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SMC webmail to be revamped

Mandi Stirone | Thursday, March 27, 2008

Saint Mary’s students have recently been unable to log-in or send and receive e-mails with Zimbra, the College’s e-mail system, and also have noticed the system shutting down unexpectedly.

“It’s really inconvenient because I have a lot of professors who e-mail assignments in and it’s really hard to get those when it’s down a lot of the time,” sophomore Michele Peterson said.

Many have been getting frustrated with the inconsistency and how much the system’s problems appears to interfere with their everyday life.

“It’s just really frustrating since everything around here revolves around e-mail … and then family and things like that,” sophomore Tracy Chuckas said. “It can be bad when you need to e-mail your professor a paper and it’s down again.”

Other students have set their e-mail to forward messages to other programs so when Zimbra does go down, they are still able to access their e-mail through other avenues.

“It seems like it goes down at 2 a.m. and it’s usually right when you’re finishing something,” said sophomore Rachel Eisterhold, who set up a forwarding program with the help of her father so that she can always get her mail regardless of when Zimbra is down. “I set it up right before coming back this semester.”

Dough McKeown, Systems and Networks Administrator for the Department of Information Technology (IT), said Zimbra was applied to the Saint Mary’s network about a year ago.

It was chosen specifically to replace Aegis Webmail which was “dying,” he said. At the time, they had not budgeted to change the e-mail system, so Zimbra was chosen mainly for cost, he said. Former Chief Information Officer, Keith Fowlkes, chose Zimbra, McKeown said.

One major issue is that the program was operating in unnecessary areas, which was slowing it down, McKeown said.

“It was trying to do stuff that is built into the product that had nothing to do with mail that’s purely statistics and things like that. We’ve since disabled that,” he said.

It was disabled over the weekend of February 22-24, he said.

Another problem has to do with a bug built into the system when they purchased it, he said.

“It doesn’t matter, we have a buggy e-mail system currently. It works,” McKeown said. “I have yet to see mail get lost. Zimbra may lock up when you’re typing mail and you lose it, that’s one thing, but sending and receiving, it all eventually goes through.”

He added that every time the e-mail goes down he gets a message and he is being constantly updated on the problems with Zimbra.

In order to fix the entire problem, new CIO Janice Thomasson is presenting an IT blueprint to the Cabinet, which includes the college president and vice presidents, today, she said.

“E-mail and many other technology items will be approved [in the blueprint] and vetted to the entire Saint Mary’s community,” she said.

Soon after it is approved it will be made available for the students to read on the IT website.

Zimbra is being addressed in the blueprint, but the main problem might not be Zimbra itself, Thomasson said.

“Zimbra often gets a black eye with the Saint Mary’s community and it may not be Zimbra,” she said.

The main problem is with the amount of “all user” e-mails that are sent out to the students, she said.

“Anybody on campus can send out an e-mail to everybody. If just one of us does that, it clogs the network,” she said.

The number of e-mails that the entire campus receives every day contributes dramatically to the amount of time Zimbra goes down, she said.

“I’ve had people confess to me that they don’t even read any of those … They’ve said ‘if I see so-and-so’s name I just delete it’… I know those people don’t want their messages deleted,” she said.

Though it isn’t in her blueprint, Thomasson plans to discuss with the administration the possibility of limiting how many groups and individuals on campus are able to send mass e-mails to the entire campus community.

“Is it fair to let just anybody send out anything to all of us?” she said.

Something that brought this problem to her attention was the accidental false tornado warning that was sent out to Saint Mary’s last week, she said.

“It just surfaced since we had the tornado e-mail and Doug [McKeown]…he came to me and said, ‘you know yesterday Zimbra really took a beating.’ It was an immense load on the network…when you see something like that you immediately address it. You don’t take five years to address it,” she said.