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Computer system shuts down at SOU

ASHLAND — New hardware caused a campuswide crash of computer storage systems Monday morning, keeping all Southern Oregon University faculty, staff and students from using e-mail or accessing files — but the system should be mostly back online by midday today, officials said.

Teri O'Rourke, information technology director, described the problem as "a simple hardware malfunction with disk drives, controller and the software that talks to those computers."

In terms of its effect on teaching, she said it hit computer labs hardest.

"It caused a lot of damage to a lot of storage systems and the ability to log on to computers on campus," O'Rourke said. "The whole campus is unhappy, but there's a fix for it. We and our vendor, Hewlett-Packard, have been doing everything we can."

Blackboard, the university's course software for homework and grading, also has been experiencing problems, but they were unrelated to the hardware crash, O'Rourke said.

Hart Wilson, Blackboard faculty trainer, said students and faculty off-campus could not access the software. Technicians were going to reboot the system overnight, and Wilson hoped Blackboard would be fully functional today.

The school's Web site stayed online during the hardware crash. Student information and the financial system, when restored, will be undamaged, said O'Rourke.

An estimated 95 percent of systems should be up by this morning or at midday, with the rest online by Thursday, she said.

At the SOU computer lab, a sign warned students of the failure of e-mail, printing and saving data to personal drives (in the campus system) and urged them, if they're logged in, not to log out.

The crash took students back 30 years to a time before personal computers, said senior Katie Nofziger, a Spanish major.

"For people my age, who've grown up with computers and always had this technology, some people don't know what to do," she said. "I could turn in handwritten papers, but computers and printed reports are such an everyday part of life. It makes you realize what you have.

"So what I've been doing is focusing on reading chapters and hope the teacher will understand. I do the readings, even though I'm not able to type anything about them."

Nofziger lacks a printer at home and always downloads her work to a thumb-sized flash drive for printing at the computer lab. But on Monday morning, "I couldn't even log on. The teacher was very understanding about it."

SOU library computer lab manager Ella Greene said, "I've spent the last 18 hours, over two days, staffing the only printer on campus that was working, at the library. You couldn't log on, e-mail or print anything anywhere."

By Tuesday afternoon, several printers were working in the SOU computer lab.

Working his way through college partly on odd jobs around town, Sam Bledsoe, a senior in economics, said, "It's been difficult, nerve-racking to have resumes out and I don't know if anyone wants to see me for jobs. All my data is in my personal files (in campus hard drives), all my homework and a lot of information connected to financial work I do for other people."

Some students said they didn't have a lot of schoolwork in the Blackboard program, had set up e-mail with other platforms and kept files in their own hard drives, not those run by the university.

"I'm not affected. I don't have Blackboard," said Michael Searle, a political science senior. "I use my own personal e-mail. I do it all myself. I haven't adopted their system."

SOU security co-director Steve Ross said the crash "hasn't affected us too dramatically, just limited the access to our (case) histories and reports. But everyone's kind of not able to do a lot of stuff."

"It's always disturbing when computers don't work as they're supposed to," O'Rourke said. She noted that faculty e-mail was back online at midday Tuesday, and student e-mail was expected to be fully up by today.

"Campus IT technicians have been working alongside HP technicians," O'Rourke said. "HP has been the SOU vendor for 25 years, and HP is doing everything that its service and support agreement says it should do."

Reach freelance writer John Darling at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Southern Oregon University senior Michael Searle didn't let the school's computer problems keep him from his studies in the computer lab. Information technology officials expect most of the system to be back online today. - Bob Pennell