October 27, 1998

E-mail problems elicit complaints, prompt meeting

by Josh Renaud
of The Current staff

A lack of communication about a computer server outage over Labor Day weekend has some faculty members up in arms.

According to Paul Pratte, Manager of Administrative Computing, the UMSLVMA server's power supply exploded around 10 a.m. on Sept. 3, destroying 13 disks and corrupting the e-mail spool. The server was down through Sept. 5.

There are approximately 500-800 accounts on the UMSLVMA server, Pratte explained. Staff and faculty members are the primary users of the server and the server outage erased many incoming pieces of e-mail.

"The machine was broken, so it was impossible to send e-mail out," said Jerrold Siegel, Coordinator of Campus Computing. "The true vulnerability was incoming e-mail received in the window [of time] between the last server backup and the time the server crashed."

It was several weeks before news of the server crash reached many faculty members. Timothy McBride is a member of the Faculty Liaison Committee, whose purpose is to pass along information from the computer centers to the various academic departments.

"We got a letter on Sept. 24 that the server had gone down from Sept. 3 through Sept. 5, and some e-mail was lost permanently," McBride said.

McBride said he had serious exchanges with Siegel about the way the situation was handled.

"I don't think there was a problem with the way they handled the outage itself," McBride said. "The people over there work hard, and I know they tried real hard to fix the problem. It was the way it was handled after the fact that bothered me. It took them 19 days to tell us what happened."

Siegel said he felt that recent problems with the University postal mail service made the situation seem worse than it actually was.

"I think this caused some consternation with some people," Siegel said, "but I'm not sure it was totally reasonable. If it had happened at any other time, it would have gone unnoticed."

On Oct. 14, many concerns about the campus e-mail problems were voiced in a meeting of the Faculty Senate Committee on Physical Facilities.

"We had a situation where e-mail was lost in quantity, and one person was accused of not sending in a grant application through e-mail," said Political Science Professor Dennis Judd at the meeting. "[Siegel] could cut through the rumors and misunderstandings and fear; people are afraid of using e-mail."

Recently, McBride made a couple of suggestions to Siegel on how to handle similar situations in the future. He suggested a message be sent as soon as the e-mail service came back up, informing the faculty that they may have lost incoming e-mail and they should contact the necessary people. McBride also suggested putting a voice mail message on every staff and faculty member's phone.

"Siegel wrote back and said he thought they were reasonable suggestions," McBride said. "To his credit, Siegel has scheduled a full-campus meeting to discuss the problem. There have been all sorts of rumors and they need to be thwarted out."

The meeting will be held from 1-3 p.m. on Friday, October 30 in 003 CCB. The agenda for the meeting includes discussion of the e-mail problems over Labor Day weekend and the present state of campus e-mail. The meeting is open to any interested faculty or staff member.

Judd had high praise for Siegel's willingness to hold the meeting.

"I think that's a good step," Judd said. "I regard this as a very good precedent for communication on campus. I appreciate the chance to go to a meeting and have the problems explained to me in a non-technical way."

This article was reprinted with permission from The Current.

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