ITS Continues Seeking Cause of Network Failures

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.

Information Technology Services (ITS) is continuing to try to resolve network failures that have persisted for over a week, saying the problem is more complex than those they usually encounter.

Starting the first week after fall break, community members began to report problems logging in through the Mac network and connecting to the Internet. While ITS was able to trace the Internet failure to a break-down in hardware, they’re still stumped when it comes to fixing the network.

“It’s been very difficult to diagnose,” Chief Information Technology Officer Gayle Barton said, saying the network is especially hard to fix because the failures seem to be so random.

“In this particular case we would have some people who worked, some people who didn’t. We would look at what people were doing and it appeared to be exactly the same,” Barton said. “We had a man across the hall who had two computers. He could use one, get on the network every time … and then on his other one he couldn’t get on.”

ITS uses software that is able to detect problems within the network, usually before they become a problem for users, but in this case, none of their monitoring systems reported a problem, Barton said. ITS also did research on the Internet to see if anyone else had faced similar failures, but so far, the problem seems to be unique.

“It’s a brain buster. We’ve got a lot of mind power working on it,” Information Security Analyst Nick Hannon said.

So far ITS has tried to correlate location, wireless vs. wired connections and old vs. new software with the failures but has so far come up with no pattern to the problems.

“Unfortunately we haven’t been able to find the proverbial smoking gun to say, that’s the main thing that’s common across all machines,” Hannon said. “It seems like one of those things where there are multiple things causing this one symptom, not any one thing we can point at. ”

Although they were able to find and correct the failures with the Internet connection, Barton said that issue was difficult to detect and diagnose too.

“But again it was weird, it wasn’t consistent. I work wirelessly and I never had a problem. Some people the same machine would work fine but if they carried it to another building it wouldn’t work,” Barton said.

Jenn Yi ’12 said failures with the Internet and network caused significant delays to her work.

“I was stuck in the remediation network for three hours. It kept making me download virus protection stuff even though I already had it,” Yi said.

Hannon said community members should continue reporting failures to ITS as they work to trace down the root or roots of the failures.


  1. We need real answers to this problem. ITS is giving us jack-all and there are rumors that we might be under attack. Fortunately, there are multiple inside sources who are willing to start digging into the truth behind the recent network difficulties. They’re going to be writing their uncoverings (is that a word? It is now!) First entry, updated TODAY. You’re welcome, Swarthmore.

  2. For all we know it could be a group similar to Anonymous that is disrupting major communications across the globe. Hopefully, that isn’t the case.

  3. ITS Update: The Swarthmore College technical infrastructure is very complex. It includes over 100 servers, hundreds of pieces of network equipment, miles of cabling, a few thousand client computers, and about as many mobile devices. ITS runs a range of monitoring tools to detect everything from connection failures to external attacks. Where possible, we have redundant services so if one device or function fails, another handles the load. Changes to equipment configurations, software upgrades and patches, new services, changes in how the network is used, power and hardware failures can all affect service. Individual parts of the infrastructure are so interdependent that each may be functioning properly alone, but collectively they may not. On a good day, events which negatively impact service are easy to diagnose and to fix. Unfortunately, the current situation is much more complex. The ITS staff with the relevant skills have been working on the Mac login issue since it first occurred right after Fall Break. It is their highest priority and their other projects have been tabled for the duration. Curiously, we have not found any other organization with the same problem so we are not able to learn from the experiences of our peers. Also, we have brought in the relevant vendors and they have not been any help so far, either. We will continue to explore all options until this is resolved. There is no indication, however, that either the Mac login issue nor the wireless issues last week were related to an attack of any kind.

  4. We’re all frustrated but calm down. Everyone’s doing their best. Shit happens sometimes – instead of complaining, just chill out and do something off the Internet for a change.

  5. Ethernet does work well…would it be possible for ITS to loan us ethernet cables until the problems are resolved? We are going back to the time before we had one of the first wifi networks, but, it would really help make things be reliable for us (e.g. We can access Moodle, we can access endnote, tripod, etc. without immediate failure), then it could help us in the short run, while ITS fixes the issue.

    Proactive student

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