The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in a very significant increase in the use of the FCCN Unit's services. Learn about the steps taken to ensure support for distance learning and teleworking.

It was still March and the effects of the pandemic were already being felt in the usage rates of FCCN services. At that time, Colibri registered a usage increase of over 2800%, and this would be a trend that would be reinforced over the following months - by June 2020, there is a 3423% increase in the number of meetings held through Colibri, surpassing the mark of one million classes/meetings.

The high demand for the Colibri service was due to the possibility of holding videoconferences with capacity for 300 participants/session, thus becoming an essential support for distance learning, by ensuring teaching activities and bringing professionals together during the telework regime. However, the strategic action of the services of the Scientific Computing Unit (FCCN) of the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) during this period did not stop with this tool.

Educast - which allows the recording, editing and sharing of educational videos -also recorded a very significant increase between March and June, with more than a million views. Likewise, the NAU platform, an online course platform in MOOC(Massive Open Online Couse) format was used in this period by several organizations and companies for the training of teleworkers, registering 73,248 new participants, 112,247 enrolments and issuing 54,438 certificates .

These numbers show how, over the past few months, the availability of digital tools by the FCT's FCCN unit has allowed the community to maintain its activity, operating distance classes, group meetings, information sharing and telecommuting. This scenario was repeated again at the beginning of the new academic year, in a context in which distance work still occupies a significant part of the teaching activities. In this sense, taking into account that the FCCN services are an essential aid to maintain the teaching and research activity, within the exceptional circumstances that the country is experiencing, several steps were taken to ensure the response to increased use.

What was done by the FCCN Unit?

In response to the described context of significant increase in use, the FCCN Unit has been strengthening the capacity of its main services to meet the needs of the national research and education community. In the case of Colibri, the massive use of the service required an 1111% increase in licensing and a progressive strengthening of the infrastructure at the front-end of the service. The capacity reinforcement of FCCN services was not only focused on infrastructure and licensing, but also on human capital to provide support to users.

Likewise, in order to support the operation of higher education institutions and research centres that use its services, since March there have been increases in the bandwidth of the connection of several institutions to the Science, Technology and Society Network - the national academic and research network that supports the Internet connections of the education and research community. At the same time, technological upgrades were made to some of the local networks of academic institutions, by increasing the switching capacity of the networks to 10Gbps or 100Gbps, updating and extending the Wi-fi network (eduroam) and reinforcing the security equipment, given the substantial increase in traffic in the latter, under the RCTS100 project co-financed by structural funds.

Also noteworthy is the development of technical documentation, from March, to meet the needs of some higher education institutions regarding the strengthening of internal VPN, in order to allow remote access to platforms. Given that the FCCN Unit belongs to the GÉANT network (which aggregates its European counterparts, in the management of academic and research networks), it was possible to reuse a service developed at European level which allows its installation without additional charges.

It is important to highlight that the increase of devices connected to the network, as well as the sharp increase in the use of streaming services, both in the context of the classroom, as well as for the development of work and research projects, has also changed the context of the needs of users of the FCCN Unit. As a result of the actions described, we work so that higher education and research institutions in Portugal are prepared to accommodate the increase in traffic originated, carrying out their teaching and scientific activities.

If you are a member of the RCTS community, we are available to help you overcome existing challenges, so please contact us through the channels available on our website.

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