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NetID locks out Rice

By Michelle Phillips     11/18/10 6:00pm

If you had problems using the Rice Owls Internet network last Friday, you weren't alone: A programming error on Rice's BANNER system locked all students out of anything that required a netID login, including Internet and e-mail. Most of the problems were fixed by 11:30 a.m. Friday, and registration and records were not affected.According to Systems, Architecture and Infrastructure Director Barry Ribbeck, not all systems were affected by the crisis - for example, lab machines still allowed students to log on and print, and the Rice Visitors Internet network still worked. Although the issues were resolved, Information Technology stayed late on Friday night to be sure the systems were all running properly, Ribbeck said.

Registrar David Tenney said the technological hiccups in no way affected registration on Sunday. According to Tenney, there were the usual number of PIN resets, but the night was otherwise quiet on a technology level.

According to Administrative Systems Associate Vice President Randy Castiglioni, Friday's problem was caused by a processor that failed to run properly and miscommunicated with IT services about the statuses of students.

In order to keep the computer systems up to date, Rice's automated processor checks students' statuses with information from the registrar twice a day, Ribbeck said. However, the processor mismatched data types, presenting IT with a format that it was not expecting.

Ribbeck said the needed information was therefore rendered "invisible" to the IT system, and the IT system acted according to the information it received.

"It thought the students were not registered for classes, and so it deemed them inactive," Ribbeck said.

Since only active students are allowed to use services like the Rice Owls network, all current Rice students were locked out of the system.

"It was not a big error, but it had a big impact," Castiglioni said.

While such errors are not unheard of in the 10-year-old system, he said, they are usually caught early. This incident is the first time the system has had a problem of this scale.

IT and Administrative Systems caught the problem at 8 that morning and had to go into the system to fix most of the problem manually before the majority of students could notice.

"In order to get people access, we couldn't wait for the processor to run again," Ribbeck said.

According to Ribbeck, all systems were restored to normal use by 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 12. Tenney said the technical fluke in no way affected any student records or ESTHER accounts. From the perspective of the registrar, the student accounts were never inactive, he said.

"We didn't even know there was a problem until some students called us," he said.

In response to the problem, Castiglioni and Ribbeck said they will be implementing extra checks on both ends and have interim solutions in place until they can implement more long-term checks in the next few weeks.

Castiglioni confirmed that there were no incidents from a systems' perspective during registration. Employees from the Registrar and from Administrative Systems stayed until 10 p.m. on Sunday during registration, and he said it was a relatively smooth night.

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