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Start of semester problems

I was perhaps tempting fate with my previous post on this blog, as we had a crash on our student record system yesterday, in the middle of Freshers' week.  As the staff were mainly using the Personal Tutors system at the time, they saw this new system as the problem, and indeed we were investigating that as a potential cause ourselves.

In fact the new system was not the problem.  The cause of the crash was actually a change we made to the database parameters back in May in order to improve the performance of a search operation on the student hub - the part of the student record system that gives academic staff information about their students.  Although we tested the change at the time, it was not possible to exactly duplicate the usage we see at the start of the new academic year.  It turned out that the high load on the student hub, combined with the high load on other areas of the system, was overloading one area of memory and causing the whole system to back up.

We changed the parameter back to its old setting this morning and saw an immediate and dramatic improvement in performance.  Registry support staff are consulting users to see whether this technical fix does indeed address the actual problem for our users.  Hopefully this will allow the academic staff to meet their students without being held up by IT problems.  We are continuing to monitor the situation and we are also fine tuning some aspects of the Personal Tutors system as well to reduce the overall load on the database. 

In time, we will have to revisit the problem that the original change to the parameter was intended to solve.  We think that the advent of the Personal Tutors system will be helpful here, as in many cases it will remove the need to search for a cohort of students.  But this is speculation and we will need to back this up with data from real use in the schools.

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