Tech woes vex OCC

When Orange Coast College student Phu Uong returned to campus and his job in the Library after spring break last month, students using the facility’s computers were in a panic.

During the break, the college had implemented a district-wide effort to consolidate log-ins for applications such as the MyCccd portal and Canvas. The effort, according to district IT department officials, was made at students’ request to provide a simple, single sign-on for students into all campus applications.

And while the new single-sign in goal was extensively beta tested, the testing never involved actual students. The results, officials said, were not what was planned.

“Students (were) literally scrambling to try different passwords,” 19-year-old psychology major Uong said of the aftermath of the consolidation. “One guy tried up to 20 times. If the direction was clearer and the time of the implementation was right, it could save us a lot of time. But right now I see more frustrations than relief on students’ faces.”

Officials said they chose to implement the sign–on change over spring break because they determined that by that time in the semester most students were familiar with the portal and Canvas and use of the applications.

Senior Director for district IT Applications and Development Rupa Saran and Executive Director Fred Rocha said they understood the spring break period can be a time when students try to tie up loose ends with transcripts, which can only be ordered through the student portal. But they determined that those impacted were minimal enough to carry on with the roll out.

District officials added that they wanted to make sure the environment is friendly to multiple devices, a recurring problem in the previous version of the student portal and subsequently, students’ campus emails.

While Uong supports the consolidation a single sign-in provides, his experience echoes that of students who use the computing center and Library computers daily. The consolidation was an added grievance to already mounting problems with computing campus wide.

In addition to problems signing in after spring break, students have been experiencing on-going problems with computers randomly locking up and locking them out, and with printing and printers across campus.

Officials explained that when the computing center moved to the Math, Business and Computing Center almost three years ago, the district made the seemingly cost cutting decision to shift from stand-alone computers to a new kind of computer architecture known as virtual desktop infrastructure.

Through this new technology, virtual desktops or “dummy terminals,” operate through a server at the district office.

 “We put all of our eggs in one basket. The technology was very new to the campus,” Computing Center Coordinator John Fawcett said, adding that at peak hours the center can expect about 100 log-ins per hour.

That number of log-ins and the high use in the center has caused student terminals to freeze up, and the staff has issued hundreds of repair tickets to the IT department.

Fawcett and Computer Science Instructional Associate Reginald Lewis, who also works at the computing center, recalled a time when a student was working in the center for hours and, around the eight-hour mark, the student’s workstation locked up, leaving his work in peril.

Computing center staff members say this is one of the key problems with VDI technology. Often the workstations will freeze, and because they are connected to a server in the district offices, there isn’t anything the staff can do remotely.

“Some days it can be 10 or 20, other days it can be more than 100 of the units,” Fawcett said.

There are two failure modes the staff has identified. In one, the communication between dummy terminal and server will simply break. In the other, the system will hang, effectively freezing whatever application the user is operating.

Both Fawcett and Lewis have sent hundreds of work tickets to the IT department to address these issues. But any contact that does occur with the IT department has resulted in lack of answers, which Lewis chalks up to the configuration of the system itself and not IT.

Another issue students often face while using the center and its 10 computer-equipped classrooms is the overall lack of reliability of the print system.

The printer assignments are mapped by the VDI workstations based on the user’s location within the complex. Printer mapping can fail sometimes dozens of times a day, either from improper formatting or corruption, and computing center staff must provide manual assistance to help overcome that difficulty.

Chlsea Gonzalez, a 25-year-old business major, said she especially appreciates Fawcett’s work at the computing center.

“He goes above and beyond for OCC students. He is really involved and helps guide students including myself,” she said.

In addition to printing, the add-value GoPrint stations also present a series of issues. The stations, located in the computing center and the Library, are the only way students can add funds into accounts to print. Only dollar bills are accepted.

According to Uong, often the computers won’t recognize the printer and will show what he defined as random printer destinations. Other times, the GoPrint service will take students’ payment but won’t print anything, he said.

There are also times when the stations will stop working, leaving students who don’t have funds in their accounts with zero options.

Despite these problems, the district is seemingly moving toward centralizing VDI technology and services like GoPrint.

“They seem to have an attitude that if it works most of the time, for most of the people, that’s enough. They don’t really contemplate that on one occasion, for one student, it might be really catastrophic,” Lewis said.

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We thank the Managing Editor, Margherita Beale and the students and staff who shared their concerns in this article. We appreciate the feedback about the situations students encountered during the change to Single Sign-On (SSO). We know there were unexpected problems, and our staff has worked diligently to fix the issues. Information Services strives to provide the best service possible for all members of the Coast community and feedback like this is incorporated into planning and drives our continual improvement practices for all future projects. – Fred Rocha and Rupa Saran

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