Network outages and outrage


Just about everyone was experiencing problems with the computer network recently at Pima Community College West Campus.

 According to an email that was sent out Oct. 11, the network is back up. Raj Murthy, the Assistant Vice Chancellor to Information Technology at Pima, “A part of a core router started malfunctioning and subsequently failed.” Chris Bonhorst, the director of technical services explains the problem as  The issues impacting the wired network at West Campus have been resolved by modifying some configurations and moving important network routes from one piece of hardware to another.

A replacement for the primary router at West Campus was ordered prior to these issues and will be put into service as a part of a larger redesign and hardware refresh strategy which will resolve the issues permanently.

” An email was sent Oct. 10. In it, the email noted that the outages were sporadic and usually lasted from one to three minutes. Other people, however, experienced much longer wait times to get back online.

The problems were network issues and not Wi-Fi issues, according to Bonhorst. “The issues we’re having right now are sporadic,” Bonhorst said. “I mean, they are frequent, but they are sporadic. They last generally one to three minutes. We’ve had some in 30 seconds, some a little bit more. You know, it varies.”  “There’s a whole team and even a couple of vendors or deep experts in this field,” Murthy, said. “We have, for example, Enterprise Network Solutions from Phoenix. As a matter of fact, they are onsite right now working on the problem. They’ve been doing it now almost for the last two days. They’re physically here. Juniper, the manufacturer of the equipment is working on it. all the people who are in the networking department are working on it too.” “We’ve been working 12- to 14-hour days, since this started,” Bonhorst said. “Very, very long days.” 

Almost everyone was frustrated by the outages. “It kinda sucks because I’ll be working on something or trying to check out my grade and suddenly the Internet just goes down,” said Nicole Hayden, a student. “I want to be able to do work. We use laptops in my science class and we’re currently working on a project, and if we’re spending the entire class time trying to actually get on the Internet, we don’t get much done.”  Not everyone on West Campus was affected, through.

Both the bookstore and the cafe at Pima are not reliant on the main network.  

“We have our own network that is run through Follett,” said Carla Durazo, a team leader at the bookstore. “It’s not affecting us because we are not on their network.” Follett is the company that operates the bookstore and the cafe. Other students didn’t notice the outages.  “We don’t use computers and stuff. It’s just discussion-based classes,” Ricky Hernandez said. “I haven’t experienced it.” 

The problem was localized to the West Campus. None of the other five campuses experienced the network crashes.   “If it’s going to spread, it would have,” Murthy said.  However, almost everyone still was affected, being that the Internet is a requirement for most aspects of college, from instructors that use Google Slides to students that are required to submit their assignments via D2L.  On any given day, there are 10,000 students at the West Campus attending classes, studying or using Pima’s resources. There are also many labs across the West Campus, and often grades are dependent on a student going to them.

In order to check in the students, they need the Internet.  At the American Sign Language lab at the West Campus, Ed Cantrell explained that it’s hard for them to keep track of the students that enter and exit; most of which need to be tracked for attendance purposes.  “It keeps us from keeping track of students,” Cantrell said, “as well as preventing students from using the workstation computers.”  The library also needs to be able to check things in and out to students. Last week, Daniela Buchberger, a library service specialist, showed how their system, Sierra, wouldn’t even log her in. They recently were scanning books and other items into a Word document and putting them on a cart, awaiting the network to come back online.  “When we process new books or if I run certain lists in our system to find missing items to help keep our collection up to date and correct mistakes, I can’t do that stuff right now,” said William Fuentes, a library service specialist. “I have stacks of books and new stuff that I need to process. I can try and do it but then it’ll just crash and I’ll lose whatever work I did, and it almost feels like I did nothing.”  Many other labs and centers at Pima declined to comment to the Aztec Press because they feared reprisal but they expressed their frustrations off the record. 

So, why has this been happening? And what exactly is going on? There’s no short answer, Murthy said. He couldn’t illustrate his point without drawing it out on a smart board.  “We have a pretty complex network to say the least,” he said. “And we recently had some hardware outages where the actual machine is broken. They had to be reconfigured. When we’re in this process of reconfiguration, the complexity of the network has made it difficult for us to pinpoint where exactly the problem lies.”