Who is Animath?
Animath is a French, non-profit association that seeks to encourage a taste for mathematics and to promote its practice amongst young adults. The organization relies on the efforts of over 200 volunteers, a small group of five employees, and sponsors from private and public sectors alike to successfully carry out their activities.
Thousands of middle and high school students around the country benefit from actions promoted and curated by Animath, such as internships, prestigious national and international competitions, meetings with researchers, and several events.
Since their origins in 1998, the majority of these events have taken place in physical venues. Despite having the expertise of coordinating fully-virtualized activities, until May 2020 the organization hadn’t needed to plan for any sort of larger-scale event.
With the outbreak of Covid-19 and the French government’s lockdown measures at the beginning of the year, Animath were faced with a challenge: Bringing the Salon Culture & Jeux Mathématiques (Culture and Mathematical Games Conference in English), their biggest event of the year, 100% into the virtual-sphere.
“When lockdown began, we decided we should try our best to maintain our activities and a notion of normalcy. While most events around us were being canceled, we saw an opportunity to try and talk about different subjects other than the unfortunate circumstances of the pandemic. To focus on maintaining our usual activities as best as we could and keep on surviving.” says Fabrice Rouillier, Chairman of Animath.
Fabrice and his team sought out solutions that could help them host a remote event with expected 40,000 attendees. At first, they tested out more widely-adopted tools such as Zoom for video conferencing, and Twitch for streaming, using them to give out daily talks about math. However, when considering the much larger dimension that the Salon would entail and France’s GDPR requirements, they decided to search for scalable solutions, hosted in France and GDPR compliant.
In parallel, Scaleway had just announced the Ensemble platform, which provided Jitsi and BigBlueButton video conferencing rooms hosted for free on their instances. The Animath team, who had already stumbled upon Scaleway in their searches, were excited to discover the endeavor since they intended to use BigBlueButton for the video conferencing.
However, the technical specifications of the Ensemble instances did not exactly match the association’s requirements
According to Fabrice Rouillier:
“When using BBB, you employ 1GHz of regular x86 CPU processing power per webcam. When running it on a 48 core instance you can turn on 100 webcams simultaneously, without counting the hundreds of other possible connected users who have not turned on their webcams. Whether you have 10 sessions of 10 webcams or one session of 100 webcams, will not make a difference from an instance point of view. The most important elements to consider are processing power, frequency, and bandwidth. In this case, we found that Scaleway’s larger General Purpose instances were the best match for the project.”
After trying out several different configurations, Animath decided to deploy BigBlueButton on three GP1-XL instances, and create a streaming server on a smaller instance which is also used to bounce the video stream on YouTube and Twitch. Over the five days of the event, 40,000 people were able to enjoy the day-long presentation schedule, access different virtual stands, and participate in activities, due to a well thought out cloud architecture and the stability of the computing infrastructure. The set-up worked so well that Animath was able to scale down the size of the instances on the second day of the conference.
The possibility of creating environments at scale, being hosted in France by a company compliant with GDPR, helped Fabrice Rouillier decide to migrate the entirety of Animath’s infrastructure to Scaleway, and beyond that, to dockerize all their current solutions.
Animath would like to eventually develop a solution, built on Kubernetes, that quickly deploys the infrastructure to host their “Speed Dating” (sessions that put female students in touch with math researchers in order to bring the first closer to the world of mathematics) events.
Moreover, the association is currently studying Bare Metal and Dedibox offers to host their day-to-day workload.
Each of Animath’s projects and events may have different architectures, as the number of users and type of activity impact the computing requirements. For the organization, being able to set-up an instance as big as necessary and have it running in a matter of minutes, being able to scale the instances according to their needs and pay only for what they are using all while making sure the privacy and data of the students are truly protected, are essential in a context where the virtualization of learning environments has yet to see an end-date.