Reliability vs. Uptime

March 31, 2010

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!

Big Brother is Watching

March 5, 2010

Sometimes I look through the statistics for this blog, to see what people are looking at (not much) and any data on how folks got here.  It can be amusing to see the search results that lead people here, but one I saw today I just have to comment on.  The search term was “can professors see if students have logged in”…


Dear students, if you are required to log in to a system, someone somewhere on the system is logging it, guaranteed.  In fact, the instructor has two related places where they can see the last day and time you accessed the Blackboard course:  the Performance Dashboard and the Grade Center.  So if your professor tells you that she’ll be docking points if you don’t check the course each week, she actually can tell, easily.

This blog may be “Blackboard for Faculty”, but I’m not above giving students the heads up: Big Brother is watching you.  Do your work.

Looking to the Future… Courses

March 5, 2010

Today I received a query from two faculty, who wanted to know how best to transfer materials from one course to another, with an eye towards setting things up for Fall 2010.  (Naturally I told them to do a Course Export from one, and an Import Package in the other course.)  However, it reminded me that some faculty might be wondering when the next semester Blackboard courses will be ready.

The Summer 2010 courses will be created on the morning of Friday, March 19th.  (This, of course, is right around the corner…  be ready!)  The Fall 2010 courses will be created on the morning of Friday, May 21st – right at the end of the Spring 2010 final’s week, and Commencement Day.  This is in keeping with part of our traditional course lifecycle pattern, to create courses 90 days before the semester they’re a part of.