Upgrades and Outages

What’s in a Banner upgrade?

You’ve probably experienced a situation like this. You’re on the computer and all of a sudden there's a pop-up alert about an upgraded version of whatever software you’re currently running. Let’s say you're using iTunes. At this point, you have to decide whether you want to stop listening to music and download this upgrade. It might involve clicking through some new software agreement, reentering your password, or, worst of all, restarting your computer. Sound familiar? It’s a pain, right?

Magnify that by about 10,000. That’s how many people use Banner at the College of William & Mary and that’s how many people we affect whenever we upgrade it.

Now here’s a situation you probably haven’t experienced. You’re using iTunes when you get another pop up and this time it reads, “Because you didn’t upgrade to the most current version of iTunes, your contract is now void. We’re deleting all the music you’ve purchased from us.”

That’s sort of what SunGard, the company that owns Banner, would say to William & Mary if we just randomly decided not to upgrade to the latest version of Banner. But instead of a bunch of music, we’d lose all the College databases that contain crucial information like employee and student info, financial data, etc.

So it’s important that we routinely upgrade Banner, but it’s also important that we do it in a way that inconveniences the very least amount of people. When it’s time to upgrade, we send out prospective dates to representatives from each academic department and administrative office. We receive input from every facet of the William & Mary community and we are conscious of everyone’s needs. Over the years, we’ve figured out roughly what the best times for upgrades are. It's often counterintuitive. You might think that winter break would be the best, but the Admissions Office is still processing new students applications then. And they need Banner for that. Exam periods also seem like they’d work but this is when students often use Banner to view their GPAs and run degree evaluations. Basically, it’s impossible to please everyone, but that doesn't stop us from trying.

Our last Banner upgrade, on May 20th, was relatively uninteresting. The only main difference in user functionality was a slightly bigger font size, which you probably didn’t notice. What you probably did notice, though, was the network outage that happened that same day.

Why the outage occurred

Contrary to rumors around campus, it had absolutely nothing to do with the Banner upgrade. Completely separate thing. We were replacing the batteries for one of ourDoc Brown in Back to the Future, Universal Pictures 1985. Uninterruptible Power Supplies (a bit of a misnomer?), and that’s when the outage happened.

During this routine battery replacement (we do it every 5 years), the UPS had to be turned off temporarily and temperature-wise that cooled everything down drastically. The UPS is connected to a transformer. This transformer has an iron core wrapped in enamel-covered copper wire. The decrease in temperature caused the enamel to crack and, at that point, the transformer bought the dust.

Our team of network engineers tirelessly worked round-the-clock to redistribute the College's network power supply to other sources on campus, ensuring that critical systems--W&M email, Banner, Blackboard--were back up and running as soon as possible.

Between all this and the Banner upgrade, IT dealt with a “perfect storm,” according to Database Engineering Manager John Koleszar.

Thank you all for your patience and understanding while we weathered it.