Updating OER Foundation Web Services for February 2023
It's been about six months since my last update and, wow, a lot has changed. The OER Foundation (OERF) has embarked on a new initiative inspired by our old friend the Fediverse and the ramifications to on our sustainability thanks to our newer nemesis, Covid19: the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) Digital Learning Ecosystem (DLE). Here's a paper we wrote which describes the initial FOSSDLE concept in detail, including technologies, costs, and a case study. But the FOSSDLE concept is evolving rapidly.
Thanks to increasing inequity (with the haves getting more, and have-nots less) and the prospects for addressing that imbalance (education, especially for women in the developing world), we need to do something new and different. Something new - to most folks at least - is the relatively rapid rise from obscurity of the 'Fediverse', coincident with Elon Musk taking over Twitter. For those unfamiliar with the term Fediverse (a portmanteau of 'Federated Universe'), it refers to a family of independently developed decentralised FOSS social media technologies, instances of which are 'federated' (link and talk to one another) by means of automated data transfer that adheres to an open standard called "ActivityPub". We have taken note of the diverse range of applications making up the Fediverse, and the power of being able to view the digital world through each of those lenses, on ones own terms. We think that the pedagogical opportunities the Fediverse represents are rich and varied.
In addition to running a wide set of Fediverse-enabled technologies, we've also been working to improve our measurement and monitoring game - ensuring that our services are looked after, so we're the first to know when there's a problem. We also want to be able to measure our impact in a way that's compatible with user freedom and privacy... so that's resulted in still more new services.
Finally, we've identified a number of new FOSS technologies we consider to be better than those we previously considered 'best-of-breed', and so, in the 'rapid evolution' approach of FOSS technologies, we've implemented them and made the move.
Here's where things stand now: in February 2023, we run the following production systems:
For the FOSSDLE Commons, we have:
A series of Fediverse apps:
- a Wordpress Multisite - https://fossdle.org - our main site, with subsites for related purposes, like support and other documentation. Posts are shared via the Fediverse using the Wordpress ActivityPub plugin. Wordpress, a vastly extensible FOSS blogging engine, is the single, most widely use platform on the World Wide Web - 43% of all websites and 65% of websites that use a Content Management System (CMS) are built on Wordpress. The next two closest web platforms are also FOSS - Joomla (4.6% of CMSs) and Drupal (3%). Wordpress is unrivalled.
- a Mastodon instance - https://social.fossdle.org - superficially similar to Twitter, but decentralised and open and many other subtle (but important) differences.
- a PixelFed - https://pic.fossdle.org - similar to Instagram.
- a Lemmy instance - https://link.fossdle.org - a link aggregator similar to Reddit.
- an OwnCast instance - https://stream.fossdle.org - a streaming platform like Twitch, but streams and viewer comments are Fediverse content.
- a WriteFreely instance - https://write.fossdle.org - a no-nonsense blogging system similar to a decentralised Fediverse-enabled Medium.
In the near term, we plan to add
- a PeerTube instance - a distributed YouTube-like video hosting service.
- a Mobilizon instance - a distributed Event management and registration service.
We have also added a number of non-Fediverse apps to support the FOSSDLE Commons initiative.
- a Matrix server - https://matrix.fossdle.org, with an Element client - https://chat.fossdle.org - Matrix is a hugely powerful open standard for defining 'chat' applications, and it's also a reference implementation of that standard. It's a fully FOSS alternative to Slack or MS Teams, and integrates with IRC and just about anything else under the sun.
- an Authentik instance - https://auth.fossdle.org - an authentication and authorisation platform for Single Sign-On.
- an instance of HedgeDoc - https://md.fossdle.org - a collaborative editing environment for MarkDown content.
- a Wekan instance - https://kanban.fossdle.org - a Kanban project planning and management board similar to Trello.
- a (Bit|Vault)Warden - https://safe.fossdle.org - a full-featured password manager like LastPass (but secure) and 1Password, et al.
- a NextCloud instance, with an integrated OnlyOffice instance - https://hub.fossdle.org - for file sharing and collaborative project work. Like Google Drive, Dropbox, or MS OneDrive.
- to support our NextCloud, we have integrated an OnlyOffice instance. Together, they behave like a feature-rich Google Suite, but refreshingly Google-free - https://onlyoffice.oeru.org
- a Discourse instance - https://forum.fossdle.org - Discourse is the market leading, modern, full-featured (and fully FOSS) forum.
In addition to these FOSSDLE-supporting services, we continue to maintain the following for the OERu and partners:
- two more WordPress Multisites: our main course delivery site, where each course is a 'subsite' - https://course.oeru.org our train-the-educators blog and sandbox course site. Each educator gets a 'blog' subsite for their own use, and a 'course sandbox' subsite - https://edt4ol.oeru.org
- a trio of standalone WordPress instances for the OERF and related initiatives: the OERF's own organisational website - https://oerfoundation.org the Centre for Open Educational Practice (COEP) - https://coep.nz the OERF's initiative to help educators in the developing world cope with the challenges of COVID19 - https://oer4covid.oeru.org
- a pair of Drupal sites (they've been upgraded to Drupal 9.x) the OERF's information tech site (this site!) - https://tech.oeru.org, and our H5P learning object builder site - https://h5p.oeru.org
- another Discourse instance - Discourse is the market leading, modern, full-featured (and fully FOSS) forum: our companion site for folks taking OERu courses for both assignments and collaboration with other learners - https://forums.oeru.org Note: we redeployed our underutilised our OERu community collaboration and support site for educators as the FOSSDLE forum above.
