Students experience slower responses from Colrain

How long does it take to check your e-mail? Many students have been asking this question recently, as the services on colrain, the College’s primary e-mail server, have been slowed by a large increase in users’ e-mail inboxes. More users are also logging into colrain and idling than ever before, causing memory problems for the digital unix machine. The Office of Information Technology (OIT) has instructed students during the past week to trim down their inboxes by moving mail to other folders.

“Steps have been taken,” said Ashley Frost, the network and systems administrator at OIT. “Since awareness is being raised I believe the future looks brighter for everyone.” Signs posted around Jesup and all campus e-mails have alerted users that they must move mail out of their inbox folder in order to increase service time for everyone. A new version of pine that uses a different mail protocol also is easing the burden on colrain.

Opinion about the slowdown ranged from disinterest to mild annoyance. “It’s been worse,” said Sara Levy ’00, a student technology consultant (STC). Graham Lee, another STC, explained that he has been distressed that the slowdown has limited the amount of time he spends on colrain. “The more time I spend on it, the happier I am,” he said.

According to representative at the Networks and Systems division at OIT, the problem occurred during the past few weeks when users began to log into colrain and use pine to check their e-mail. Each time a user runs pine it uses a slice of colrain’s memory. In addition, users who log into colrain and then leave themselves logged in for long period of time, especially while in pine, are taking up large portions of memory. As long as a user is logged in and using pine, memory resources are reserved until that person logs out again, potentially restricting resources for hours.

Workers at the Network and Systems division also reported that as the number of users increases, conventional memory on colrain runs low and the computer begins to use hard drive space as virtual memory. Performance then begins to degrade, slowing the system down, and also slowing down every service that is running on colrain. The server also serves as an Oracle database server as well as running other programs, all of which are dependent upon the same pool of memory.

Spokespeople at OIT report that with 784Mb of memory, colrain can handle a large number of users. However, when each user runs pine their entire inbox is loaded into memory. With some users currently having 20Mb of message in their inboxes, the server quickly runs out of memory and must resort to hard disk swapping. By moving mail to other folders, colrain may simply rely on conventional memory, speeding up the entire system. Though the number of users has not increased over past months, the number of people with large e-mail inboxes has grown.

OIT has also recently implemented a new version of pine that uses IMAP to check mail. Instead of the old POP3 based pine, which must download the entire inbox into memory, the new IMAP based pine checks and indexes mail remotely by scanning message headers instead of entire message. Students may switch from POP3 to IMAP by running “pineutil” at the colrain command prompt.

Eudora users can also help decrease the load on colrain by setting their program to check mail less often and to delete mail from the server instead of keeping a copy on both colrain and their pc. All users can receive more information about the current colrain slowdown by browsing to http://www.williams.edu/go/email.

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