Community News

How COVID changed video conferencing

The Special Interest Group on the Management of Service Portfolios (SIG-MSP) held a virtual meeting on 3 June to discuss lessons learned and strategies used during the COVID-19 crisis. The group recognised that virtual meetings attract a wider audience, and on this occasion was also able to welcome some new faces.

We started with a virtual trip across European countries comparing experiences, struggles and aspirations around new ways we connect and provide services to institutions. The main theme was (of course) video conferencing (VC) and collaboration tools. Already before the COVID-19 took over, NRENs had been offering different kinds of VC services, from open source to commercial, but during recent times multi-person/professional VC has made a remarkable jump. The main challenge many NRENs have been facing in the unexpected lockdown situation was the need for rapid scaling of services as well as being able to offer agile, easy to set up solutions is also paired with consistent and timely user support.

As one does not serve all, NRENs look for solutions that can be easily adaptable and satisfy their users’ needs; a federated approach is the preference. GARR, PSNC and RENATER showed us community examples of open source VC tools.  We learnt about Jitsi, eduMEET, eduTURN as well as RENAVISIO and Rendezvous.

EduMEET is becoming a common tool for education. COVID-19 has sped up its implementation. The service is now supported for the GN4-3 project participants and is expected to be a GÉANT supported service by November 2020. MSP participants watched an impressive demo showing eduMEET’s newest features.

Commonly adopted commercial platforms are Microsoft TEAMs, Google Class / Meet, Skype and Zoom. Zoom is the most popular, especially among the Nordic countries, now used by universities and schools also for virtual exams.  As the service adoption grew so rapidly, some issues occurred, such as uncertainty about the security. Most of the other European countries do not have direct Zoom agreements. Maria Ristkok closed the meeting with a presentation about the GÉANT VC offers for NRENs and R&E institutions, managed by the GÉANT cloud team in the GN4-3 project.

A vivid conversation also took place both on the meeting’s chat as well as via the email list. We learnt about few other VC tools in use by other countries such as Acano in Norway, bigbluebutton based “meet.asnet.am” in Armenia, pexip in Hungary and Czech  Republic and Adobe Connect in Slovenia.

In conclusion, with the arrival of COVID and lockdown most of the countries discovered that the demand for some services had more than doubled; NRENs were asked to provide agile solutions, scalable and quick to set up, whilst the sudden increase in demand for VC and other services such as file transfer could not have been anticipated NRENs have all supported their communities and worked around the clock to make the changes needed.

It is expected that VC will retain an extremely important role. More resources, equipment, agile development and testing are needed, also, it might be necessary to rethink about meeting interactions and come up with different models.

With universities looking for more long-term agreements, collaboration efforts should improve and become a pillar for VC services. Partnerships are essential and community experiences need to be combined to generate analysis reports and set up a strategy.

More ideas for collaboration will be discussed during the next SIG-MSP meeting to take place in the Autumn.