Playing in the Cloud: Integrating Etherpad with Jitsi

One of the first things Tim showed me when we starting using Jitsi internally was the ability to integrate Etherpad Lite. I wanted to give it a try given I am working on demoing fully open source replacement for Zoom/Google Docs/Slack with Jitsi/Etherpad/Mattermost. I am now officially 2/3 of the way there 🙂

So, I already have both an Etherpad and Jitsi app running in Reclaim Cloud thanks to our handy-dandy one-click apps in the Cloud marketplace. After that Tim shared this guide in the Reclaim Hosting Community forums for integrating my Etherpad with Jitsi, and it worked a treat. When you click on the “Open shared document”…

… and voilà, now you have a blank Etherpad page that anyone on the call can edit directly from the Jitsi browser tab.

So, I added the KaraOERke instructions to the document which folks on the call can edit (though read-only is an option), it also has a link or an embed code.


You also have the option to import/export text and HTML files right from Jitsi. So, effectively full Etherpad functionality within Jitsi.

I really like the way this works, and through Jitsi you can also livestream to Youtube, I have not found other options yet, but given it is open source software I am sure they are not far off. I would love to be able to stream the Jitsi instance directly to ds106.tv.

The last piece of this open source remote teaching trifecta is Mattermost, I am going to dig in some more on that and see would integrating Etherpad and Jitsi into Mattermost looks like. But until then, you can always try this out for yourself using the 14-day free trial at Reclaim Cloud.

Turn Off the Cloud Lights!

One of the things I have been doing over the last couple of months is tracking how many resources (known in Reclaim Cloud as cloudlets) each application environment requires. This is important because the more cloudlets you use the more you pay, so trying to be as efficient as possible is quite important.

A cloudlet = 128 MiB + 400 MHz. Or, the equivalent of a ridiculously fast personal computer circa 1996 or 1997.

Crazy to think, but true. For each cloudlet you pay a dedicated amount of, for arguments sake, let’s say $3 per month. So, an app that requires 4 cloudlets will cost $12 per month if used constantly and the resource demands do not spike. Pretty easy maths, no? But what about a video conferencing applications like Jitsi that you only need at certain times?

I have been playing with this since July 1, and I have averaged about 10 hours on Jitsi Meet over the last two weeks. I have gotten in the habit of turning off Jitsi after every use, and turning it back on 10 minutes before my next meeting. Turns out the average cloudlet usage for an always on Jitsi instance is around 8 cloudlets per month, or $24. But when I turn it on and off regular it has only cost me cost under $1 so far this month, so literally a fraction of the cost.

And that should be easy for us to understand as we begin to think of applications on the web more and more like utilities. We turn off our lights when we leave the room because we waste less electricity and save money, I think for certain applications this approach means being more resource conscious.

I had a similar revelation this morning as I was tracking resource usage, my blog average 13 cloudlets per month, or $39. This means for most folks hosting your WordPress blog on Reclaim Cloud would not be more cost effective, probably true for most other PHP applications like Omeka, Grav, Scalar, etc. Shared hosting via cPanel will still be kind because it is far less expensive and a $30-$100 per year gets you pretty much all the applications you can run within limits. The Cloud makes you pay for your usage per applications, so you can see how quickly that would add up. Even a low-trafficked WordPress site in Reclaim Cloud would require 4-5 cloudlets, or $12-$15 per month, and that is just one site and it is not including the domain—what a deal we give you with shared hosting! 🙂

On the other hand, high trafficked sites that a require a virtual private server or a managed hosting instance might find the Cloud a lot cheaper given they’ll only pay for those resources used, rather than paying for enough CPU and memory to manage the “what if…?” scenario. In this regard the $300 a month you spend for the worst case scenario could be significantly less if most of the time that server is using just a fraction of allotted resources, and that is when the Cloud rules—when it can allow you to seamlessly scale as you need  but only pay for what you use—just like our water, heat, and electric bills. Stephen Fry’s 5 minutes video comparing cloud computing to utilities usage from 2013 is still one of my favorite takes on the changing nature of resources usage with the cloud.

So, one think I did this morning is go through my sites on Reclaim Cloud and look at which ones I could turn off to save some energy. Turns out the test instance of Ghost I am running takes up 7 cloudlets per month, or $21, so that was a fine candidate given a CMS site like Ghost always needs to me on. So, I sitesucked the ghost.murderinc.biz and copied the HTML archived files onto my cPanel account and re-pointed DNS. After that I stopped the environment. I can still keep the Ghost instance on my account, but like Jitsi, it can remain turned stopped (or turned off) and I won’t need to pay for anything but storage until I decide to actually use Ghost. In the event I don’t use it I can simply delete the app and keep my archived HTML version. 
So, to push the house of the future metaphor even further, I spent the morning turning off lights in the rooms of my digital house that I was not using, and my energy bill will thank me at the end of the month 🙂

Jitsi on Reclaim Cloud

Zoom’s privacy record has been spotty at best for a while now, but recent news pointing to their shutting down activist’s accounts at the behest of the Chinese government is yet another reason to think twice before using that video conferencing service. As Zoom has taken pole position in the edtech industry along side the learning management system as schools seem unable to imagine teaching asynchronously, the idea of an open source alternative to Zoom seems welcome. BigBlueButton is an existing option that folks at the OpenETC use and seem quite happy with. Another I’ve heard a lot about more recently is Jitsi Meet, and it just so happens that Reclaim Cloud has a one-click installer for Jitsi so I spun one up for myself.

Blurring the background for that 3-D motion effect

Not only is Jitsi encrypted end-to-end, but it is also as intuitive and seamless as Zoom. It allows screen sharing, in-app sharing of YouTube videos, chat, hand raising, and full screen or tile view.

There are also speaker stats for clocking who talked for how long, as well as bandwidth indicators for each participant in order to help identify where any connection issues are originating.

There are also integrations with other applications, such as for communal editing of documents in Etherpad or connecting your Google calendar:

Rooms you create on the fly can quickly be secured by the host with a password to prevent Zoom-bombing, and as host you can set these parameters much like in Zoom.

Over the past two weeks we have used Jitsi internally at Reclaim Hosting and it has been seamless. We’ve had no issues with groups of 7 or 8, and one-click install in Reclaim Cloud can support up to 75 users, but if more spaces are needed the instance can be vertically scaled.*

Also, it is worth noting I was able to map the instance on a custom domain, and I now have yet another tool within the complex of my Domain that I can use as needed. Pretty slick.

One thing that is not possible with Jitsi on Reclaim Cloud just yet is recording the sessions within the instance. That is something we are currently exploring, and once that is possible I will be hard pressed to see the advantages of Zoom over Jitsi in any regard.

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*Jitsi scales resources up and down based on usage (think of scaling light using a light dimmer) which means you only pay for what you use. What’s more, you can also turn off the instance when it’s not in use to save even more on resource usage, which is true of any application on Reclaim Cloud. Even when idle applications like Jitsi use a certain amount of server resources (what are termed Cloudlets), so turning off the instance until next usage is like turning off the lights in a room you won’t be occupying for a while to save energy and money.