Recently i tweeted about whether or not Universities should host services (like blogs) that are already offered free online. And asked if we are using our resources to Duplicate functionality that exists elsewhere. The response was overwhelmingly for university hosted services. @NadiaWh, a professor at the University of Montana, who is the driving force behind the UM Grace Case blog* said that it was helpful to have support from IT folks on campus for creating blogs. Kind of ironic is her tweet right before that.

“Funny, I can’t access the Grace Case blog to post. I’d like to think it was our loyal following but …. who knows. A bit maddening though.”

Her inability to access the blog on the day the verdict came in was because the server it was living on went down at 4:40pm on friday. Not only was it a Friday, but it was the Friday before finals, and Friday a week before graduation. This server was home to the university calendar, the blogs and the wiki’s for campus, each piece has become a very important piece of the universities web presence. The calendar is crucial at this time of year, parents are coming for graduation and will be looking to the calendar for updates on events and ceremonies. The wiki’s are being used for a number of classes, all of which have finals starting Monday. Professors will inevitably be forced to give alternative times for the final because students won’t be able to study.
The bottom line is that server outages are frustrating, regardless of who you are or the reason they went down. Companies who host these products, like wordpress.com put lots of dollars into uptime and it isn’t realistic to think that the University can financially compete in server power or uptime support. But it is important as @ronbronson pointed out that having the services sit on the universities domain, in our case umt.edu, “gives it legitimacy and represents a commitment that a ‘free’ domain doesn’t.” I’ve been working hard over the past couple of years to built and show that commitment on the part of IT, and in essence, the university. My concern is that if our abilities (specifically financial) on a hardware/system uptime level are lacking and we can’t provide the guaranteed uptime are we doing them a greater disservice by offering a sub par service?

* Some of the links in this post may not work until sometime Monday due to a server outage.