[Systems] Activities Portal Update

dfarning at ubuntu.com dfarning at ubuntu.com
Mon Feb 15 08:00:06 EST 2010

This week, the Ubuntu Sugar Remix Update has almost nothing to do with Sugar on Ubuntu.  Instead it is about the Sugar Activities Portal at activities.sugarlab.org (ASLO) and how Sugar Labs, Rochester Institute of Technology, Red Hat, and MediaWiki are working together to Learn with Sugar, Teach with Sugar, and Spread Sugar.

== addons.mozilla.org ==

The idea for ASLO has existed for at least two years ago.  When I first started working with Sugar Labs, I remember seeing posts on various OLPC lists about how cool it would be to have something like addons.mozilla.org for Sugar.  Mozilla had been working on this problem for several years.  As a result, the addons.mozilla.org code was very specific to Mozilla's needs. The first challenge was as much political as technical.  We had to convince the Mozilla developers to accept a couple of patches that would allow Sugar Labs to branch, rather fork the code base.  (Much of the work for these initial patches were done by a friend of Dogi's whose name escapes me at the moment.)

The next hurdle was getting ASLO to run on Sugar Labs infrastructure.  Several people had a hand in this.  Among them were Alsroot, Bernie, and Mel.  We had an activities portal that barely worked with no activities and no traffic.

Wade stepped up with the activities team to move several activities from their previous homes to ASLO.  Tomeu and Simon added patches to fix the most broken bits.  ASLO worked, had a couple of activities and no traffic.

Then, three events happened at roughly the same time.  Alsroot stood up to maintain the code base.  He has tended the code and kept it in sync with upstream Mozilla.  The publicity and success of the initial SoaS release drew attention to the portal.  Josh Williams created and implemented the ALSO look and feel.

In the final months of 2009 traffic grew.  Sunjammer, Sugar Lab's primary server, started to succumb to the load.  At SugarCamp Bolzano we started splitting the service to run as a cluster on multiple machines.  By December of 2009 we had ASLO running as a cluster of VMs on a secondary server.... which promptly crashed and brought ALSO down for nearly a day.

Luckily, summer break started for the southern hemisphere, which accounts for nearly ninety percent of ASLO's traffic.  Sunjammer handled the reduced load like a champ.  We all had a chance to catch our breath.

== RIT ==

Over the next couple of weeks ASLO will move to its new home at the Rochester Institute of Technology.  Luke has been working with MediaWiki on the donation of several servers.  These are used servers which are being taken out of rotation at MediaWiki's data center, but they should do just fine as proof of concept machines for the new cluster.

The relationship between Sugar Labs and RIT has been growing for over a year.  Karlie Robinson and Fred Grosse were the initial champions.  Karlie arranged for several dozen XO developer machines to be shipped from Fedora to RIT.  Together with Fred, she brought Professor Steven Jacobs on board.  Steve was looking for a project to instill 'community service' as a value in his students and at RIT as a whole.

Concurrently, Mel and Greg, from RedHat, have been working on teachingopensource.org , a project to introduce and promote open source in higher education.  RedHat has been funding and Mel has been doing much of the legwork to push the program from the community side and supervise the co-op students.

This spring Steven hired an assistant, Remy DeCausemake, to keep things moving.  Remy and two students will work specifically on Video Chat.  The XO 1.5 has a high enough video frame rate to allow people to chat via sign language!

== ASLO @ RIT ==

So now we have ASLO, a established support structure at RIT, and a couple of donated machines.  What next?  The computer Science House (a geek dorm) at RIT has offered to host and maintain several machines for Sugar Labs in their server room.

Work will begin in spring quarter which starts March 8th.  The machines should already be at RIT.  The server room is getting some new wiring.  This week Remy and Mel will interview for work-study students to help out.

The students at CSH will install the machines and set up other necessary admin services such as back ups.  From the CSH point of view, this is not just giving free hosting to Sugar Labs, instead it is a chance maintain and develop a critical service for a global education project that runs on some pretty cool open source technology.

Dogi will then make a trip to Rochester to work with the students to install and test the ASLO software (http://wiki.sugarlabs.org/go/Machine/Discovery_One )  

The Goals for this term are:
1. Scale ALSO to meet the load -- If this were the only goal, it would be cheaper and faster to spend a couple thousand dollars on a fast machine, stick it in Gnaps and let alsroot and bernie maintain the thing.

2. Establish a broader relationship between Sugar Labs, RIT, and Red Hat -- Currently Red Hat is driving the relationship at RIT.  The money folks at Red Hat are are having trouble seeing the revenue generation potential of Sugar.....  But, if we can foster a relationship between RedHat and RIT around servers and possibly a cloud, everyone comes out ahead.

3.  Establish RIT and CSH as a high quality hosting provider for community service and open source projects.

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