Server goes down on students

The new housing process began Feb. 15 at 5 a.m. Instead of standing in line in Mayborn Student Center this year, applicants completed housing registration online.

As many restless students logged in early for a place to live next semester, the server the new system relied on crashed.

“We had a communication issue between our Web and database server,” said Web Services Manager Matthew Irvine. “The technical details are lengthy and complicated, but this problem basically resulted in memory not being released as intended, thereby crippling the Web server.”

The resident life staff is trying to brace itself for an influx of students that could exceed the number of beds available.

More students would mean longer lines and tougher competition in signing up for living space.

Switching to an online method is just one aspect of the many changes that will take place with housing in the next year.

An early flaw in the system allows for Information Technology and the housing office to adjust the process before more students lay siege to the servers.

Irvine explains that Information Technology made changes after Wednesday’s crash so students who logged in Thursday would have their information saved.

“Realizing the problem would occur again the following day, we made some configuration changes,” he said. “This ensured that even if our Web server crashed, we would have a process to generate time stamps that would not go down.”

Not all students’ experiences with the new system were negative.

Sophomore exercise sport science major Alyssa Hollie tweeted, “shout out to @UMHB and @umhbinfotech for trying something new and trying to make things easier on us with housing. #WayBetter”

Junior church music major Cameron Roucloux was among the students trying to get online at 5 a.m. Wednesday to sign up for housing.

“I woke up at 4:45, started the process at 5,” he said. “As soon as I clicked, the server went down. I was pretty frustrated. I felt like there was either wrong information or lack of communication regarding how many people would be online at that time in morning.”

Roucloux was among many students who quickly posted their complaints on Twitter and Facebook.

At 5:13 a.m., sophomore  sport management major Corbin Cochran tweeted: “I should have transferred.  – every UMHB student doing housing.”

“My friends and I all thought if everyone got up at 5 it would crash,” Roucloux said. “I emailed housing at 5:40 and finished it at 5:50. In the meetings we had, they said it would only take 10 minutes.”

Associate Dean of Students & Director of Residence Life Donna Plank said even with the complications students should receive housing information on time with no one at a disadvantage because of the crash.

“The housing assignment process will go forward just as we have planned it, and the target date for sending out assignment information is still April 1,” she said.

“We will be working on making sure that the delays everyone experienced on Wednesday are taken into account in terms of their time stamp and will create a method that will level out the two days of the process in terms of time.”

Students were encouraged to call or email if the system didn’t work to save their place in line during the crash.

“We had a contingency plan in place.” Plank said. “I am happy to say that many students followed the plan when delays began happening and communicated with us. Unfortunately, there were students who didn’t.”

Information Technology is addressing the server failure and why the previous tests were inaccurate.

“We are truly sad that our servers caused frustrations in this process. While a process of this nature had never been attempted, we felt truly prepared for the challenge,” said Irvine. “Our team invested several months of work in coding and design to prepare for the process and we had performed several rounds of load testing on our servers. We did not see the communication issue in any of our testing.”

The university will continue to use the Internet for the housing registration process, but Irvine said the work is far from complete.

“This system, in its current form, will not be used in the future,” Irvine said. “The university has out-grown the effectiveness of the paper process, and we must use technology to assist. We need an online system for residence assignments, but we cannot have a repeat of the frustrations on Wednesday.”

 

Author: Evan Duncan

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