I.T. Services improve computer reliability

George Binning

Glasgow University’s IT Services are hopeful that they have eliminated a computing error that caused a huge number of the University’s computers to malfunction.

A Guardian survey in early November found that 25% of the Reading Room’s 110 computers, and 20% of the library’s 490 computers, were out of action due to problems connecting with the server.

It has been discovered that the new computers used in the library and Reading Room, the Dell Optiplex 745 model, came with firmware that was incompatible with the Broadcom Ethernet Card (BEC).

Iain Logan, Deputy Director of Computing Services, explained that, contrary to the rumours, the MyPC login program was not the source of the problem.
He said: “There is a widespread misconception that MyPC is the problem, because of the ‘communication lost’ message that it displays.

“Actually the firmware that drove the Broadcom Ethernet Card in the Optiplex 745 had a fault resulting in the BEC regularly losing connection with the Ethernet Switch, the University’s Internet provider.”

Having identified the firmware as the probable source of the fault, I.T. services performed a Basic Input Output System (BIOS) upgrade. However, Peter Mitchell, I.T. Service’s Netware Manager, was hesitant to declare the problem completely solved.

He said: “These fixes rarely provide a universal panacea, but we are optimistic about the BIOS upgrade and will be watching the machines to see what happens.”

A Guardian survey conducted after the BIOS upgrade did show encouraging signs of improvement, with malfunctions appearing on only 14% of the library’s computers and 17% of the computers in the Reading Room.
Bugs often appear in university machines because of the way they are used and because of the constantly evolving nature of programming, explained Mitchell.

He said: “It doesn’t help that the machines are used aggressively for long periods of time. Software is constantly being updated and, when two bits of software are incompatible, problems arise.”

A Glasgow University procurement exercise will review Dell’s contract next year.


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