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System crash hits US freshers

The crash of a student information system caused a serious disruption for thousands of US students at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

IT staff are still troubleshooting the problems while administrators work through what has become a backlog of cases.

The campus had recently upgraded the student information system that handles things such as registration, student aid and class schedules, and the problems arose after IT staff implemented a PeopleSoft portal.

The one-stop-shop portal with a more user-friendly interface replaced a homegrown web front end in July. After some bugs were worked out during testing, it went live in time for classes during the first week of September.

UMass spokesman Ed Blaguszewski said although the system worked slowly at times, its overall performance was satisfactory. However, it crashed completely on 7 September, and after coming live again, access was still slow and intermittent, resulting in a "major inconvenience".

While the cause of the crash is still unknown, it was apparently made worse when there was a heavy workload. 

"The result was significant confusion, frustration and inconvenience across campus, and the office information technologists worked around the clock to address the problems that affected 18,000 undergraduate and 6,000 graduate students," he said. 

When classes began some students did not know where their classes were or did not have class locations, requiring them to either wait in line at the registrar's office or go to the registrar's website.

Students also trying to add or drop classes were unable to do so. That prompted school officials to use e-mail blasts or post information online to assist students. 

The UMass staff, along with a third-party consultant and PeopleSoft officials, were able to troubleshoot the portal, Blaguszewski said.

As part of an interim work-around, IT staff made configuration changes and staggered portal usage by user types, requiring students and faculty members to log on at different times to prevent another crash. 

"The university community now has full access to the system, and we will monitor performance closely," Blaguszewski said. He noted, however, that there are still periods when the system is down. 

Despite the access problems, the underlying database was not affected by the crash, and student information was preserved intact. 

PeopleSoft spokesman Steve Swasey said the problem was not caused by the software.

Marc L Songini writes for computerworld


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