During the Covid-19 crisis, OVHcloud has been careful to maintain close contact with schools and universities and continue to support them. We have always taken action to share our insights and opportunities with students at job fairs, career meetings, technology showcases, and practical seminars.
As part of this initiative, OVHcloud offer vouchers to schools and universities, which provide students with the opportunity to learn by doing. These vouchers allow teachers to spawn Public Cloud instances and learn new virtualization software. The vouchers are also used to order dedicated servers for the purpose of supporting e-learning solutions – such as BigBlueButton. The university ISEN Ouest have been doing this since the Covid-19 crisis began.
BigBlueButton in a few words
BigBlueButton (BBB) is a Web conferencing system dedicated to e-learning. BBB is an Open Source project, initiated in 2007, under GNU LGPL. It provides a wide array of video conference functionalities (audio, video, screen sharing, white board, session recording, etc) all on a simple and intuitive UI. For e-learning, BBB extends its functionalities and compatibility with various Learning Management Systems (LMS); such as Moodle, Canvas, Jenzabar, Sakai or Schoology.
BBB @ ISEN
On March 16th, France went into lockdown and all the schools and training centres were closed. The day after, ISEN Ouest decided they needed an efficient e-learning solution for its students, so installed BigBlueButton on dedicated servers hosted at OVHcloud.
The goal – to provide pedagogical continuity for students from campuses at Brest, Nantes and Rennes – meant that the platform solution had to keep several hundreds of students connected every day – with video-conferencing, document sharing, and chat. The challenge was to ensure that the solution was powerful enough to handle such large loads.
To respond to this challenge, ISEN Ouest designed the architecture as follows:
- One Rise-1 dedicated server on the front, configured as a Scalelite scalable load balancer, connected to the ISEN Ouest Moodle environment.
- Two Infra-1 dedicated servers, with 64 GB RAM and 2 Gbps guaranteed bandwidth, for BBB visio-conference and to host virtual classrooms and meetings. One server is located in one of our data centers in Strasbourg and the other one in Roubaix – this distributes the load and ensures continuity of service in case of failure.
Finally, the architecture was built by ISEN to be compliant with the one suggested by Scalelite.
In order to participate in the lessons, students connect to the Digital Workspace provided by ISEN and join a pre-configured classroom in Moodle. They are automatically identified and added to the ‘learner list’. Teachers take on the moderator role for the classroom and can manage their classroom with all the autonomy they need.
After a few training sessions dedicated to e-learning with BBB, ISEN teachers could provide the vast majority of their scheduled lessons (other than those that require practical tools, such as lab equipment).
Everyday, the platform hosts around 600 students and teachers split between 20 to 40 virtual classrooms. A load balancer absorb peaks of connection between the 2 BBB servers and smooths the load, which can exceed 1 Gbps.
BBB @ OVHcloud
We use BigBlueButton at OVHcloud, the first users were the staff of our Training Center. Indeed, as for schools, enterprises must continue to train their employees during the lockdown.
One week after the French lockdown had started, OVHcloud had to onboard a new batch of employees distributed across the country. Our initial approach was to use our existing internal tools and videoconferencing system. In less exceptional times, it would have worked, but due to the increase in home working – forced by the lockdown – our videoconferencing system was being utilised at a much higher rate and sometimes we lost connection, or the connection was poor.
Thanks to some discussions with Emmanuel, Head of ISEN Nantes and former manager of the Training Center at OVHcloud, we discovered BBB and we wanted to try it.
Our first test was delivered on one Infra-1 dedicated server:
- Processor : Intel Xeon-E 2274G – 4 c / 8 t – 4 GHz / 4.9 GHz
- RAM : 32Go
- Storage : 2× 960 Go SSD NVMe Soft RAID
- Public network : 1 Gbps
- Private network : 2 Gbps
After this initial experiment, and thanks to the simplified BBB install scripts, we installed it on a C2-60 Public Cloud instance (16 cores; 60 Go RAM; 400 Go SSD; 1 Gbits guaranteed bandwidth on public network, and up to 4 Gbits on private network). This increased resilience and eased maintenance.
After a few weeks of usage during training sessions, both trainers and trainees were convinced:
- No need to install software locally (installed via Web browser).
- Perfect audio and video quality with no latency,
- Very simple and user-friendly.
- Various interactive modes available: whiteboard, group management, slideshow sharing, etc.
- Easy integration with Moodle.
BBB @ #Open_Solidarity
So if you’re a teacher or instructor looking for an e-learning solution that is easy to use, with lots of functionality and a rock solid design, check out W’Sweet’s BBB instances.