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Director's Chair"The Director’s Cut"

As we begin to rely more and more on technology, we sometimes take for granted the benefits we have when we have them – until we don't.

On the evening of Thursday, January 30, 2014, the University's Internet connection went down for 5½ hours. "Wait! That's not supposed to happen," you say, "because IT@Sam has a redundant fiber 'loop' that allows for one side to kick in should the other side experience issues." You would be right. But, as with any technology, there can be issues, and having a redundant line is unfortunately not a guarantee of 100% uptime.

While we still don't have a full report from our internet service provider (ISP) yet, we apparently experienced a technology failure on one side (which could stem from a number of items) and a fiber cut on the other side (which is typically due to construction).

For anyone on campus when this type of an outage occurs, the problem is somewhat mitigated – our internal loop allows for access "out" from campus. But with outage occurring after regular business hours, many had already left campus. Not having access into campus can be a major issue for faculty and students who need to get to Blackboard for their classes, and to staff or faculty who may need off-campus access to conduct University business.

And this type of service downtime is complicated.  Over the past few years, as we have added to the menu of technology programs and services, we have made an effort to build in a particular efficiency for our faculty, students, and staff: single-sign on. SSO is defined as "a session/user authentication process that permits a user to enter one name and password in order to access multiple applications." Unfortunately, given the nature of SSO, "a loss of their availability [in our case, internet access] can result in denial of access to all systems unified under the SSO," which is what we experienced for those programs we access through the Internet until access was restored. [For more info, see: http://searchsecurity.techtarget.com/definition/single-sign-on or
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single_sign-on.]

While on-campus and with all gears clicking, SSO is wonderful, but when there are issues, it can be a huge hindrance to any productivity. We do strive for 99.9% uptime, which translates to only 8 hours of downtime for the entire calendar year. [In 2013, we reached 99.99% uptime, and we consistently meet or exceed 99.9%, although that is small consolation at the time your class or work in inaccessible.] 

So, what are we doing to ensure the chances of downtime are reduced even further? We do have a "failover" site with a sister university for true disaster recovery, but it is not a fully active site to which we can simply switch over.  We are looking into a more robust site to which we can failover with more (if not full) functionality.  And we're researching the feasibility of additional coverage (e.g., a "double loop").  As with any initiative, feasibility and funding are under review. 

In closing, I'd like to highlight Black History Month, celebrated every February.  Specifically in reference to technology, I'd like to give a nod to African American inventor Otis Boykin (1920-1982).  Hailing from Dallas, Texas, Mr. Boykin's "noteworthy inventions" include "a wire precision resistor used in televisions and radios and a control unit for the pacemaker." Now, that's technology that some folks can't live without! (For more on Mr. Boykin, see: http://www.biography.com/people/otis-boykin-538792)

 

Stephanie Fors
Director of Client Services
Sam Houston State University
stephanie@shsu.edu
936.294.1049 phone

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