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The Dartmouth
April 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Students face six-hour Blitz system lockout

Correction appended

Tuesday's six-hour lockout from access to Microsoft Online Services, which lasted from roughly 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., was caused by Microsoft's failure to accept a web certificate that had expired and was automatically updated, according to Vice President for Information Technology Ellen Waite-Franzen. The failure sparked both anger and ambivalence among students, some of whom had no access to their email for the duration of the outage and some of whom were relatively unaffected. The problem occurred when the certificate that authorized the College to access Blitz expired and was not immediately updated, preventing users from successfully logging into the system, Waite-Franzen said.

The issues causing the system's inaccessibility are still under review, and members of the Information Technology department will continue the investigation on Wednesday, according to Waite-Franzen.

"There are really two things that went wrong here," Waite-Franzen said. "Microsoft wasn't as fast as it should have been, and the certificates we use usually have one to two to three years on them, so there is a biannual update that must have been overlooked."

Many students said that the server malfunction inhibited their daily tasks, particularly since it barred access to the entire system rather than just the email function.

"I just think that it is really inconvenient," Stacey Derosier '12 said. "My Blitz isn't forwarded to any other form of account, so I'm literally a sitting duck waiting for computer services to figure their mess out."

Waite-Franzen said that the College maintains an active directory that shares a "trusted relationship" with Microsoft. If the directory is not trusted which occurred when the certificate expired Microsoft will prevent users from logging in, she said.

While a new certificate was on the directory when the old one expired, Microsoft still refused to reconnect to Dartmouth, she said.

"We're still doing the technical review of this, so a lot of this might be an overview and not an in-depth technical review yet," she said.

Students who were connected before 8 a.m. Tuesday morning remained connected, but anyone who attempted to connect after that time was denied access. It soon appeared that Microsoft was denying Dartmouth's connection to its mail services, and representatives from the Information Technology department notified Microsoft as soon as they were made aware of the problem, Waite-Franzen said.

"The entire process got escalated through Microsoft, but on the Microsoft side escalation didn't go as fast as it should have," she said. "Working with Microsoft gives us a remediation plan, but it was hours before we got to an engineer. It ended up being a pretty complex problem that went through three elevations before they were able to uncover the fact that it was the certificate on the server."

The Information Technology department and Microsoft team are both working on a new escalation process that should be put into place within a couple of days, Waite-Franzen said.

"It is a complete anomaly that this happened," Waite-Frazen said. "This is a new service for us, and we are still learning about it, but this is not something we would have ever expected to happen."

Students who forward their Blitz to Google's Gmail system or other email providers were relatively unaffected by the malfunction, as the problem involved accessing Outlook rather than receiving mail.

"I'm not saying the school should have chosen Gmail or the school shouldn't have chosen Gmail," Hacker Club president Parker Phinney '12 said. "I'm just saying I forward my Blitz to Gmail, and I experienced no outage today. You can't explain that."

Those students who do not forward their mail to other providers were more directly affected by the malfunction, which lasted until 2:30 p.m. for most servers.

"The whole situation was a complete mess," McKenzie Bennett '13 said. "I had a paper due today and it definitely hampered my ability to turn it in."

Emi Weed '13 said she believes the administration's decision to implement the Microsoft system was a result of cost minimization rather than considering what would work best for the school and students.

"This [outage], coupled with the administration's utter inability to make Microsoft's Lync a thing, shows how far we have to go before we can even approach what we would have had with a Google Mail client," Weed said.

**The original version of this article was updated to provide clarifications given by the Information Technology department.*