The University of Nantes transformed its sharing platform into a whole digital collaboration environment UNCloud, based on open source solutions Nextcloud and ONLYOFFICE. In this article, we are going to tell you about the challenges that led to the birth of the project, and its successful implementation.
Founded in the early 1960s, the University of Nantes is a multidisciplinary university and offers programs in most fields of knowledge: life sciences, health, and medical technology; economics and management; humanities and social sciences, letters, languages, and art; exact sciences, engineering, and technology; legal and political science.
37000 students mix within the 20 faculties and schools. The University has 3900 staff members, 43 research units, and 44 laboratories. The University of Nantes was listed in the Times Higher Education World University Ranking 2015. It is ranked among the top 25 French universities.
The need for a reliable sharing platform and online collaboration tools became evident in 2015.
In the beginning, this project aimed to facilitate document sharing between students, teaching staff, other employees, and external users. However, the results of the first test showed that users were waiting for a larger range of tools. To cover most of their needs, the following key areas of work were identified:
- Centralize data storage and management;
- Simplify and organize the university data life cycle;
- Ensure greater staff and students mobility;
- Facilitate interaction and collaboration between students, researchers, and teaching staff;
- Guarantee the confidentiality of the data and ensure compliance with laws and regulations.
As for this last point, the adoption of the USA Patriot Act, the CLOUD Act, and then of the GDPR, restricted the use of US cloud services. Even the classic solutions such as Google (G Suite) or Microsoft (Office365) couldn’t be deployed in the educational institution because at that time they were not compliant with applicable requirements.
With these factors in mind, the IT Support and Digital Services department of the University decided to build its own self-hosted service managed by the internal IT staff.
Several sharing platforms and collaborative solutions were considered.
Renater Partage, based on Zimbra, and open source sharing services Seafile and Pydio were put aside for reasons related to ergonomy, lack of collaborative features, and a complex user interface. ownCloud was excluded because its community version offers a limited set of tools. After having studied all these options, an open source platform Nextcloud was selected. It provides a full range of tools without imposing extra costs, a familiar interface, cloud federation between instances, and advanced security features.
As for an online office suite that was supposed to add its editing and co-editing features to the Nextcloud environment, the choice was between two options: ONLYOFFICE and Collabora Office. Matthieu Le Corre, Chief Digital Officer at the University of Nantes, who is in charge of this project, explains:
Another important step was the choice of the right office suite. Speaking about ONLYOFFICE architecture, document processing is performed on the client side to reduce the server loading. Developed on JavaScipt using HTML5 Canvas, ONLYOFFICE editors work right in the browser. Collabora Office generates documents and performs the whole process on the server. It considerably increases the load on the server and makes the editing process slower. What’s more, Collabora’s interface was rated less friendly by our internal users.
Matthieu Le Corre and his colleagues also appreciate:
- high compatibility with MS Office formats thanks to OOXML used as a core for ONLYOFFICE suite
- 1000 simultaneous connections per server;
- concurrent user pricing model;
- collection of add-ons to extend editors’ functionality.
Nextcloud ONLYOFFICE integration app connects online editors with UNCloud platform.
After the test phase, the service UNCloud (cloud of the University of Nantes) was successfully deployed in 2018 for students, teachers, and employees.
To help users easily migrate to the online collaborative suite, the IT staff provided technical assistance, education, mentoring, and access to ONLYOFFICE user documentation.
Online co-editing remains one of the most used features. Here is the top 3 use cases for ONLYOFFICE:
- Work on a document sent by email: previously, they were using mail to share documents with colleagues, and ask for contribution or get approval from everyone involved. To avoid having multiple copies on different computers, ONLYOFFICE allows sharing documents with different access permissions and co-edit them in real time.
- Meeting minutes: a meeting organizer creates a doc in ONLYOFFICE and shares it with all participants to view and add meeting notes and keep everyone in the loop.
- Collaboration on projects: if the students are two or more to work on the same project, they are able to create a folder with the documents related to this project, edit and co-edit them, communicate via chat, leave comments, track changes made by their teammates.
This successful case of building and deployment of UNCloud infrastructure at the University of Nantes was presented by Matthieu Le Corre and Arnaud Abélard at JRES 2019. For more information, watch the full video in French “UNCloud, from 0 to 10 000 users in 1 year”.
As for the further evolution of UNCloud, the IT Support and Digital Services department is planning to add more modules and use them within the unique platform without switching between various apps. The most awaited tools are mail, web conferencing, and calendar.
Did the success story of the University of Nantes convince you to join ONLYOFFICE users?
If you are looking for a full-stack online office suite, try ONLYOFFICE Enterprise Edition which offers self-hosted online document editors and a groupware platform.
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If you are looking for advanced document processing within the cloud platform of your choice like Nextcloud, ownCloud, Pydio, XWiki, Jalios, exoPlatform, Seafile, PowerFolder, Alfresco, SharePoint, try ONLYOFFICE Integration Edition. The full list of connectors is available here.
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