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AWS Case Study: University of Witwatersrand – BigBlueButton

About the Client

The University of the Witwatersrand is a multi-campus South African public research university situated in the northern areas of central Johannesburg. It is more commonly known as Wits University or Wits.

In line with the University’s Strategic Plan, the School’s vision is to become a leading centre for education and research in the built environment through using innovative teaching, research and engagement with industry, to address the needs of a transforming society. To meet their vision and ensure that their students and staff have the same experience, regardless of them being on or off-campus, Wits are continuing to invest and embrace new technologies.

The Challenge

Due to Covid-19 and the subsequent nation-wide lockdown, Wits needed to adapt and offer more online training, meetings, and interactions for its staff and students.
Wits decided to use BigBlueButton, a free software web conferencing system for GNU/Linux servers, which they deployed on their on-premise environment. Unfortunately, the on-premise hardware had reached the end of its life (EoL), and so support for it was coming to an end. Another big concern for the University was that the on-premise hardware could not scale to meet the increased work-from-home demand.
Wits had two options: First, invest in new upgraded hardware, which would require a significant upfront capital expense and could have a longer lead-time to deploy; alternatively, Wits could move their BigBlueButton environment to AWS and trade their capital expense for operational expense.

Wits had recently migrated their Sakai LMS to AWS and was happy with the results, so they decided to migrate their BigBlueButton environment to the cloud as well.

The Solution

Silicon Overdrive met with the Wits team and architected a solution based on AWS best practices to replace their on-premise hardware with a cloud solution that would meet the needs of their students and staff.
We rehosted their existing BigBlueButton environment to a highly-scalable and secure Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC). The new VPC utilizes services like Amazon EC2 to provide secure, resizable compute capacity, Amazon Simple Storage Solution (S3) buckets with encryption features and access management tools for secure, durable and scalable object storage, which we included to reduce storage costs associated with backups.
We also added Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS) volumes with encryption features to provide secure, highly available, durable and scalable persistent block storage volumes, for use with Amazon EC2 instances.
Amazon CloudWatch has been added for monitoring, management and alerting and AWS CloudTrail (a service for governance, compliance, operational auditing, and risk auditing of your AWS account) was deployed into the environment.

The Outcome

By the new BigBlueButton AWS environment can handle over three times more traffic without the performance being affected.
Wits have also reported a significant increase in performance and are saying that the AWS environment is much faster than the on-premise environment was. Due to the layers of security that have been added, Wits can rest assured knowing that their environment is safer than it was before.

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