ULB chooses Belnet to provide high-performance hosting of its podcast service

Published on Thu, 02/25/2021 - 11:38

The Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) called upon Belnet's expertise to host its podcast service 'EZcast'. We spoke to Michel Jansens and Fatima El Fakih from the SISC (Shared ICT Services Center of the ULB-VUB) about the successful collaboration.

Even before the coronavirus crisis broke out, ULB was already offering a podcast service to its students and professors. EZcast was developed internally as a means of giving students the opportunity to view (and review) lessons online. “Some professors were already convinced of the benefits of podcasting, but by no means all of them,” said Michel Jansens of the Shared ICT Services Centre of ULB-VUB.

The coronavirus crisis changed all that, however. Within a very short time, the university, like other educational institutions, had to switch to distance learning, which meant that the use of digital tools rapidly gained momentum. “At the beginning of the lockdown, the ICT department was immediately asked to carry out numerous projects urgently. Once of them was the development of an updated version of the podcasting software that would be capable of handling a larger number of users. We also needed to look for a more effective solution on which to host it,” explained Michel Jansens and Fatima El Fakih.

Alternative avenues

Considering the situation, it quickly became clear to ULB that hosting the podcast service itself was not an option. “On the one hand, our existing network connections would not have been stable enough to withstand a sudden increase in users, while on the other hand, we needed several Points of Presence to ensure redundancy. That was the reason why we simultaneously explored a number of external avenues.”

One of those involved a cloud-based hosting service from a major commercial provider. “We soon realised that this solution could not offer us a certainty in terms of predictability of costs. The cost structure for the solution we had in mind was opaque, which meant it was difficult for us to estimate exactly how much the hosting and network bandwidth was going to cost.”

Transparent price, excellent performance

As well as exploring the cloud-based avenue, Michel Jansens contacted the Belnet team. “That was a logical step, as Belnet has been our privileged partner for 25 years now. What is more, the Belnet network is in close proximity to the other telecom operators and therefore close by our customers, namely the students who are taking classes and studying from home.”

“On a technical level, it was important for us to have access to data centres that are close to our end-users and to have high-performance hosting at our disposal at all times."

Michel Jansens, Team Lead Platform at the Shared ICT Services Centre ULB-VUB

“On a technical level, it was important for us to have access to data centres that are close to our end-users and to have high-performance hosting at our disposal at all times. Belnet fulfilled all of those needs and was able to guarantee us a linear cost price in relation to the capacity.”

“We thoroughly weighed up the proposed solutions from Belnet and the commercial cloud provider, and in the end, we achieved a much more effective result with Belnet, both in terms of performance and price transparency,” concluded Michel Jansens.

A customer-oriented approach

Initially, Belnet implemented a temporary solution using existing servers. This enabled ULB to make use of the service right from the start of the 2020-2021 academic year. At the same time, Belnet took care of the purchase and installation of new, higher performance hardware.

"Since December 2020, our podcast service has been hosted on three Belnet servers in different data centres, which guarantees us excellent availability. The servers are managed by Belnet, while the application itself is managed internally at ULB,” explained Fatima El Fakih.

“Belnet is our privileged partner in many different domains.”

Michel Jansens, Team Lead Platform at the Shared ICT Services Centre ULB-VUB

ULB looks back with satisfaction at Belnet's approach: “The project meetings were very constructive and Belnet took account of our needs and limitations on a technical level. We received good support and could also count on Belnet's security experience. The employees at Belnet have a positive attitude and go the extra mile in order to achieve the best possible result for the customer.”

24/7 monitoring

At ULB's request, Belnet set up a sophisticated monitoring system for the servers, so that the performance of the service can be tracked 24/7. “Belnet's monitoring was fine-tuned to interact with our own monitoring systems. This made it possible for us to view the availability of the different servers, the available memory and so on, at all times. If a problem occurs, we immediately receive an alert and the Belnet incident procedures are set in motion,” explained Fatima El Fakih.

On an application level, the podcast service is managed by ULB's Educational Support Centre (Centre d'appui pédagogique - CAP). Michel Jansens: “We're now receiving positive feedback from our colleagues: at peak times the traffic fluctuates around 1.5 Gbit/s and there are more than 700 simultaneous connections. Despite the intensive use by professors and students, they're noticing that there are no bottlenecks.”

For the more than 30,000 students at ULB, the podcast service is easily accessible at https://ezplayer.ulb.ac.be/. Once they have registered, users are connected to one of the three Belnet servers and they can then view the videos they're looking for. All pre-recorded lessons are uploaded and distributed via EZplayer. That way, students can view (and review) the lessons as many times as they want.

A successful co-creation

Michel and Fatima look back on their collaboration with Belnet with enthusiasm: “We could not have guaranteed such redundancy and performance ourselves in such a short time. So for us, this has been a very successful co-creation project and we look forward to working with Belnet on other projects in the future.”

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