‘Catastrophic failure’ knocks out tech for 21 hours

Illustration by JP Bernal
Illustration by JP Bernal
Illustration by JP Bernal

Students and faculty college-wide were without access to email and assignments this weekend after what Lee Colaw, vice president for information technology, called a “catastrophic time server outage.”
“The time server is the heartbeat of all the electronic communications operating at Amarillo College,” Colaw said in an email to students and employees. “The Datum Inc. Time Server that crashed was purchased in 2001 and had a flawless life of approximately 14 years without a single incident.”
Problems first began appearing about 9 p.m. Saturday night when students and faculty began experiencing issues logging into AC Connect, the student and employee portal, and Blackboard, the site that provides access to assignments and class information.
By 7 a.m. Sunday morning, IT staff had found the cause of the outage and began working on a solution. Students and employees were informed of the outage by email at 10:27 a.m.
“Early this morning Amarillo College experienced a catastrophic time system failure making our computer systems think it is September 17, 1995,” Colaw wrote, adding that functionality for employees seemed to be restored, but student access was still unavailable.
Colaw encouraged instructors to take the outage into consideration in regard to assignment due dates. About 5 p.m., the same emails were sent to personal emails not on the AC Connect system.
By 6 p.m. functionality had been restored to students, but there still were connectivity and access issues. Colaw said a replacement, along with a redundant device, have been ordered to replace the crashed server.
Students attempting to take advantage of the next-to-last weekend before finals to catch up on assignments said they were left with no way to access class information or emails.
“This was super-catastrophic, especially for the ones who wait until the last minute,” said Jay Long, a general studies major. “It was super important, since these are the last two classes I need to graduate.”
Long said while he was unable to complete the assignments during the weekend, his instructor allowed extra time due to the outages.
Other students said though they were able to access AC Connect and Blackboard, Internet connectivity and software functionality seemed to have taken a hit.
“It made browsing difficult,” said Petterson Pham, an English and computer science major who works on the fourth floor of the Lynn Library. “Students that were allowed to get on, it put security locks on the most harmless websites, like Google.”
Jeramy Jennings, an art and graphic design major, said PhotoShop lagged on some computers, making work on projects difficult. “That’s an inconvenience,” Jennings said.

Building locks also appeared to malfunction during the outages, leaving doors that were on computer-controlled time locks unsecured for several hours.
Communication coordinator Joe Wyatt said he was unsure whether the lock malfunctions were related to the outages, but there did not appear to be any lasting effects when classes began Monday morning.
“I guess it was primarily a weekend problem,” Wyatt said. “No one’s complained to our office.”

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