- another NextCloud for file sharing and many other uses. It's our main collaborative document management system and collaborative authorship and sharing media and documents - https://docs.oeru.org
- a BigBlueButton instance - a large scale real-time video conferencing and educational collaboration platform - https://talk.oeru.org
- a Mautic high-powered mailing list automation management system - https://mautic.oeru.org
- a Rocket.Chat instance - a rich chat service comparable to Slack or Discord but fully open source (and we hold all our own data) - https://chat.oeru.org - Rocket.Chat, though very good, is not nearly as powerful or secure as Matrix, so we have shifted most of our activities to Matrix and Element, which also offers more mature mobile apps.
- another Mastodon instance - Twitter-esque but de-centralised and non-commercial federated open source social network (part of the Fediverse) - https://mastodon.oeru.org
- a Mailcow instance for managing all our email - Mailcow is a full multi-tenanted SMTP/IMAP/POP email system with active spam filtering, user self-service, DKIM configuration/management, webmail, & much more - even virus scanning for Windows clients - https://about.oerfoundation.org - it supplies email services for the oeru.org, oerfoundation.org, coep.nz, and fossdle.org domains, among others!
- an instance of YourLS - a link shortener - https://oer.nz
- a Matomo instance - website analytics (like Google Analytics, but without infringing on the EU's GDPR legislation) - https://stats.oeru.org
- we added a Plausible instance - another very nice FOSS website analytics system which uses different technologies and is similarly privacy-respecting to Matomo. It also serves to provide a check of our Matomo analytics - https://stats.fossdle.org
- a Mahara instance - online academic portfolio tool - https://portfolio.oerfoundation.org
- a Moodle instance - market leading learning management system which we use primarily for offering quizzes and awarding certificates for participants - https://moodle.oeru.org
- a SilverStripe instance - our main OERu website - https://oeru.org
- a MediaWiki instance - collaboration platform for OER development built on the same platform on which Wikipedia is built. All our courses are developed here - https://wikieducator.org
- a GitLab - a software developer version control/collaboration tool where we make all our code available - https://git.oeru.org
- a LimeSurvey instance - survey tool - https://survey.oeru.org
- another (BitWarden/VaultWarden](https://github.com/dani-garcia/vaultwarden) instance - password manager and cross-device sync service - https://safe.oeru.org (here's our howto for hosting your own)
- an instance of Semantic Scuttle - a collaborative public website bookmarking service - https://bookmarks.oeru.org
- another Wekan instance - for project planning via the Kanban methodology. Similar to Trello (among other tools) - https://kanban.oeru.org.
- a Mobilizon instance - for managing events, and people following, discussing, and signing-up for and attending them - https://events.oeru.org
- a RustDesk server instance, allowing us to provide anyone anywhere on just about any computing platform (Linux, Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android) with live interactive shared desktop support. Equivalent to TeamViewer.
- a server monitoring solution based on Grafana, Prometheus, Node-exporter, Alertmanager, cAdvisor, and other tools, which provide a graphical monitoring solution for each of our servers.
- we recently added an instance of Uptime Kuma, a superb system for periodically (i.e. every minute) checking that all of our services are doing what they ought to be. It alerts us via Matrix integration if any service is misbehaving based on a variety of parameters. It also provides a pretty dashboard with green, orange, and (occasionally) red lights. It also allows us to monitor each service's performance over time.
We also maintain development and testing/staging instances of most of these services. We do frequent (daily or, in some cases, hourly) database backups and daily remote incremental encrypted filesystem backups onto a server with a LOT of storage. Aside from one co-located physical server with large disk capacity, our services are all hosted on virtual Linux servers (we mostly run Ubuntu Linux) provided by commodity cloud hosting providers via Docker and orchestrated via Docker Compose.
Hosting on behalf
We continue to host services on behalf of other organisations, including Commonwealth of Learning, Open Education Global, and the government of Samoa, in particular their Ministry of Education, Sport, and Culture's Innovative Lifelong Learning Lab (the MiLLL).
For the MiLLL project:
- a pair of WordPress Multisites, one for hosting open educational resource-based course sites - https://course.milll.ws - and one hosting individual sites for Samoan primary and secondary schools - https://schools.milll.ws
- a BigBlueButton instance supporting learners, educators, and government staff's video conferencing requirements - https://bbb.milll.ws
- a Mastodon instance especially for Samoans wanting to participate in digital social media - https://mastodon.milll.ws
- an instance of Rocket.Chat - https://chat.milll.ws
- an instance of Discourse - https://forum.milll.ws
- an instance of Moodle - https://moodle.milll.ws
- an instance of BitWardern/VaultWarden - https://safe.milll.ws
For the Commonwealth of Learning:
- a WordPress Multisite for hosting OER-based course sites for the Pacific Partnership in Open Distance and Flexible Learning initiative - https://pacificopencourses.col.org
- a WordPress Multisite for hosting OER-based course sites - https://course.oeglobal.org
Costs and Usage
In the past year we have served tens of thousands of registered users and over 200,000 anonymous learners access our courses (the full content of which are open to all without requiring authentication).
It's also important to note that all of these services can be provided at no cost to our collaborators and learners as there are no per-seat license fees (nor any license fees) associated with any of the services. Our only costs are related to the 14 (at last count) generic 'cloud'-based Virtual Private Servers (VPSs) (all running a FOSS Linux operating system) we hire from a host of competing commodity hosting providers including Digital Ocean, Hetzner, and Linode. We actively avoid using any vendor-specific proprietary services so that we can shift providers with minimal hassle and service interruption if required.
Our entire annual IT infrastructure cost, including for our 'on behalf' hosting partners, is now hovering around USD10,000 per year for all of the above. What's more our usage monitoring suggests that most of our servers were operating well below 50% capacity, meaning that we have a plenty of additional headroom.
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