While many students were taking final exams on Friday afternoon, the University’s online course management and collaboration system — UVACollab — went offline for over an hour due to a “hardware failure on one of [the University’s] F5 load balancers,” according to Virginia Evans, the University’s Chief Information Officer.
“Our engineers are looking into the root cause, but it appears to be a random hardware failure, which happens very infrequently, but does happen,” Evans said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. The Collab outage lasted from 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. on the second day of the final exam period.
With all classes online, many University students are using Collab to take exams, submit essays and assignments, view syllabi and communicate with their professors. Professors also use the website to post assignments, make announcements and email students.
Evans stated that within five minutes of the outage, dozens of engineers from Information Technology Services began trying to diagnose and fix the problem. Evans noted that an outage is not expected to happen again.
“Unfortunately, once the actual problem was fixed, we had to re-start some systems, a process that just takes a little bit of time,” Evans said.
Third-year College student Avery Gagne was in the middle of taking an Econometrics final when Collab went down. Gagne was planning on taking another final later that Friday as well.
“I'm in the middle of the first part of my exam, and then Collab shuts down completely. I tried to refresh the page, but it doesn't reload. I tried it on an incognito browser, tried it on my sister's device ... I'm panicking because this is a big final,” Gagne said.
Gagne’s professors each had a different response to Collab shutting down. One professor extended the time for the exam by a few days, while the Econometrics professor designed a new exam and increased the time limit in case of another crash.
“If you had completed the [first Econometrics] exam before Collab had crashed you actually have to go and take it a second time for his class so we can be graded on a curve, which means there are some people in our class they're gonna have to take their finals twice because Collab messed up,” Gagne said.
Gagne felt that this malfunction exacerbated the problem of students having to choose their grading system — if they wished to opt-out of the default CR/GC/NC policy — before taking finals.
“Even if Collab's only down for one day, the rescheduling and redesigning of exams after we've already been forced to decide whether we have grades or credit forces students to make a decision before a situation based on information that has now completely changed,” Gagne said.
Like the majority of University staff and students, ITS employees are working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The staff’s normal procedures for handling issues remain in place.
“Working from home has been a relatively easy transition for our IT folks, fortunately, although, like everyone else, we will be happy to be back on Grounds,” Evans said.