The University’s Student Information System experienced an outage last Thursday evening when many first-year students were set to enroll in classes for the 2018 spring semester.
The outage, which lasted just over seven hours, began sometime Thursday evening and was resolved by University Information and Technology Services by early Friday morning.
“The outage started at 5:48 p.m. — that’s when we first found out about it on [Nov. 9], Thursday evening, and we got it resolved at 12:51 a.m. on [Nov. 10],” said Teresa Wimmer, the University’s assistant vice president for enterprise applications.
Wimmer said the exact cause of the outage was still unclear but cited a large number of connections from first-year students currently studying in London that may have contributed to it.
“We saw a high volume of users logged on during the timeframe where we had the issue,” Wimmer said. “We had over 6,000 user connections from London. We do have a program this year where there are a bunch of students studying in London for their first semester.”
Wimmer also identified hundreds of repeated connections stemming from individual student accounts as possible factors in the outage.
“We also saw many, many students, where the same user account logged on hundreds of times,” Wimmer said. “It was certainly a stress on the system — the database server itself could not keep up … With the volume of requests that were happening.”
“We do not know what caused that or the root cause of it yet — we’re still investigating that,” Wimmer added.
Wimmer said that the outage was unprecedented in comparison to previous years, as the SIS enrollment process has not historically experienced technical issues.
“This is an anomaly that we haven’t seen at this point,” Wimmer said. “That’s why we are continuing to look at it. We actually see our biggest peak of activity in the student system … when high-school applicants are trying to see if they got accepted. That’s the largest volume of users that we see and we've seen performance issues during that time, [but] we have not seen it during enrollment.”
In terms of replacing SIS with a new student system platform, Wimmer said that Thursday’s outage would likely not be a factor in that decision but predicted that potential alternatives were likely to emerge in the near future.
“We would move to a new student system only if the functionality, supportability and usability met the needs of the University of Virginia,” Wimmer said. “An incident like we had on Thursday, which was an anomaly, would not be the reason. Once we identify the root cause, we will be focused on correcting the issue so it does not happen again the future.”
Wimmer said students still struggling with class enrollment should contact the University Registrar but that she was currently unaware of any major conflicts involving first-year class scheduling as a result of the outage.
First-year College student Jenny Ding said she was about to enroll for classes Thursday when the outage occurred.
“I had everything ready, and all my classes were open, and I was waiting to sign up, and then [SIS] went down,” Ding said. “I just ended up sitting by my computer all day and refreshing and then got in at midnight and got my classes.”
Ding also said she was not contacted by the University or ITS about the occurrence of the outage or when it had been resolved.
“I didn't even know it was going to come back up until some of my friends told me it was back up again,” Ding said. “The whole process seemed really inefficient and terrible in general because it was not good for us who had later times.”
First-year College student Christian Cook also ran into the outage during his enrollment time.
“I had all of my classes in my shopping cart, and as of 4:30 they were all still open, so I was expecting to be able to enroll in them no problem once my time came around,” Cook said. “My appointment was at 5:45, so about 20 minutes after the crash.”
Cook also said that he did not know SIS was functioning again until he heard the news from his friends and lamented the lack of notification from the University.
“I didn't find out it came back on until everyone else did, and of course when I went to go enroll, all of the classes in my shopping cart had ‘Waitlist’ on them,” Cook said. “I was kind of frustrated about that because some of them had no other sections that I could get into. Fortunately, most of them did have other sections that I ended up getting, but the timing is kind of bad and not what I really wanted in the first place.”
“I was expecting some sort of email [from the University,] but nothing really came [and] that kind of threw me off a little bit, so I really didn't know what was going on in that respect,” Cook added.