University e-mail shuts down

Students, faculty, and administration should experience better performance from the university e-mail system starting in the new year.

After the university experienced an e-mail outage in December, Information Services and Technology (IST) transferred the old e-mail system onto a new storage device, which can process transactions faster and has twice the storage capacity of the old storage device.

The e-mail system was shut down on Dec. 8 at approximately 4 p.m. but was back online on Dec. 9 at about 3:15 p.m.

During the outage e-mail users experienced slow performance because the old back-end storage device wasn’t processing e-mail transactions fast enough.
Mike Langedock, chief information officer for IST at the U of M, said the e-mail system is the critical hub of everything that happens between students and faculty and between the university and the external community.

“I’d call [the] situation a crisis,” said Mike Langedock, in an e-mail response. “To have to shut [e-mail] off is a pretty dramatic step,” said Langedock. “I’ve never had to do that in the past.”

Langedock said the root cause of the problem was the back-end storage device, which shares e-mails and attachments across the university system.

The device had enough storage space for all of the emails on the system but it was not able to process email transactions fast enough, he said.

Langedock explained that e-mails were entering the system, or “queuing up,” faster than they could be processed.

Langedock said the general size of the queue is 3,500 e-mails but before the system was shut down there were over 10,000 e-mails being processed and up to 40,000 in the queue.

There are roughly 36,000 e-mail users on the university system.

Langedock said that almost everyone using the university e-mail system would have experienced slow performance, to the point where some users would have been disconnected from the e-mail system and forced to restart it.

Langedock stressed that during the outage no e-mails were lost.

“By upgrading to the new storage device we’re talking leaps and bounds of performance movement,” said Langedock.

Langedock said that the university is also moving faculty and staff from the old Cyrus e-mail system to a new Microsoft exchange e-mail solution.

Langedock said the student e-mail will remain on the Cyrus system until the end of the academic year but IST is looking at moving the student e-mail onto a cloud-based system.

John Danakas, director of the Marketing Communications Office at the U of M, said the effects of the outage were not limited to administration. He said students, academics, and researchers would have been impacted too.

Danakas said the administration started experiencing “sluggishness” around the week of Nov. 29 and outages the week of Dec. 5.

Danakas explained that the end of November is a “peak period” for e-mails. He said the increased strain on the old storage device was caused by the volume of e-mails that the current user base adds to the system.

“More e-mails and e-mails with larger attachments are becoming more prevalent,” Danakas said.

Cameron Morrill, president of the U of M’s faculty association (UMFA), said UMFA relies on the e-mail system for communicating with their members.

“We did not know whether members had received our e-mails at all or to what degree they had been delayed,” said Morrill.

During the e-mail outage, Morrill was in the process of submitting an article — co-authored with his wife, Janet Morrill — to an academic journal.

Neither he nor his wife received an e-mail from the editors of the journal to say their article was available for a final edit, it took them a few weeks to discover the problem.

“It was a sort of a minor thing but if it had gone on for more than a couple of weeks it could have been some serious trouble,” said Morrill.

“The ‘e-mail issue’ affected [the department of] chemistry quite strongly,” said Peter Budzelaar, head of chemistry at the U of M in an e-mail response.

Budzelaar said students could not get in touch with their instructors and the department could not contact potential international students.

“We were in the middle of two tenure track position searches with strict deadlines when this happened so applicants got pretty upset about not being able to meet deadlines,” said Budzelaar.