Nordic boom in distance learning

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the number of distance learning users in the Nordic countries has risen dramatically. In Norway, for instance, Zoom usage grew by a factor of 100 in just three weeks.

As universities and other academic institutions in the Nordic countries are substituting face-to-face meetings and teaching with e-meetings and distance learning to allow education and research to continue during the ongoing health crisis, services provided by the Nordic regional research and education network NORDUnet have come in very high demand. For instance, Norwegian national research and education network Uninett saw a growth factor of 100 in the use of the Zoom conference service during the three weeks following the country’s lockdown in late March 2020.

“After this initial peak, Zoom usage has continued to grow steadily. The entire higher education sector in Norway is now onboarded and uses Zoom. Currently, we host over 10,000 meetings a day. This is equivalent to around 5,000,000 daily meeting minutes,” says Technical Architect Stefan Otto, Uninett.

Owned by Zoom Corporation, USA, the e-meeting service is delivered to the academic users in the Nordic countries by NORDUnet. Through on-premise installation at the NORDUnet datacenter in Copenhagen, the academic users in the Nordic countries enjoy high reliability in delivery of the service and full compliance with privacy regulations.
“Much like doctors and nurses at our hospitals, we experienced long workdays as the epidemic started and countries went in to various levels of lockdown,” says Jørgen Qvist, Chief Network and Services Officer at NORDUnet.

Ready for 250,000 concurrent users

On March 18, the number of concurrent Zoom users in the Nordic countries peaked at 40,000. A week earlier, prior to institution shutdowns due to COVID-19, the peak would total around 6,000. Anticipating further increases in demand, NORDUnet has made an agreement with Zoom. The agreement gives NORDUnet access to further expand the private cloud in the Amazon computer cluster to allow for no less than 250,000 concurrent Zoom users.

“An agreement of this magnitude is possible, because all Nordic countries are joined in one organization allowing us economies of scale. Further, NORDUnet has the necessary in-house technical competences. It takes manpower and knowhow to integrate our services into the Zoom private cloud solution,” explains Jørgen Qvist, pointing to a further advantage of operating Nordic distance learning services.

“Our Nordic academic clients generally appreciate the privacy in our setup. While the new expansion of capacity rests upon a partnership with an American corporation, the computer cluster in question is situated in Stockholm, and the agreement specifies that data will remain in the Nordic countries. In this way, we are also able to ensure that GDPR regulations are fulfilled.”

Huge appetite for e-learning and e-meetings

The main NORDUnet services for Nordic distance learning include Zoom for real-time e-meetings and Kaltura and Panopto for recording and distributing lectures and similar content. Especially for Zoom, the ability to host a large number of concurrent users is critical. Through the latest upgrades of capacity, NORDUnet is able to provide these services uninterrupted, promises Jørgen Qvist:

“We use high-quality commercial solutions, such as Zoom and Kaltura, but rather than offer Nordic Academic users the public cloud version, we host our own installation, using the vendors software, offering all the facilities of the public version, but with intimate control over resources and operation. This gives us the level of control to ensure availability, guarantee that data does not leave the Nordic countries, and at the same time offers economy of scale.”

Published: 06/2020