Stuyvesant’s e-mail server experienced a hard drive failure on Friday, November 2, temporarily knocking out the stuy.edu e-mail. No data was permanently lost, though some e-mails from before the failure remain unavailable.
Following the failure, a new server was built essentially from scratch. The Stuyvesant e-mail server was unavailable until Monday, November 5.
Once the new server was finished and integrated with the network, old e-mails that had been on the hard drive that failed were unavailable.
However, other services, such as the Student Tools portion of stuy.edu and stuyhs.net e-mail, were unaffected.
The lack of a backup on a separate hard drive contributed to the difficulty in restoring e-mails. Had the damage to the drive been severe enough, all e-mails saved in stuy.edu e-mail accounts would have been lost.
The e-mail server’s hard drive suffered a “head crash,” in which the drive’s read-write head, a tiny pin that normally stays about three microns away from the rotating metal disk where data is stored, gets too close and scratches the surface of the disk. The extent of the damage from a head crash can vary.
“This actually happens a lot with hard drives,” network administrator Camelia Papadopol said. “It can happen to a hard drive that’s about two days old to a hard drive that’s 10 years old. So it’s really an unreliable way to save information. However, that’s what is currently being used in computers.”
According to Papadopol, the damage was severe enough that the drive had to be sent away, but all the data was successfully recovered and the school received a hard drive containing the recovered data on Monday, November 26.
“The problem right now is actually getting [the recovered e-mails] integrated with the new e-mails in such a way so that the old ones don’t write over the new ones because of the way the file systems are set up,” Papadopol said. She estimates she will have it done by the end of 2007.
Though most students do not use their Stuyvesant accounts as their primary e-mail accounts, the e-mail failure affected some students.
“I couldn’t reach teachers’ e-mails, and some stuff that I usually send to my Stuy account had to be sent elsewhere. Also I couldn’t find an assignment that I sent to my Stuy account from another e-mail because it was down when I arrived in school,” sophomore Carl Guthwin said. “Stuy should get technology that works.”
Seniors who were applying to colleges through the early application process were affected too since the problem occurred in the midst of the process. Some students were trying to contact their guidance counselors or the College Office through the Stuyvesant e-mail server.
Teachers were also affected. “I keep in contact with some parents that way, and I had no idea whether they were e-mailing me for five or six days,” math teacher Jonas Kalish said. “I was a little concerned about that, because I like to be able to get back to parents quickly.”
Other members of the community were hardly affected.
“I didn’t even realize that it was down,” sophomore Jack Li said.
“Since I also use my [Department of Education] e-mail account, this had little effect on me directly. It did make it hard for parents to reach me by e-mail but those that had serious concerns simply called my office,” wrote Principal Stanley Teitel in an e-mail.
The e-mail server crash raised concerns regarding the wider issue of unreliable technology in the school.
“Why we don’t have better technology in general,” de Kock said. “Why don’t we communicate better in the school, better through technology? Why don’t students have printers, copiers available? Why don’t students have enough computers? All those things are part of a bigger issue of the school not really being maybe in the late 20th century, not just the 21st century. I don’t think we’ve gotten much past 1992. And that’s an issue.”
“We could do better,” Assistant Principal Edward Wong said. “We don’t have the funding nor do we have the budget to be really technically advanced.”
De Kock said many large schools, including Bronx High School of Science, currently use Naviance, a commercial system that could store the Stuyvesant programs on an outside server.
Naviance college software is “a very pretty Web site,” Wong said. “A lot of nice pictures.”
“The functionality of it is very limited,” said Wong of the program, which is mainly used to display past college acceptance rates. According to Wong, he and other representatives of the Stuyvesant community, including guidance counselors and College Advisor Patricia Cleary, visited Bronx Science and “agreed Naviance wasn’t for us.”
“We do a lot of things on this one [Stuyvesant] system that sort of covers everything. Naviance can’t do that,” said Wong. He said the Stuvyesant server deals with programming, student transcripts, report cards, biographical data and Secondary School Reports.
Stuyvesant has learned one lesson. “We’re going to have two different backups,” Papadopol said.