Emory Report

September 20, 1999

 Volume 52, No. 5

Growing pains challenge technology infrastructure

Trouble logging into e-mail. Can't update web files. Web phone directory seems to be on the fritz. These and other occasional glitches are just symptoms of Emory's technology infrastructure growing pains that became very public during the first few weeks of the academic year.

"We've had problems the last couple of weeks," said Don Harris, chief operating officer of the information technology division (ITD). "Much of it had to do with the sheer volume of activity. We've had all the activity associated with the start-up of the school year, and add to that tremendous growth in our Internet traffic, traffic on the network internally, an increase in the number of e-mail messages being sent and the increase in the use of LearnLink among College students. This has affected some of the services on campus."

An apt metaphor to denote the situation on the Emory network is to think of the Atlanta highway system. Delays occur because some roads are under construction, some two-lane roads need to be widened to four lanes, and there are accidents off to the side that cause traffic to slow. But sometimes traffic jams up simply because there are too many cars on the road.

Harris gave these examples to demonstrate the increased volume, both on the network and in ITD services. He said ITD:

  • added 500 new network connections in residence halls; many rooms now have two network connections, not just one.
  • helped 750 students install computers in their dorm rooms.
  • estimates that 94 percent of college freshmen and transfer students either brought a computer to campus or expect to get one soon, based on survey results.
  • now offers "roaming profiles"-once you login to any computer on campus, your personal Internet bookmarks and e-mail address books are presented in the browser.
  • offered 16 training sessions to some 1,200 new students.
  • logged 870 calls to the help desk in one day during late August, four times the usual daily call volume. In August 1997 the help desk received 338 e-mail calls for help; this August that number increased fourteenfold to 4,900.

"What we're dealing with is the weight of all this activity on the infrastructure," said Harris. "It affects our servers and the services we offer."

The online web phone directory is a case in point. Harris said that the old directory used a shareware application that had limitations which caused it to drop names when the database it hit a certain size. When ITD quickly switched to a new software approach that would accommodate a larger number of users, some data fields were incorrectly handled and there was a lack of documentation to help users know how to search the directory. The old system has been reinstalled temporarily, and they hope to have a new directory up and running soon.

"A lot of what we're trying to do is increase communications with key IT people outside of ITD," said Harris. "We've set up impact reports to get the word out to schools via e-mail­if it's working­or we can use voicemail to let them know what's going on and what we're doing to fix things."

"These notices are critical to the user community," said William Morse, director of information services for the schools of public health and nursing. "I'm optimistic that this notification system will work well in the future."

"As we go forward, the new governance structures of the Council on Information Resources and Technology and the ITD Advisory Council will help us set priorities," said Paul Morris, vice provost for information technology. "There's always a tension between spending for new services and spending to meet the expanding demand for existing services. We've heard clearly that there is more demand for network bandwidth and more demand for Web services. As more people run their own systems outside of ITD, there is a need for greater security and authentication. These governance groups will advise the University on the direction it should take to provide budget support for these issues."

­Jan Gleason

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