Middfiles was intermittently unavailable to students between April 5 and April 9. Users on campus were unable to access and store their files until the Helpdesk restored access.
Chris Norris, the college’s IT director, said the issues stemmed from a system malfunction. Data security and privacy remained uncompromised.
The technology Helpdesk sent students several emails while Middfiles was down outlining the series of issues related to the service.
The first email from the Helpdesk, sent on the morning of April 5, notified students that the internet and technology services (ITS) staff were working to resolve recent issues with service availability. The email assured recipients that data saved to Middfiles remained safe and secure, but that the community’s ability to access data was “intermittent or otherwise impacted.”
ITS resolved the issues by the morning of April 6, but the access issues resurfaced on the morning of April 9. Middfiles became available again that evening.
“Our current priority is maintaining service availability in light of the past few days,” Norris said on April 11. “We have a test environment now that we are working with vendors to test changes and I think that we are going to be very cautious about applying further changes until we’re confident that they not going to cause service degradation.”
Senior economics students working on theses were among those affected by the access issues. Dan Buchman ’18.5, an economics major, was running experiments involving multiple survey participants for his thesis, a study exploring how language impacts gender discrimination, when Middfiles access suddenly went down. Buchman is also a services consultant at the Helpdesk, and is familiar with how Middfiles operates.
The system malfunction caused Buchman to lose some of his observation data and forced him to reschedule experiments.
“Because Middfiles was down, I probably lost a fair number of observations, which means that my results have suffered,” Buchman said. “They’re basically insignificant, which is not the worst thing because it’s an undergraduate thesis, but had I had like 40 more observations, I probably would have been a little better off.”
Beginning in the spring of 2017, ITS worked to have students move personal files stored on home directories to Microsoft OneDrive, which all students have access to through their college emails, or to other services they might choose to use such as Google Drive.
“When folks migrated their files to either Microsoft’s OneDrive or the Google Drive environment, they were then able to access those files remotely with much greater ease,” Norris said. “It offered some other options such as being able to share files with people, which is difficult to do with your personal home directory on Middfiles.”
Sites such as Canvas have provided professors other ways to share files with their students. But Middfiles course directories remain important to professors who wish to store large data files that must be accessible to students, particularly in the economics department.
Norris said when Middfiles experiences glitches, they usually involve difficulties with service availability, such as the recent issues, rather than data security. Challenges to availability occur frequently, but the ITS staff has been able to rectify the majority of glitches before they result in widespread issues that affect many users.
According to Norris, maximizing service access and improving data security will continue to be priorities as the services are innovated going forward. Privacy has always been the primary focus of the ITS team, Norris said, and very rarely do issues arise that compromise the security of digital content stored to Middfiles.
As a member of the Helpdesk team, Buchman felt that the ITS department did the best job it could have in attempting to remedy the access issues.
“I was affected by this, but I also 100 percent understand that a fire was burning and they did not know what the cause was,” Buchman said. “I was in a very niche group of students that were affected, at least among students, because I know faculty and staff rely on Middfiles a lot.”
According to Norris, the recent thread of emails was sent deliberately as part of the ITS staff’s mission to communicate openly and transparently in dealing with tech issues that affect the community.
“I think that one of the things that we’ve learned over the years is that it’s really best to communicate openly about availability status of critical services when there is an issue to keep the community informed,” he said. “There were a number of emails that came out, and that was deliberate. We wanted to make sure that the community was being kept aware of the situation.”