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Slow Webmail access investigated by OIT

Maureen Mullen | Friday, March 3, 2006

While rushing is a way of life at Notre Dame, slower-than-usual Webmail service is frustrating students, faculty and administrators who rely daily on the Notre Dame e-mail system.

The slowed performance arose during the past two to three weeks, said Paul Russell, Senior Systems Administrator for the Office of Information Technologies Messaging Services team. Russell said OIT is working to address the situation.

“We are paying attention to the issue,” Russell said. “We are painfully aware of the problem.”

OIT has discussed and implemented both short- and long-term solutions, Russell said. There are a number of factors that affect server performance, and OIT is investigating the best way to proceed in addressing complaints, he said.

Russell said the Webmail problem is a complex issue that doesn’t have a simple or straightforward solution. Though Webmail problems have been the most prevalent, Russell said that all e-mail users have been affected by slower speeds, including those using Outlook Express and Eudora Mail. The difficulties seem to stem from mail servers interacting with other University servers, and changes made to one type of server affect the other.

Russell said it is difficult to find and maintain a balance that keeps everything working properly.

“OIT is presently tuning existing servers to optimize their performance at the moment,” he said.

Russell said that 10,000 to 12,000 people check their Notre Dame e-mail accounts at least once per day. Usage tends to peak during the late morning and mid-afternoon – and more users often means slower service, Russell said.

To adequately address the problems with slowed service, Russell believes the University will probably have to purchase and use more hardware for the service. However, since it is the middle of the semester, Russell said that other short-term changes would be more beneficial.

He mentioned temporarily reconfiguring a balance in the system. On Thursday, OIT tried switching Webmail’s support to one server in the hopes of speeding up page-loading, but the change did not alleviate the delays.

“We have been monitoring the service, and we hope that we’ll be able to implement effective changes and alleviate the problem quickly,” said Russell.

Several students said they were frustrated with the slowed e-mail.

“I have noticed the problem, and it’s really annoying,” freshman Amanda Gonzales said.

Though sophomore Alison Nowatarski was also concerned with the problem, she was relieved to know the issue was not unique to her computer.

“I definitely have experienced slow Webmail,” she said. “I didn’t realize it was a problem across campus. I thought my browser was just slow.”

Classics professor Andrew Faulkner said he has noticed the Webmail problems during the last month.

“On the whole, I think the system runs well, but I was experiencing some delays in being able to take attachments off of the server,” Faulkner said. “That said, I am not at all expert when it comes to computers, so I am most often unsure whether these problems are my own fault.”