WEB EXCLUSIVE: Officials encounter more e-mail problems

Posted 7:45 p.m. Friday, Jan. 31-Students have been able to access Webmail since Wednesday night, but many users are unable to login because technology officials have limited the number of simultaneous connections to 500.

Director of Technology Engineering Bret Jones said technicians have “a couple of game plans” to restore a working e-mail system by tomorrow afternoon at the earliest, Monday morning at the latest.

“The system is having really poor performance,” Jones said.

While re-indexing messages to re-send to user mailboxes after last Friday’s severe hardware failure, engineers encountered another problem that is slowing down the e-mail server and disallowing access to some accounts.

Jones said technicians from Sun Microsystems, the company that manufactures GW’s e-mail storage hardware, believe the vast amount of data the server is attempting to process is causing the slowdown.

Information Systems and Services increased the quota of student Webmail inboxes from 20 megabytes to 25 this week in response to student concern about quotas filling up while e-mail is down.

“It was a difficult decision, one of the reasons we’re having the problem is because the quotas were so big,” Jones said. “There’s such a massive amount of data there.”

GW’s e-mail server processes about 150,000 messages a day, Charlie Spann, who runs the ISS help desk, told The Hatchet earlier this week. ISS will restore the quotas to 20 megabytes when the system is functioning normally again.

“Every time you log in and open your inbox, if you’re using Webmail, it loads all of that into memory,” Jones explained. “When you multiply that by five, six, seven thousand people, that’s a whole lot of memory.”

Leaving Webmail or home e-mail programs like Outlook or Netscape open can lower the system’s performance, but even if users log out the system sometimes still counts the user session.

“(Leaving programs open is) not helping, but even when you drop the session, Webmail sometimes doesn’t do it cleanly,” Jones said.

He said officials decided to limit the number of users on the system to account for the large amount of data the server is attempting to process.

“If we have more than 500 people in, the performance gets so bad that no one’s doing anything,” Jones said. “We think it’s better if 500 people can do something than have 1,000 people do nothing.”

Sun engineers have identified the cause of the hardware failure that brought the e-mail server down last Friday, he said. Part of the circuitry in the main engine that runs the controller, which allows students to view their Webmail inboxes, stopped working.

Jones also said the ISS staff is working on new approaches to re-sorting all of the e-mail files saved on the server to re-send to students.

“We will have a working e-mail system this weekend, regardless of how we have to do it,” Jones said.

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