Difficulties plague AU's Internet

E-operations struggles to keep system clear

Despite efforts by e-operations, technical problems continue to plague AU's computer networks, frustrating students and faculty alike.

"It is a rare week when nothing is down for a day or two or a substantial part of the day," economics professor Robert Blecker said.

Network problems have increased as faculty and students become more dependent on my.american.edu and other AU Web portals. This has resulted in a significant increase in bandwidth demand, said Carl Whitman, director of e-operations.

"Inbound bandwidth is peaking at around 93 percent of our total capacity while other resources are also being constrained," he said.

Bandwidth deals with the range of frequencies in which information can be transmitted without distortion, according to Webster's Dictionary.

Freshman Lauren Jacobs said she has experienced "the Internet cutting off for several hours at a time and then only sporadically working after that."

Whitman said e-operations does not intentionally cut off Internet service to preserve bandwidth. But sophomore Debbie Royal said she does not understand exactly why there are suddenly more problems, and added that it's very inconvenient.

To address the growing concern over such problems, Whitman sent out an e-mail last week to the AU community explaining what the school is doing to address the technological difficulties. He said, "Many different factors have combined to transform what might have been simple problems into much larger and more complicated ones than could have been anticipated, including worm and virus attacks, network instability, e-mail response time and spam e-mail, and equipment capacity limitations."

He also outlined the University's plan to fix each type of problem, promising that the school is "continually seeking ways to improve their operations and the services provided."

"AU has major computer problems, and it's going to take a long time to fix all of them," Jacobs said.

Royals also said despite such ongoing work, she feels real progress is not being made or made very slowly, as "one day, it will start improving but then suddenly the network will be offline for the next night."

Whitman said it's impossible to set a definite timetable as to when all the technological changes will be implemented, as significant engineering changes must be made in the network to handle the heightened demand, but he expects all improvements to be fully in place by the spring semester.

Internet disruptions have caused problems for students as many assignments are posted on Blackboard and sent through e-mail.

"I have missed important updates, missed deadlines and have fallen behind in my work," freshman Kerry Chu said.

Some classes even administer tests online. Freshman Yuri Katata, who is enrolled in the Business 1.0 class, said "I haven't been able to do the online quizzes twice now," though she was able to retake the quizzes at a later date.

AU faculty members have had problems as well.

"We are losing work time as we are spending hours to do something that should only take a few minutes," Blecker said. He has also lost e-mails resulting in miscommunication between him and the sender.

"The slow and/or not-working Internet is part of the AU experience," Jacobs said.

However, freshman Shannon Conlon said, "The school is doing all it can do and not intentionally neglecting anything to meet the growing technological challenges."

Furthermore, faculty and students alike commend e-operations and all the AU technology staff for being very helpful.

"They are always responsive and write back quickly to address my problem," Blecker said.

Chu said, "The help desk people are nice. I call them so much that they basically know me."

In addition, the staff will launch a Web site in November that will have real-time graphs on what is happening on the network to keep everyone better informed about major technical problems as well as day-to-day issues. He also advised students and faculty to call the e-operations status line at x3535 for recorded updates on any network problems.

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