OCS Update: More of the same

By Michael Grove

In September, Macalester launched a new e-mail server and client, switching from Mulberry to Oracle Collaboration Suite (OCS). Since then, students, faculty and staff who rely on e-mail for daily communication have witnessed persistent problems with the system. At this time, no reliable solutions have been proposed.

Security issues, duplicate messages and frequent crashes continue despite attempts by Computing Information Technology (CIT) to fix the problems.

While Director of CIT Ted Fines insists the transition to a new system over the summer transpired without a hitch, he drew attention to the stress on the system caused by an influx of users.

“Eighteen-hundred students came back at the same time, and started using the system, and that definitely had an effect,” Fines said.

The e-mail servers would cease to function for lengthy periods of time, and required nightly reboots, Fines said.

A large number of users are not likely the only contributors to the system crashes, Fines said. Colleges with much larger student populations have successfully implemented OCS, including Lansing Community College, in Michigan, which has offered ample advice for CIT staff at Macalester.

Fines expressed frustration at the issue.
“I’ve talked to people at Lansing Community College, where they have thirteen thousand students, and we actually have more powerful hardware than them,” Fines said.

In addition to reliability issues, OCS suffers from serious security risks when using certain web browsers, most notably Safari.

Members of the Macalester community have likely noticed that on public computers they will unintentionally access another person’s e-mail account if the web browser has not been closed and then reopened. Fines said this issue has less to do with CIT than Oracle, the company that produces OCS.

“We tell them, we’ve got a problem with Safari, and they say, ‘well, we never said it would work with Safari.’ And I’ll say ‘This is a security problem, this is important,’ and they’ll say ‘Well, don’t use Safari.’ So we’ve got to say we don’t support this,” Fines said.

Fines expects this situation to change, however, with a new version of OCS in the works that Oracle insists will support Safari and Firefox, he said.

Despite months of consistent system failure, and additional concerns with OCS, Fines remains optimistic.

“I don’t think we picked the wrong horse,” he said.