By Sean O'Malley and Mary Alice Casey
Ohio University's Office of Information Technology will continue to monitor and address problems caused by a power outage last week that created a series of IT system interruptions.
The university's Computer Services Center experienced the outage Tuesday, June 24, when an electric breaker tripped. The data center's battery backup gave OIT staff enough time to shut down the university's critical server systems before their reserve power supplies were depleted, but the outage also caused a sharp temperature rise in the machine room.
"Facilities staff later discovered a failed component of the air conditioning system, possibly the original cause of the power outage," said Harry Wyatt, associate vice president for facilities.
Because server systems and disk arrays are highly sensitive to heat, a temperature spike can have delayed effects on some components and increase the chance of malfunction. Such was the case with problems the Blackboard course management system experienced this weekend.
Chief Information Officer Brice Bible said OIT is working around the clock to monitor and address remaining issues.
"We're doing this in a very systematic fashion," Bible said, noting his staff is checking each system thoroughly and replacing stressed components as needed. "The OIT staff is systematically going through all systems that were affected by the outage so that if there are problems, we are replacing equipment proactively before it fails.
"We are very focused on addressing systems that affect the end user most, in particular Blackboard because of its importance to academics, the Oracle financial system, the student information system and e-mail," Bible said. "Our focus has been and will continue to be on the systems that our academic community relies upon most."
According to Bible, OIT already was scheduled to move Blackboard from the university's older storage system to a recently purchased storage environment. The problems this weekend forced that move to occur earlier. The Shibboleth system, through which users enter their OAK IDs and passwords to log into certain applications, also moved to the new storage system ahead of schedule. Problems with Shibboleth prevented individuals from accessing the Blackboard 7 pilot and the university's eBill system.
Bible equated the overall situation -- albeit on a much larger scale -- to the glitches individual users face when their personal computers quit unexpectedly.
"Think about that being magnified many times over when you have multiple servers interfacing," he said.
OIT staff members have put in about 250 hours since last Tuesday to address the situation, Bible said, estimating the labor expense at about $10,000.
"The equipment expense is fairly minimal," he added, noting that it will be some time before a full picture of total expenses is known.
Bible said the problems underscore the need for an IT improvement plan that he presented to the Board of Trustees last week. The plan calls for the investment of as much as $46 million for network and systems improvements.
Students and faculty use the Blackboard system for assignments, timed tests and quizzes, and for access to course materials.
Instructors who need assistance arranging for students to retake tests or resubmit content that was in progress when the system went down should contact the OIT Service Desk at 740-593-1222. Students have been notified about the outage as well and should contact their instructors if they had trouble submitting an assignment or taking a scheduled test.