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NetID problem causes outage

By Ellen Liu     4/4/12 7:00pm

Students accessing Rice Webmail and OwlSpace Wednesday morning hit a wall when they were unable to log in using their NetIDs. This blockage and shutdown of the "Rice Owls" wireless network later in the day caused IT to conduct a reboot of the NetID system at 5 p.m.

The IT problems started when one of the systems that provides authentication services for NetIDs suddenly slowed down this morning, according to Director of Networking, Telecommunications and Data Centers William Deigaard. A system-wide delay followed when the issue quickly spread across all of the university's servers, preventing students from accessing anything that required a NetID login, including OwlSpace, Webmail and the Rice Owls wireless network.

Manager of IT Technical Communications Carlyn Chatfield said she and the other IT managers were having a meeting on Wednesday morning when they got a text message that students were having NetID authentication issues. These texts continued throughout the day as the problems persisted and worsened, Chatfield said.

"Sometimes, the system students were logging into would time out before they could log in," Chatfield noted. "We started troubleshooting at that point."

Chatfield said Director for Systems, Infrastructure and Architecture Barry Ribbeck and his team began working on the problem around 10:30 a.m., meeting with other IT managers every hour for progress reports.

"We tried to diagnose the root cause so that it could be repaired," Deigaard said.

Unfortunately, because many university websites rely on authentication in some fashion, working around the slowdown was difficult, according to Deigaard.

Chatfield said IT eventually decided to turn the entire authentication system off and give it a chance to reset.

"We could not shut it down in the middle of the workday, so we waited until 5 p.m., when people would be done with classes and work," Chatfield noted.

Chatfield said IT estimated the reboot to only take 20 minutes, but it ended up lasting one-and-a-half hours.

IT Ambassador Yoonjin Min said she first noticed the NetID issue when she tried to log in to the Rice Owls wireless network around 11 a.m.

"At first, I just signed onto Rice Visitor and did not think twice about it," Min, a Jones College sophomore, said. "I did not use OwlSpace during that time, so the problems did not actually inconvenience me at all."

Min said she got a text from Chatfield around noon to let students know that the NetID authentication system was having issues, though the Rice Visitor network and non-Rice log-in on OwlSpace still worked, and updates could be found on IT's website.

"Not many students came to me about the problem, but I ran into some people and explained the problem," Min noted. "By noon, there was an announcement on OwlSpace that the NetID system was down."

Lovett College junior Victoria Yuan said she first noticed the NetID problems when she tried to access OwlSpace around 8 a.m.

"I was not worried about the outage until it started to be a problem for a long time," Yuan said. "I became concerned about the possible impact on registration if things did not get fixed."

Yuan said she thought IT responded too slowly to the issue.

"I don't know the process behind fixing the problem, but I would definitely suggest more monitoring to make sure everything is working," Yuan said.

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