October 3, 2003

Greater Internet demands complicate online

Michael Hertzberg, a fourth-year in the College, will not be taking art history this quarter, even though he needs the course to graduate. Hertzberg tried to register for the class on September 25 but was unable to because of problems with the Office of the Registrar's new Web site, cMore. The site is designed to make the administrative services of the University more accessible to students, but has so far created quite a few headaches.

When Hertzberg attempted to access the site just after noon on Thursday, September 25, he found the system running extremely slowly, too slowly to allow him to register for his desired class. Later in the week he tried again, only to find that all the spaces in the class had been filled.

"In my three years here I have never had a harder time registering for classes," Hertzberg said. "Other than that e-mail thing last year, this is the most inconvenient thing that has ever happened to me while using the University's services."

The inconvenience experienced by Hertzberg, as well as many other students in the University, is the result of a system that is not up to the demands of the University community concerns.

Networking Services and Information Technologies (NSIT) reports that it has had performance issues with the various Web sites that students use to view and change their personal information as well as register for classes. Between 9am and 4pm on Thursday, September 25 and from 10:15am to 3pm on Friday, September 26, the system ran very slowly, and timed out in many cases, making it difficult or impossible for users to register quickly.

Most students were forced to delay their registration until the site was running properly. These glitches were the result of overall system usage levels that were double what had been experienced through past years, creating such a high volume of traffic that the registration and course database was unable to process all of the various queries and updates.

By the weekend, once the number of people trying to access the site had decreased, the system returned to normal operation. Throughout this period, NSIT made changes to the database that have improved performance. It also has plans to completely replace the aging site by the next academic year.

Last year there were 3.5 million hits to the University's various sites, and over 80 percent of that activity occurred during the weeks directly preceding the beginning of each new quarter.

"This year, given the activity we've seen, the system has been hit overall about 40 percent more than last year," said Alex Henson, director of student and development applications at NSIT. He reported that on Friday, they received over 150,000 hits, with 90,000 occurring between the hours of 10am and 3pm.

"This was in addition to thousands of confirmations, address updates, and other student web activities going on, and on top of the daily usage of the registrar, bursar, and various deans' offices."

NSIT's troubles are the result of changes being made by the Office of the Registrar, which sees online services as being an integral part of their future. "I want administrative transactions that are necessary to be available through the easiest method possible," said Thomas Black, university registrar.

Black said that eventually students will never have to visit the registrar's office for bureaucratic procedures. He wants to create a service where students can take care of their business on their own time, in the privacy of their own homes, leaving the registrar's office as a place for what he calls "quality time," devoted to advice and counsel.

Students will begin to see more and more of the University's services become available online. "This is what I think students have come to expect," Black said.

But making the transition is not easy. "Any flaw is unacceptable," Black said. "Students call up frustrated because they don't know why they are unable to complete their transaction. They should know that in two years it's going to very good. It just takes time to get things running smoothly."

As for Hertzberg, he said he'll be all right. He can take art history next quarter, and, either way, he thinks the new electronic system is much more convenient than the old clutter of paper and ink.