Harvard Network Freezes Spark Ire

Students Say System Is Inadequate

Two freezes in Harvard's computer network last week have brought to light the inadequacy of the system for its increasing number of users, eliciting harsh student criticism.

But Michael Burner, UNIX system manager, said yesterday they had previously started researching possible remedies to the current system's shortcomings.

Harvard's e-mail processing system froze for several hours last weekend after the mail server locked up while trying to download a program from another machine, Burner said.

While long-distance e-mail was unaffected, the system's failure caused long delays in the delivery and reception of e-mail within Harvard.

Matthew J. Duhan '95, who was mailing electronic messages to fellow members of the Harvard-Radcliffe Science Fiction Association when the system went down, said members did not receive his messages for two days.

"I found this a little inconvenient," said Duhan, who added that members later received three or four copies of the message. "Problems with the system occur far too often."

Duhan said his computing was also interrupted by a system overload last Monday night which he attributes to the high number of Computer Science 51 students doing their homework on the system.

While Burner called this weekend's failure "a fluke situation, but not very unusual," he attributed the freezes somewhat to a sudden increase in network users over the last few weeks. And he acknowledged that the current network is in need of a reevaluation.

The increase has "brought our system to its knees," Burner said. "We know we have to redesign the e-mail system. We've been discussing that for nine months," he said.

Burner said that the department is looking at the way MIT, Dartmouth, and Carnegie-Mellon University have handled their computer problems.

"Other schools have local systems that are very different from our system and that we can't just adopt, but we do have a lot to learn from them," he said.

Students said that this kind of system failure is not atypical of Harvard's network, which they claim is not suited for student needs.

Claudine P. Madras '96 said that as a studentin last fall's Computer Science 50 course, shealso saw the system overload when CS 50 studentshad assignments or exams.

"I think the system is pretty mediocreconsidering how many people use it," Madras said.

Dalia G. Frachtenberg '96, who transferred herefrom MIT this winter, said, "I was reallysurprised. I don't think the computers areadequate here."

Michele R. Kawamoto '95, a transfer studentfrom Dartmouth College, voiced similar feelings.

"In comparison to the Dartmouth computersystem, its definitely somewhere in the StoneAges," she said