Officials delay e-mail upgrade

The University has delayed a major e-mail overhaul until after graduation because of a hardware glitch in January that left students unable to access accounts for nearly a week.

The upgrade, which technology officials originally planned to finish by spring break, will now be implemented over the summer.

Webmail currently runs like a simpler version of Microsoft Outlook or Netscape Messenger in a browser window. The e-mail system is split in two parts – a server that receives, sorts and delivers mail and another, Webmail, which acts as the e-mail face.

While the current system uses software from different companies to perform the two operations, the new system will use one company for both functions.

A single product will likely simplify the process and make it faster.

Ron Bonig, executive director of Information Systems and Services technology operations, said his staff lost valuable time fixing the unexpected outage and had to delay the upgrade. The new system will not prevent rare hardware failures like January’s, but it will prevent the semi-regular software outages some students have come to expect with Webmail.

“The main improvement in the Web client should be that it is an integrated part of the new mail system provided by our vendor, and thus should be faster and more stable than the current third-party Webmail client,” Bonig said.

Most of the ISS upgrade centers around replacing the current Sun Internet Mail Server with the newer Sun ONE Messaging Server. Bonig said Sun ONE is quickly becoming the leading choice in e-mail servers for many large universities, including Georgetown and Johns Hopkins.

However, upgrading the current system to the new technology has proven to be a difficult task for the ISS staff, which is currently testing the product and relocating e-mail storage to a more fault-tolerant facility, Bonig said.

“(While there are few problems) operationally, the migration is challenging and needs to be planned and implemented in a rigorous manner,” Bonig said.

Despite improvements to the e-mail system’s Web client, the University encourages students to use a fully functional e-mail client, like Microsoft Outlook or Netscape Messenger, on their main computers and only use Webmail when they’re away from their rooms.

“No Web client is ever going to offer the functionality and the ease of use of a full mail client,” Bonig said.

Advantages to using a fully featured e-mail client include automatic message sorting and retrieval and advanced text editing. The new system will not offer these features but will give students spell check and HTML support.

Some students said they are looking forward to a smoother e-mail experience but wish the upgrade would happen before the year is over.

“The system clearly can’t support the number of users on a regular basis … It simply needs to be upgraded as soon as possible, without interrupting students,” junior Elizabeth Laich said.

Some other students said the delay is positive because the upgrade won’t interfere with schoolwork and classes.

“I’m actually really happy they aren’t going to finish it in time because, based on (ISS’s) past performance, an upgrade would probably result in them screwing things up for another five weeks,” freshman Sarah Rubenfeld said. “I’d rather have it down over the summer than when we’re in school.”

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