Sorbonne University (French: Sorbonne Université) is a research-intensive public university in Paris, France, established in 2018 by the merger of Paris-Sorbonne University and Pierre et Marie Curie University, along with smaller institutions. Ranked as a world-class university, the university is located in the heart of Paris with a presence all over the world. Sorbonne University has three faculties: Humanities, Science and Engineering, and Medicine. In addition, the faculty of Medicine is located in two teaching hospitals, Pitié-Salpêtrière and Saint-Antoine hospitals.
The ongoing COVID-19 crisis accelerated the need for the deployment of video conferencing solutions for schools and universities. With more than 55,300 students, 6,400 teacher-researchers and research staff, and 3,600 administrative and technical staff, Sorbonne University was no exception. The University sought to strengthen its platform in order to respond in a more relevant way to the needs of its users. With over 8,000 expected users, they naturally turned to Scaleway and Arawa to implement a reliable BigBlueButton solution and ensure the complete continuity of services.
Sorbonne University, Arawa and Scaleway’s Collaboration
As soon as the first lockdown ended, Sorbonne University turned to Arawa, experts in running large-scale deployments and customizing open-source solutions, to deploy a platform capable of handling more than 8,000 concurrent users, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Arawa relied on the expertise of Scaleway instances and ordered more than 80 Scaleway Elements GP1-S to provide a reliable and scalable video conferencing platform. On top of Scaleway Instances, Arawa’s experts connected the Moodles, already installed by the university to the BigBlueButton instances.
Before reaching out to Arawa, the University of Sorbonne was already using a small BigBlueButton instance for the Faculty of Science.
They required Arawa to deploy a platform for virtual classes which would guarantee availability and be highly scalable via the Scaleway ecosystem, providing temporary storage for hundreds of videos and several hundred gigabytes of other data. Besides the operative tasks related to keeping the platform available at any time, Arawa also takes care of the Level-2 support for the platforms’ users.
As mentioned previously, Sorbonne University has three faculties. Each one has a dedicated Learning Management System (LMS) running under Moodle, each connected to a unique ScaleLite load balancer, hosted on a Scaleway Elements GP1M Instance. According to the student’s area of study, they will be directed to their faculty’s Moodle. In other words, if we take a fictional student named Louise who is studying English Literature, she is most probably studying at the faculty of Humanities. As a result, when logging in to follow her course, she will be automatically directed to the Faculty of Humanities’ Moodle.
The Faculty of Medicine is also located in two teaching hospitals (in addition to 23 other teaching sites). Therefore, students and teachers are able to join or give a class wherever they are geographically located. In practice, the detailed architecture is as follows.
In addition, Arawa integrated a Greenlight frontend, a simple meeting interface based on BigBlueButton that does not require Moodle. Designed for administrative and technical staff, Greenlight allows them to quickly create rooms or users. All it takes is to add a name for a conference room and click “Start”. This automatically creates a room with a link that can be shared or emailed. Guests simply have to click on “Join” after they open the link, to join the meeting.
Cécile Chauveau, project manager in the IT System Department of Sorbonne University explains that “thanks to Greenlight, we will be able to significantly increase the number of users. Today we are reaching peaks of 1200 to 1500 users. I’m sure that the Scaleway Instances can handle much more.” In the coming months, Sorbonne University is planning a gradual ramp-up that will lead to peaks of 3,000 users connected simultaneously on different sessions.
Fabrice Moutte, CIO of Sorbonne University adds that “with Scaleway Instances, we’ll be able to scale effortlessly. For now, we can go up to 8,000 users. If the project goes well and if Greenlight is used to its maximum capacity, we’ll be able to reach our threshold and if need be, expand to a bigger infrastructure with ease.”
Nicolas Vérité, Sales Manager at Arawa shared that the experience with Scaleway ran like clockwork. Arawa had the opportunity to use Scaleway products multiple times and they were always very satisfied with the quality of service and the stability of the platform. He adds: “The assistance is efficient and easily reachable. As soon as we have a concern, they are ready to help and quickly troubleshoot the situation.”
In addition, Scaleway is a European cloud provider. Deploying a solution that respects all aspects of the GDPR and other French and European data-protection laws was an inevitable requirement for the Sorbonne University. “Data protection is vitally important to the university: with this solution, we knew that our data was safe and that our faculty members and students were able to share data securely. What we have been able to achieve with BigBlueButton would not have been possible with a competing foreign cloud provider” add Fabrice Moutte. Indeed, BigBlueButton was identified as well-integrated with Moodle platforms and it came as a welcome alternative to other more well-known video conferencing solutions. Not only does it tick the box on data protection and security, but it is also an affiliate member of the Open Source Initiative.