GWMail, GWeb revised over break

Over winter break, computer technicians worked around the clock to upgrade internal systems and install a new internet server for the 30,000 students and faculty who access the Web through GW’s computer server, University officials said.

The GWeb machine, which provides student services for registration, grades and other personalized information, was upgraded over winter break to curb slow class registration during high traffic times, said Jeff Baxter, communication coordinator for Information and Support Services.

GWMail, which made its debut last semester replacing the GWIS2 system, was switched to a new directory server from Jan. 5 to Jan. 7 to alleviate sporadic system outages, Baxter said.

“We weren’t happy with the service,” he said.

ISS anticipated no effect on students from the downtime and changes to GWeb, Baxter said, but some students were not be able to receive grades or access their schedules due to problems with individual Internet Service Providers.

Baxter said students who had trouble accessing GWeb after the system change use ISPs with outdated information, causing it to route the page request to the old GWeb machine. ISS updated on-campus servers to automatically point to the new GWeb machine, but off-campus domain-name servers could take several days to completely filter in the change, Baxter said.

ISS posted a notice on its Web site informing users that access problems arise from ISPs that have domain-name servers that do not refresh themselves slowly.

The directory server GWMail was using, which contains all of a user’s information – including the username and password – was unstable, putting a burden on the entire system, Baxter said.

“The e-mail was flying along, but when the directory server goes down, no one can log in,” Baxter said.

Dave Swartz, chief information officer of ISS, said the system’s performance has improved since the change.

“We’ve changed the directory server,” Swartz said. “We’re very pleased with the changes.”

Last summer the University spent more than $1 million to install a Novell internet along with other improvements. But Swartz said the system became “unreliable” and slow.

The price tag of the new Netscape server, which replaces the old Novell system, and associated upgrades to software and disk drives is about $40,000, Swartz said. He said he hopes these modifications will improve the speed and reliability of on-campus internet access.

“Much of the changes will be transparent as students may not really notice them,” Swartz said.

Swartz said changed or added accounts will take effect immediately, instead of the previous wait of up to two days, and said he hopes loading time for incoming e-mail will be significantly reduced or eliminated from GWMail.

Swartz said the change requires users to change their password to log into the system.

“People should get in the habit of changing their passwords,” he said. “By changing the directory server which is used for looking up people’s accounts and authentication, we’re in effect requiring them to change their password.”

Students and faculty who attempt to use their old password will be shut out of the system. Swartz’s office sent notice of new passwords prior to the vacation.

Swartz said he views the required change as an opportunity to ensure the security of GW’s GWMail and GWeb systems.

“I haven’t heard one single complaint,” he said.

The GWeb outage was scheduled over winter break to avoid interfering with class registration, Baxter said.

“We try and jam as much stuff in over summer or break so as not to disrupt the University,” he said.

Part of ISS’s goal for the changeovers was to “ensure the continued availability of service” so students would not notice any change, Baxter said.

“When people start noticing changes, that usually means something is wrong,” he said.

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