On Friday, January 29 students noticed something about their email- they were unable to access it. Marauder Mail was down nearly five days, totaling 100 hours of downtime.
At first, most students were understanding because of the weekend timing of the outage. As Monday rolled around, however, students began to become frustrated.
Sophomore Lauren Bollinger said, “I can see a day or half of a day, but to last all weekend and into the beginning of the week is frustrating and unnecessary.”
Director of Technical Support Services, Veronica Longenecker, explained that the issue was regarding a hardware failure.
Hardware failed, but the backup for the mail server did not operate as expected, “failover did not go as configured,” she said.
This outage required the vendor of the hardware, Sun Microsystems, to be contacted. However, the University’s contract with Sun only allows help Monday through Friday, according to Longenecker.
The student reaction to the issue was varied, from mild to hostile to comical.
As a reporter, I knew this would be a pressing issue if the outage continued and, as an experiment, created a group on Facebook titled “The Great Marauder Mail Outage of 2010.”
I knew that the Help Desk would be inundated with calls, and I wanted to see reactions directly, and possibility divert some of the calls from the Help Desk to the group’s wall.
“I don’t just use it for things related to school,” Bollinger said. “I use my Marauder Mail for everything.”
“Students have every right to feel frustrated about it and we totally understand their frustration,” Longenecker said. When I spoke with her Tuesday afternoon, the team in charge of fixing the issue had begun work on building a new server to use if the hardware issue of the old system had not been resolved. When asked if an outage nearing 96 hours is acceptable, she said, “Ideally, no.”
Information Technology has been very keen to make sure that no email is lost during the event, understanding that students not only have academic things to do but also are waiting for responses from internships and jobs. “We wanted to guarantee emails weren’t lost, which is why it has been taking longer [to restore service]”
Junior Ben McCue did not feel too affected by the outage. “Professors give me homework in class,” he said, “I only check my email once every few days.”
In speaking with Longenecker, I learned that IT was not expecting to still be using the current system, which is showing its age.
Student email was expected to be outsourced to another company, such as Google (Google Apps) or Microsoft (Live Mail), but delays in bidding for the State System has caused a potential switch to be delayed as well. “Proposals from companies are due in the beginning of February,” Longenecker said.
As far as students who use external services such as Gmail to retrieve email goes, Longenecker said that while IT does not encourage it, they don’t block it.
“We don’t recommend it because it’s hard to support so many different services, but we don’t block it.”