Reliability vs. Uptime

I’ve been doing some prep-work for our new Blackboard Learn environment that will be launched here at Palomar for Spring 2011 (knock wood).  Part of that is system documentation, and there’s a massive amount of procedural data that is included along with information like serial numbers and IP addresses.  Working through the operations workbook for our existing Blackboard 8 system I looked at some of our times at which we consider it acceptible to have the system down for maintenance:

There are daily and weekly windows when the system can be routinely backed up, where sluggish response times are acceptable. A short (up to an hour) window of system down-time is acceptable on the “Reboot Wednesday” times between 6 and 7 a.m. on the first Wednesday of each month. However, the only time when extended system down-time is acceptable would be during the annual windows.

Daily: 2 a.m. to 7 a.m.

Weekly: Saturday, 7 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Monthly: First Wednesday, 6 a.m. to  7 a.m.

Annually: The first full week in January, also any time window between the end of the Summer term and beginning of Fall.

Generally speaking we don’t use the Daily time windows, or Weekly ones, but we do try to restart all the servers on Reboot Wednesdays.  (This deals with several possible technical problems that may bring the system down unexpectedly.  If it didn’t help things, believe me, we wouldn’t do it.)  The support line and ticketing system seldom see any activity during these times, which leads me to believe that few people are impacted by those downtimes.

Whenever we do upgrades and significant maintenance to the Blackboard environment between semesters, we do receive quite a number of calls… but there really isn’t any way around that, sadly.

Obviously there are other times when the system may seize up, and it’s inaccessible to users.  We try to get things running again as quickly as possible, of course, but that sort of thing isn’t what we schedule for.  It is possible that if we do schedule more frequent maintenance windows, akin to what we do on Reboot Wednesdays, that we might see fewer or no other system seizures, though.

The reason I’m sharing all this is that I’m interested how the plans we have for Palomar measure up.  So, for Palomar faculty, please comment on this post and let me know how you feel about the idea of having more frequent, planned, system outages.  For non-Palomar faculty, please comment about how this sort of maintenance schedule measures up against what you’re accustomed to at your institutions.  I’d really appreciate hearing what everyone thinks on this topic!

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2 Responses to Reliability vs. Uptime

  1. Karen K says:

    David

    As a associate faculty member at Palomar I get to reply. :) CSIT 105 Spring 2010 – Palomar on Palomar bb.

    I have found that re-starting services nightly has done the trick for us over at MCC. I have a posted downtime — “Blackboard is unavailable daily from 3:45 am until 3:55 am for maintenance.” Before we were doing this we didn’t have issues often but as you say in your blog — it does prevent them. We have been snappier and pep-ier than ever this semester over here. Nobody has been upset about this as it is our least active time. Just 10 minutes (which the server comes back before — we padded it for the just in case).

    Maybe we shouldn’t have to, yes the argument could be made.. however this really has worked well for us. Happy Happy all semester.

    Karen K

  2. Gregg Kelley says:

    I’m all for the more frequent, planned outages if you think it helps. As both a student and instructor of online classes here at Palomar, I’ve had very few problems with Blackboard and welcome anything you do to keep it running more efficiently. I know we all appreciate the work you do to keep things running smoothly!

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