Notre Dame campus e-mail experiences server problems
By JASON McFARLEY
Reaching what Office of Information Technology (OIT) officials called a "critical stage" Tuesday afternoon, an extended outage of the University's electronic mail server was expected to be resolved by 8 a.m. today — nearly a full day after it brought campus online communications to a standstill.
"We're looking to restore the server by eight in the morning. We want to inspect files and make sure that everything is working properly," OIT senior technologist Jeremy McCarty said Tuesday night.
McCarty was part of the three-person OIT team that worked strictly on the server problem Tuesday and early today.
"That team works from the time the problem is discovered until it is under control," said Larry Rapagnani, assistant provost for computing.
On Tuesday, problems with Dagger, the University's e-mail server, first arose around 11:27 a.m., according to Rapagnani. Within an hour, the server was completely inaccessible to users of campus e-mail.
OIT representatives initially traced the malfunction to the failure of two drives on the server, said a senior OIT administrator. When the automatic back-up function of the drives also failed, officials scrambled to manually intervene and copy stored files by hand.
In the process, however, officials discovered a corruption in the metafile that holds the basic structure of the Notre Dame e-mail user's inbox, the senior administrator said. Officials had hoped to fix the corruption within two or three hours and restore the e-mail server by mid-afternoon Tuesday, but they were hampered by the discovery of another problem in one of the server's drives.
Rapagnani said his office was flooded Tuesday with calls from frustrated e-mail users unable to access their accounts. In response, telephone and voicemail messages were sent to faculty and administrators, alerting them that the difficulties were only temporary. Resident Computer Consultants also received calls.
Still, by 4:30 Tuesday afternoon — almost four hours after the server shut down — officials had deemed the outage in its critical stage. OIT representatives label an outage critical once it has passed the four-hour mark.
The last comparable failure of the University's e-mail server occurred over two years ago, Rapagnani said.
"This failure probably doesn't rank as a major problem when you look at it from the standpoint that the server hasn't been down in two years," said Rapagnani. "It would appear that we're doing a stellar job."
But that may have been of little comfort Tuesday to members of the Notre Dame community who have come to rely on the campus technology.
For junior Erin Wibbens, a psychology major, the unavailability of e-mail proved "a major inconvenience."
"It's been upsetting for me because I communicate with a lot of my friends and family members via e-mail. I can't afford to call my sister in Pennsylvania at Villanova University," said Wibbens, who checks her e-mail up to a dozen times per day.
While Lyn Spillman may not utilize her e-mail account as frequently as Wibbens, the sociology professor said she has nevertheless been inconvenienced.
"It's certainly been inconvenient. I do the majority of my business with my students and colleagues over e-mail," she said.
Realizing that many students, faculty and staff access their accounts in the evening, OIT officials initially hoped to resolve the server problems by Tuesday night. Rapagnani admitted Tuesday that the extended outage would negatively affect a lot of people at the University. He said, however, that any delays in restoring the server would be to ensure its proper future functioning.
Rapagnani said that in the past year, the server has undergone a number of upgrades to keep it working properly. A year ago, it received an operating system upgrade. Upgrades to the hardware and the e-mail packaging occurred over the summer.
The server is currently in need of another operating system upgrade, according to the assistant provost. He cautioned, though, that that has nothing to do with Tuesday's shutdown.
"The problem at hand is fixing current problems, and our three-man team can call on any level of resources they need," he said. "We want this problem kept to a minimum."
All News Stories for Wednesday, September 13, 2000