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