Friday, March 3, 2017 - 8:34am

On the afternoon of Feb. 28., the University of Iowa was one of many institutions nationwide impacted by a cloud-based IT service outage. The outage was the result of a cascade effect of cloud technology issues. An Amazon Web Services outage affected several UI resources: Iowa Courses Online (ICON), Qualtrics survey software, UI Capture lecture-recording software, and online training.

Our instructors and students rely on these resources to teach, learn, and conduct research. Outages of key technology services, especially during the workday, are disruptive and highly inconvenient for all involved. We understand the difficulties created by this outage, and assure you that we are working hard to ensure that our vendors understand the need for reliability and are taking the appropriate steps to protect our key systems from future outages.

Throughout the outage, our IT support staff and service owners provided status updates to campus IT professionals, notified end users through our typical alerts and outages procedures, and responded to numerous questions by phone and email. We appreciate their efforts to keep everyone informed and to work with the vendor to restore our services as quickly as possible.

There are many benefits to the growing array of cloud technologies, such as cost savings, swift deployment, ability to scale, flexible capacity, and rapidly updated software. One disadvantage is that when an outage occurs with the hosting vendor, we don’t have the ability to take direct action in making necessary repairs. Our campus strategy is to evaluate each cloud technology on a case-by-case basis, weighing benefits and risks.

Our follow-up interaction with the ICON vendor, to ensure that actions are taken to reduce the risk of a similar outage in the future, is taking place on three levels. Our higher education consortium, Unizin, is in contact with the vendor, Chief Information Officers from impacted institutions are relaying feedback and expectations, and our IT staff are working directly with their contacts at the company.

We apologize for the inconvenience of Tuesday’s outage and assure you that we are doing everything we can to ensure that our essential technology services are robust and reliable.