Solidary BigBlueButton hosting

Ever since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, or, in particular, the first school closings in March 2020, the schul-frei project and its parent organisation Teckids e.V. have been supporting schools and any other kind of educational institution with tools to keep in contact through video conferences. Not only distance learning, but many other online meetings, including simple meetups, games, altar servers socialising, chess clubs and birthday parties, could be carried out through free platforms like Jitsi Meet and BigBlueButton, so that students did not have to subject their rights to privacy-ignorant solutions in order to take part.

Furthermore, we have been offering separate instances to schools under our non-profit goal of fostering free software in education, so as to guarantee the availability of resources for regular lessons. Besides providing a reliable service apart from Zoom and Microsoft Teams that is fit to strengthen free software in education as a whole, we could also compensate losses in the budgets of our projects that resulted from cancelled events.

However, estimating the necessary server resources is difficult. Schools cannot always make a good estimation how many learners will be using their platform simultaneously, but do not want to hit capacity limits either under full use. Moreover, other not easily estimatable use cases, like open days, add up to that and need more resources than usual.

This flexibility was not possible under strict separation of instances per school. While measuring loads of only 50 to 60 percent under regular use, we could provide for short-term peaks like public events like open days or public trainings only through vertical scaling, which had to be paid by the single institution.

During the winter holidays 2020/2021, we therefore replaced this model with a solidary one, in consentaneous coordination with the involved organisations. In this model, we operate all BigBlueButton servers in one pool rather than separated by institution. This pool can, much like our public instance we had from the start, be used by the general public. Insitutions can still reserve resources. On such a reservation, we resize the pool to fit the newly reserved resources. The instituion continues to get their own frontend under their own domain, and, on request, also their own API token that grants them limited access to only their own meetings and participants. The reserved resources are then complemented by 10% from our own budget for solidary use.

Thanks to this model, we currently provide resources for approximately 2500 simultaneous users, 2200 of which are reserved by educational institutions who finance them and that can primarily be used by them alone. At the same time, one-time meetings, private meetups of children and adolescents or weekend events like barcamps and hackathons can be provided for without additional effort.

We thank all institutions that agreed to the solidary hosting and thus open up free platforms firstand foremost to their own, but also all other learners. Requests for reserved resourcen can be directed to us by e-mail.

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