New semester brings changes to college email

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

With the college getting back into full swing after winter break, mailboxes are once again filling up with various announcements, class assignments, and assorted chit-chat. Over break ITS has implemented a number of changes in order to reduce mailbox size and prevent the sluggishness that plagued the email server last semester.

The most noticeable difference this semester is the change to the reserved students emails. Rather than receiving 10+ separate emails a day, the messages are now collected together and released in two daily digests, sent out around 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. More urgent announcements are still sent out instantly, with a [students] subject line.

The reason for the switch was the large number of complaints from students, faculty, and staff about the excess of email, said ITS Direcctor Judy Downing. “It’s been a drum beat that’s gotten louder and louder over the last 10 years,” she said. She also noted that since announcing the switch, she has received over a hundred positive responses.

An additional benefit of the twice-daily digests will be to reduce the load on the email server, which has been suffering slowdowns since last September. Numerous changes have been made over break to improve this problem. According to ITS’ Mark Dumic, the college recently brought in an engineer from their mail server vendor to upgrade the software. “With everyone back on campus recently, and normal volumes of e-mail being processed, we are not experiencing any sluggishness. So, it appears that this has helped,” he noted.

Dumic also mentioned two projects that ITS has planned for this semester to further improve server performance. The first plan is to convert all mailboxes into a new format that will store a large number of messages more efficiently. “By converting existing mailboxes to the newer format, we expect to see a significant order of magnitude improvement in performance,” he said. The switch will be performed slowly over the course of the semester in order keep the server operational, but will likely be completed by spring break.

The second project is looking to see whether there are any possible redesigns of the server that will enable it to better manage the growing number of campus email. After this semester ITS will upgrade the software and reconfigure the array of disks used to store the email, resulting in improved system performance.

While ITS has been successful thus far in improving email speed, they still request that students help out by reducing the number of saved messages in their inbox and by using a dedicated email client, such as Mozilla’s Thunderbird, instead of the web-based Swatmail.

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