When a hard disk on the u.arizona.edu system failed last Wednesday, an estimated 4,700 users lost the ability to access their electronic mail.
The disk, which stored the information for 4,727 users in two of the system's 29 user directories, failed Wednesday afternoon. As system administrators diagnosed the problem and diverted incoming mail, people logging into the u.arizona.edu system were met with a bulletin that announced some users' email would be unavailable.
The failure, which signaled the end one of the u.arizona.edu system's eleven 4-gigabyte hard drives, was nothing out of the ordinary, said Mark Westergaard, principal computing maanager with CCIT's user support. No incoming information was lost, backup files from tuesday meant a near-identical copy of the disk was readily available, and all incoming email was eventually rerouted to the owners once the problem had been corrected.
According to Westergaard, "They (the disks) die every so often."
While such a failure may not be out of the ordinary, its nonetheless plunged a large number of people into an unfamiliar situation - Life Without Email.
Pacing the Void contacted a few such users and asked them how the failure affected their day. Their replies speak for themselves:
".. it did cause me some problems. Worst of
all must have been the fact that I was
allowed to see that I had six new messages
and was unable to view them, but then
waiting and not knowing are the greatest
agents to insanity."
-El Ministro del Travieso
"..the only problem I had when the system crashed was I was supposed to get
an email from my girlfriend back in Montana telling me when to call her,
and when the system crashed I got into trouble because I didn't know when
to call and I didn't call until the next day...
Other than that it wasn't a big deal. It was an inconvenience, though..."
"I initially panicked, but I think a system failure reminds us that
we functioned without e-mail and listservs for a long time, and the world
doesn't stop without them. And that if we really value or need a message
or file, we had better back it up ourselves."
As for the potential for a repeat failure like the one that occurred last Wednesday, Westergaard said, system administrators are working on a proposal to alter the way the u.arizona.edu system backups are kept. The proposal calls for 'mirroring' the system's disks, or keeping an identical copies of the system's disks online on other hard disks as opposed to other forms of storage. Backups are currenly kept on DAT (digital audio tape) tapes, he said, which take longer to restore data.
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