With classes online, routine network outages could put learning on pause

Network outages are somewhat routine on campus: the most recent one on Monday, June 15 resulted in an hour-long campus-wide network outage that significantly affected internal university operations.

But in the COVID-19 world with most classes online, network outages could become more frustrating than normal.

The June 15 shutdown effectively cut off communications between summer learners and their professors. The cause was a little-known bug within the embedded technology that drives UBC's vast infrastructure.

Chief Information Officer Jennifer Burns said that the UBC network is one of largest campus networks in the continent and “thus very complex.”

"There are many reasons UBC may experience network outages, from hardware failure to software bugs. Our staff are monitoring network status 24/7 and are dispatched when problems arise,” Burns said.

When asked about specifics of the June 15 shutdown, Burns said she was unable to provide specific details.

“[We] can confirm it was not due to a cyberattack or routine maintenance, and thus an unusual event. We have worked with our vendor to identify and resolve the issue.”

The outage severed connections between students, faculty and the Canvas platform, which currently, student education is dependent on.

Incoming first-year arts student Vannia Forsyth was not directly affected by the UBC network outage but expressed her worries about future outages.

“Unfortunately there is a chance of the [Canvas] system breaking down,” Forsyth said, adding that ideally, the system would be down for as little time as possible.

Redditors on the r/UBC forum echoed fears of Canvas issues.

“I’ve been mildly scared of internet outages, but only in Proctorio exams where it screws you over if it drops for any length of time,” said user If_1.

Other students felt less concerned over the outages.

“I’m personally not too concerned … I’ve honestly never experienced an outage that lasted more than a few minutes. And I think profs have been pretty accommodating when students experience outages during assessments,” user Gian_Anteaters commented.

The shutdown also impacted instructors. Dr. Juliet O’Brien — a lecturer in the department of French, Hispanic and Italian Studies — had her class interrupted by the campus-wide outage.

O’Brien stressed the reliance professors have on Canvas to be up and functional right now.

“There are three of us teaching FREN 102 (I coordinate it, and 101) and I’m drafting the common syllabus and a shared Canvas base for the course (which we then each copy over to our own Canvas course sites)," O’Brien wrote in an emailed statement to The Ubyssey.

While information technology staff work from home, Burns remains optimistic about the team’s ability to deal with network outages in the future.

"Our immediate short-term priorities are related to meeting the teaching and research needs of the UBC community while we remain off-campus, and to support the activities required for the fall semester," Burns said.