Providing Education to Millions of Students while Schools Were Shut

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By Alibaba Cloud ApsaraVideo Team

The outbreak of COVID-19 brought teachers and students across the country a very strange winter break.

The Ministry of Education explicitly postponed the spring school term of 2020, while encouraging the use of online learning to ensure that students do not stop learning even when schools are shut. Education departments and schools are by no means the first line of defense against this pandemic, but they still had to deal with the impact. Now, they are working with technology companies to create online classrooms to make sure students do not stop learning.

The surge in demand for online education services after the Ministry of Education set forth the requirement caught many online education platforms off guard. This article specifically outlines how Alibaba Cloud helped Ningbo Education Bureau’s Cloud School to handle the sharp rise in demand and ensure stable operations.

According to Xia Hongxiang, Director of the equipment and audio-visual center at Ningbo Education Bureau, “Cloud School had millions in views and 200 TB of high concurrency traffic daily. We could not have coped with this volume of traffic without the elastic resource scaling, large distributed acceleration network, and specialized video technology from Alibaba Cloud. They helped our teacher and students stay online and interact.”

Cloud School Steps Up

To minimize the impact of these trying times on students, the Cloud School developed by Ningbo Education Bureau started offering more than one thousand online courses for free from February 10, 2020. This garnered the attention of students from across regions. Views poured in from not just Ningbo, Hangzhou, Quzhou, Taizhou, Shaoxing, Lishui, and other places in Zhejiang province, but also Anhui, Jiangxi, Henan, Guizhou, and other provinces. 20% of all users were from outside of Zhejiang.

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In the words of Lin Yanan, a teacher at Ciji Middle School, “Online teaching is undoubtedly an effective way to break through the physical barriers of space and time, especially during this challenging period. It helps students learn without going outside. It is very much worth exploring further.”

From January 31 to noon of February 19, Cloud School racked up more than 25 million views, with more than 4.8 million unique visitors and over 1200 TB in traffic. That’s the equivalent of 3 million lessons.

Alibaba Cloud Left No Stone Unturned to Ensure Smooth Operations at Cloud School

Cloud School got off to a rocky start. With 10 times the expected traffic on February 10, the first day of online learning, the system was almost down, web pages were unable to open, and videos could not play. Queries and complaints were everywhere.

The Cloud School’s IT team quickly started to troubleshoot and the Alibaba Cloud technical team joined in. We set up a dedicated team to scale up infrastructure resources, optimize policies, and implement online assurance. Through a series of steps involving cooperation and optimization, Cloud School survived and thrived.

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Online learning involves a large amount of video data and real-time interactions. If a substantial number of users access the service, the amount of computing power needed for cross-region access and interconnection also increases dramatically. Reaching the system bottleneck and the subsequent service downgrade is inevitable. Cloud School is glad that they migrated to the cloud before facing this enormous test of the system’s capabilities.

Alibaba Cloud provides on-demand resources and scaling that helped Cloud School overcome challenges with ease and flexibility. Unlike other vendors who would have taken days to execute the scaling and deployment jobs, Alibaba Cloud took minutes to set the ball rolling. Also, Alibaba Cloud’s automated O&M features reduced the time and money Cloud School would have to invest and allowed their team to focus on the development and O&M of educational resources.

Xia Hongxiang said, “Because of the pandemic, we added a lot of high-quality educational resources. On February 10, the first day of online learning, the platform streamed several classes simultaneously and each class had more than 10 thousand students watching. In addition to the viewership of recorded classes that we already had, the total number of online users exceeded 600 thousand. This would be unimaginable with the traditional method of education and hence, shows the power of the innovation and potential that cloud computing brings to the table.”

ApsaraVideo Live Creates the Best Interactive Classroom Experience

Online learning requires a lot of bandwidth to transmit data over long data links and connect users from all over. As it is real-time and interactive, it also requires low network latency and high jitter resistance.

Let’s consider a scenario, where a teacher in Ningbo is broadcasting a class to students across regions. In the case of network jitters, the teacher would not be able to respond to questions raised by students in time, dampening their enthusiasm. Such experiences lead to less effective teaching, which nobody wants.

To ensure the best possible live broadcast experience, Cloud School chose Alibaba Cloud ApsaraVideo Live.

Alibaba Cloud CDN offers the highest number of distribution nodes in China amongst all vendors, an enormous 130 Tbps of overall bandwidth, and 40+ Gbps single node bandwidth. With these capabilities, Alibaba Cloud was able to build a highly efficient and stable content distribution network for Cloud School. The network avoids typical issues such as uneven node distribution and access across service providers while meeting high demands to deliver low latency low frame-dropping content to users. The users do not deal with issues such as out-of-sync videos, poor interaction experience, frame freeze/dropping, and outright disconnection that may impact their experience.

Along with the live classes, Cloud School offers many high-quality recorded courses that are also transcoded using ApsaraVideo VOD. ApsaraVideo VOD supports all mainstream file formats and can stream videos in various bitrates from smooth to an ultra-high-definition. It transcodes media files efficiently and the service is fully scalable.

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By using Alibaba Cloud ApsaraVideo Live and ApsaraVideo VOD, Cloud School now provides a stable and smooth video interaction experience with millisecond network latency and a 15% increase in class completion rate.

Summary

The COVID-19 pandemic forced traditional education institutions to adapt and migrate to the cloud. However, cloud computing has long been the cornerstone for the online education organizations that are trying to go offline.

Alibaba Cloud proactively supported the requirements, including the advanced computing power, distribution network, and video technology to ensure that the platform does not have to worry about bandwidth, IT management and O&M, audio/video tech, and massive amounts of video processing. The online learning platforms are more stable, smooth, flexible, and efficient. An effective platform implementation allows education institutions to turn their attention towards developing learning applications and performing management tasks, enabling them to innovate and explore exciting new possibilities.

Alibaba Cloud ApsaraVideo scaled up Cloud School’s resources and set up more O&M capability to serve more places in Zhejiang, Hubei, and Henan to bring more schools online so that students do not have to stop learning just because their schools were shut down.

We look forward to bringing much more convenience and many more services to the people and will continue to support the fight against COVID-19.

While continuing to wage war against the worldwide outbreak, Alibaba Cloud will play its part and will do all it can to help others in their battles with the coronavirus. Learn how we can support your business continuity at https://www.alibabacloud.com/campaign/fight-coronavirus-covid-19

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