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Fourth-year students encounter SIS outage during peak course enrollment period

Piece of code within new SIS interface identified as problem

SIS had 28,000 active sessions open at 5:45 p.m., when the system began to see significant issues.
SIS had 28,000 active sessions open at 5:45 p.m., when the system began to see significant issues.

The University’s Student Information System experienced an outage Monday evening during peak course enrollment time for fourth-year students, roughly between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. A piece of inefficient code found within the new SIS interface has been identified as the likely problem.

SIS is used as the record system for all student-related information such as class enrollment, student finance, unofficial transcripts and grades, and teaching and exam schedules. This fall, SIS underwent significant upgrades in response to numerous complaints concerning the old interface’s appearance and difficult usage. 

However, the new SIS interface is likely the cause of Monday’s slowdown — which lasted until after 8 p.m.

“Obviously this is not what any of us wanted with our new student information system interface,” Chief Information Officer Virginia Evans said.

“Our vendors identified this piece of code that is likely causing the issue,” Evans said. “They're working around the clock to address it, and in the meantime, we have dedicated more resources. We think that will help, but it's not going to completely solve the problem.”

Evans says her team has added more servers, memory and resources in place to increase the processing capacity of SIS and keep this from happening again. 

“It didn't really start to look really bad until the afternoon,” Evans said. “As soon as we saw that, we started adding more servers and memory to make it better.”

During any class enrollment period, thousands of students are connected to SIS at once. This can put significant strain on the computer system.

“At 5:45 p.m., we had, we had 28,000 active sessions at that point — and that's when we started to see significant issues,” Laura Hawthorne, associate vice provost and University registrar lecturer in religious studies, said.

An active session does not refer to the number of students attempting to log on, but takes into account the number of times a user refreshes their page.

“We know that we got 28,000 active sessions at 5:45 yesterday afternoon … but that doesn't mean that we had 28,000 students trying to connect. What it means is that however many students we had trying to connect, they had 28,000 sessions open,” Hawthorne said. “If I'm a student, and I've logged in and then I refresh, now I've got two sessions, if I refresh again, now I've got three sessions.”

Hawthorne adds that the University is on the side of the students.

“It's important for folks to know that we are in complete agreement that this was a very frustrating experience, and it is not what we expect for our students,” Hawthorne said. “We are on the same page with you.”

Fourth-year College student Zachary Phillips was attempting to enroll in classes Monday when the system experienced slowdowns.

“I had all of my classes ready for my shopping cart … but then once I selected the classes and clicked enroll, that's when it took forever,” Phillips said. “That's when it started to crash. The page kind of disappeared for a little bit, and I wasn't sure if I had gotten enrolled in any of the classes I had selected … That was a little bit chaotic.”

Phillips says that as a fourth-year, he prefers the old SIS interface over the new.

“When we had the old version, SIS always worked for me during course enrollment … The old interface was very slow and not user friendly, but with my personal experience, I was always able to enroll without any issues,” Phillips said. “Honestly, I had learned how to use the system, and then U.Va. updated it and I have no idea how to use it. And now that it’s my last semester enrolling in classes, it has made it a lot more difficult.”

In 2017, SIS experienced a similar outage when many first-year students were set to enroll in classes for the 2018 spring semester. Although the exact cause of the outage was unclear, officials cited a large number of connections from first-year students currently studying in London that may have contributed to it at the time.

Despite Monday’s slowdowns, many students, including Phillips, were ultimately able to enroll in their courses.

“I do want to point out that most students who had appointment times yesterday … as best we can tell, it looks like they actually did get into classes,” Hawthorne said. “So as of this morning, nearly 4,000 students have enrolled in an average of 11.6 credits.”

Hawthorne and Evans sent an email to students Tuesday evening addressing the SIS slowdowns and apologizing for any difficulties in the enrollment experience.