E-Mail Strategy Shift Boosting Speed, Capacity

By Michael Seele
Chronicle Editor

Information Technology has made improvements to several components of the campus e-mail system in recent weeks and is implementing other changes which should result in a dramatic increase in the system's performance by the end of the year.

The University is in the process of moving away from several interconnected e-mail systems toward a single new system that will handle BC's large e-mail traffic volume better and will be able to accommodate changing technology over the long term.

According to Mary Corcoran, educational services administrator for advanced technology, the e-mail accounts for many faculty and staff, and all students, are located on two servers. In the year since all students received e-mail accounts, an unexpectedly large traffic volume has slowed the servers down and significantly delayed transmissions, particularly during the afternoons, she said.

IT has identified and fixed several problems in those servers, Corcoran said, which has speeded service. However, administrators have determined that a third server will be necessary to handle the increased volume and that is expected to be operational in the coming weeks.

IT also has made a new type of software available via its World Wide Web site [http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/tvp/email/email.html] that will resolve difficulties many users have had in sending attachments with messages between e-mail systems.

The rapid evolutionary pace of communications technology has precipitated the need for the next generation of e-mail systems on campus, Corcoran said. Users of Microsoft Mail, for instance, have experienced particular difficulties because the privately owned software cannot be modified to fit customized uses, such as those at BC.

Under the new strategy, the University will shed such "proprietary" software and move to an "Internet Mail Access Protocol," a public system which is emerging as the world-wide standard for e-mail. Because it is not privately owned, it can be adapted for customized use to fit BC's situation now and in the future, while maintaining the ability to communicate with IMAP systems around the world.

It offers several new features for on-campus communication, Corcoran said. For example, a professor can distribute a message to all members of a particular class section without having to identify each student on the computer screen.

As a test case, the Student Affairs division moved to the IMAP system over the summer and IT has been working with Student Affairs to identify and resolve several bugs in the software that links users' computers to IMAP. Corcoran said several hundred users are already on the IMAP system.

Corcoran said IT has encountered some difficulties, partly because the University is "a little ahead of the curve" on this technology. The World Wide Web browser Netscape is catching up and will issue a similar, compatible software product in a few months, she said.

Another key element in the new system is a central computer that will replace local, departmental servers as the site for all e-mail accounts on campus. Combined with the new software, it will make e-mail more readily available to users from their homes or while traveling. In addition, it will facilitate upgrades more quickly and will bypass the outmoded operating systems on some computers that have impeded electronic communication.

Corcoran said that while users are seeing improvements in e-mail service, some problems will persist for a while longer. There will still be some slowness for MS Mail users in transmitting e-mail and there may continue to be trouble sending attachments between platforms, though those problems should improve when the third server comes on line.

Corcoran added that users should use "username@bc.edu" or "firstname.lastname@bc.edu" addresses.

The situation won't be completely solved until the entire University switches to the IMAP system, probably sometime next year, Corcoran said.

Return to Nov. 27 menu

Return to Chronicle home page