Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Paper and Pencil Campus -- Cheshirekitty speaks

I work at Northwest Missouri State University, known as "The Electronic Campus" since 1986, when we were the first university in the US with a comprehensive networked campus. We pride ourselves on how "wired" our campus is. Students can register for classes online, check grades in most of their classes online, and even finish one or two of our degree programs online. So what happens when the university's servers go offline?

Nothing. A whole LOT of nothing.

The entire university community was without email, where many timely announcements are normally made. (And obviously, sending an email to everyone to let them know how long the outage would last was out of the question.) Students could not sign on to computers in the computer labs even if they simply wanted to use Word, because signing on was dependent on getting onto the network. One student's laptop was stuck in a perpetual cycle of trying to download the latest Vista upgrade -- because he could not access the Web, the computer could chug hopelessly, then shut itself down repeatedly. Professors could not enter grades or accept homework from the course management software. One colleague, who had just returned from a conference, could not access her Outlook calendar -- and therefore did not know when or even if she had appointments or meetings today.

In my first class of the day, there were to be student presentations -- but the group of students had saved their presentation on "student storage", which can only be accessed through the server.

A rumor had circulated that the reason for the power surges that downed the servers was the Dierks Bentley concert held at Bearcat Stadium last night, but this was just local urban legend. Bentley's road crew came with their own generators, which were powerful enough that his sound check interrupted my 9 AM class yesterday (all the way across campus, I may add). Had the rumor been true, it would have given the Northwest Missourian a great headline: "Dierks Bentley Throttles Campus Internet".

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