Due to technical difficulties arising during the last testing phases for the system, students will not be able to register online for spring semester classes until Monday of next week. The software used, supplied by TouchNet, is not functioning at maximum capacity, and was slow enough for the university to decide to delay the entire process.
“This is one of those things that you absolutely could not have predicted,” University Registrar Nancy Speck said. “Technology is a funny thing, and it only needs to be one error in one spot in an enormous array of information – and no one could have predicted it.”
The system is made up of multiple pieces, and all must be coordinated for the entire process to work. The problem, it was discovered, occurred with the intermediary software.
“There are about five discrete units in a string that all have to work together simultaneously to make this happen,” Speck said.”There was the Web piece up front, the software in the middle that we purchased and then the mainframe at the back end.”
“We have brand new architecture that’s in ITS, and in the middle there’s a piece that TouchNet puts its software in. That piece is having difficulty communicating out one side and out the other side.”
It was not until the system was tested in recent weeks that the problem was spotted, when the final pieces were being put in place – a problem impossible to prepare for.
“It is a piece that we could not have predicted until we put all the pieces together in a production string,” Speck said.”We began to load test it and there would be a certain point at which the system would simply not respond.”
This is a crucial piece of the process, as the system must be able to withstand large numbers of students simultaneously logged on,
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which the university has simulated in attempts at testing the full capacity of the program.
“We wanted to ensure that the application could withstand rather incredible loads during course registration, and we’ve been testing for the highest load scenarios possible,” ITS Information Analyst and Class of 2003 graduate Daryl DuLong said.
As of now, the application is simply too slow for use in a real time situation.
“[The system] is not ‘broken’ broken, it’s that it’s too slow for student activity,” Speck said.””[The pages] are not loading fast enough. I want to guarantee that 500 students can sign on simultaneously and not experience any drag on performance”- we’re not there.”
University staff feels that delaying registration a week was a decision that had to be made and was best for students.
“No one’s hurt by our delaying the registration a week,” Speck said.””What I think is true is students will be better served because we did wait, and make sure we had done everything we could to make it successful.”
“Since we’d rather not roll out a shoddy, unstable product, the call was made to push registration off one week to allow us to troubleshoot and repair the issue,” DuLong said.
Secretary at the Registrar’s Office Emily Laduque noted also that the staff understands students’ concerns and every action is being taken to ensure students can still take advantage of the new registration process.
“I know that it is frustrating for students, because this is something that they really want, and I want to assure them that we are doing everything that we can to get this up and running for next week,” she said.
The problem, specifically, resides in a piece of proprietary code belonging to TouchNet, which they are currently working to repair with members of their staff also on-site at UR. Now that the problem is isolated, it is hoped a solution will be produced by the end of the week.
“Right now it still belongs to the vendor so they’re working at it on their end,” Speck said.””We expect to have a solution or at least a completed diagnosis and a solution this week. Earlier would be better than later but we do expect a solution this week.”
The company itself, also, was surprised by the glitch, and had not come across anything similar in the past.
“It was absolutely not predicted,” Speck said.””[It was] nothing they had ever seen before in all their years of implementation.”
If and when TouchNet brings a resolution to the problem by the end of the week, the university will again run final tests of the system.
“We are not involved in the solution that the technical folks are working on,” Speck said.””When they are finished with what they believe is the solution then we’ll be called upon to test the system again.”
DuLong stressed that all parties are making concerted efforts to get the program up and running. “We are working as hard and with as many resources as possible to get the application to a desirable state,” he said.
Students are expected to be contacted by Friday afternoon with notification of progress. Paper registration forms will be mailed out in the event the system is not functional for Monday’s registration beginning at 8 a.m.
“If for some reason we do not have a final and really excellent solution to the current issue we will conduct registration next week as planned,” Speck said.””My fervent hope is that we will not be doing it with paper, but we are prepared to do it that way if we absolutely had to.”
Students have mixed feelings about the registration process and the delay.
“I feel like there’s no communication between the university and the professors and the students,” said junior Ethan Craig. “With the PIN numbers, professors don’t even know about it.”
“I don’t really care,” freshman Beth Jeffries said. “I’m going to register either way so it doesn’t really matter when I do it.”
Beginning Monday, registration will proceed normally, with seniors on the first day, juniors the second and underclassmen the following days. Registration will also be extended an extra week to December 5 if the online system is up and running in the immediate future.
In the meantime, it is expected everything will run as planned after the week’s delay, and all parties are looking forward to making a smooth transition to the new method.
“I think everybody has an investment in having this work and work successfully,” Speck said.
“I think they will find a solution.”
Linden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.