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Support for Remote Teaching & Learning: IT Planning Timeline

UMass Amherst Information Technology (IT) provides a wide range of services for remote teaching, learning, and research. Our planning efforts for fall 2020 are outlined below in reverse chronological order.
 

Week of October 12, 2020

 

October 15, 2020

Preparations are underway for the end of the fall 2020 semester. IT teams are using performance reports, log analytics, and other data sources to ensure Moodle can handle large volumes of simultaneous logins and activities as final examinations begin on November 30, 2020.

October 13, 2020

Moodle performance has remained consistent this month while an increasing number of students are simultaneously logging in and more mid-term activities are completed each week. Average page load time in the past two weeks: 1.70 seconds.

Week of October 5, 2020

 

October 8, 2020

Moodle transition to cloud hosting starts as a high-priority project. Project requirements complete. Needs assessment continues to ensure feedback from the campus community.

 

October 6, 2020

Actively monitoring and analyzing performance data for Moodle quizzes as midterms approach. ~10k quiz sessions take place daily with more expected in the coming weeks.

Technical teams made substantial behind-the-scenes adjustments to ensure Moodle’s responsiveness and reliability. Examples include updates to application caching, adding database indexes, removing unused filters from the home page, and more.

Week of September 28, 2020

October 1, 2020

How is Moodle performing for you? Report issues directly to the technical teams from anywhere in Moodle. In the maroon navigation menu, click the Report Problem link and answer the question about your current Moodle experience.

September 28, 2020

Moodle performance continues to improve under consistently heavy load. For example:

  • On Thursday, September 24, the weekday with the most total users (95k), the average page load time was 1.81 seconds.
  • The average page load time for the week of September 21 was 1.87 seconds (vs. 2.1 seconds the previous week), an 11% improvement.
  • The average server response time also improved by 12% the week of September 21 as compared to the previous week.

Week of September 21, 2020

 

September 24, 2020

  • Currently planning for mid-semester activity surge in Moodle (more synchronous logins, quizzes and mid-term exams & more).
  • Accelerating Moodle’s transition to cloud hosting to ensure stability and improved performance.
  • Close monitoring of the Moodle infrastructure; service resiliency project meetings are recurring.

September 21, 2020

Following the optimization changes implemented in the past weeks, we report improvements in Moodle performance:

  • Moodle pages loaded 31% faster between September 14 and 20, 2020 vs. previous week (average 2.11 seconds vs. 3.06), even as page views increased by 12%.
  • Moodle servers responded 43% faster between September 14 and 20, 2020 vs. previous week (average 0.78 seconds vs. 1.38), even as the page views per session also increased by 12%.

For more data, see our Moodle by the Numbers page.

Week of September 14, 2020

September 17, 2020

Network stabilization maintenance for the data center was successfully completed. This work ensures continued availability of IT services and more resilient firewall protection for the campus network. Members of the campus community did not experience any service interruption during the maintenance period.

 

September 17, 2020

We continue to analyze web access logs and other data to assess and improve Moodle performance. The current focus is on accelerating how Moodle handles large files as well as classes with a large number of students.

September 15, 2020

Students and instructors report positive improvements in their Moodle experience as a result of the modifications implemented last week.

Some issues remain, including slow response and page load times, mostly during peak days (Tuesdays & Thursdays). Several cross-functional IT teams are exclusively dedicated to monitoring and addressing these issues as a priority.

 

September 14, 2020

We continue to actively monitor Moodle and implement changes that improve uptime, page load time, and overall performance. Since last week, we:

  • Started a review of Moodle’s database layers.
  • Leveraged expertise and insight from internal and external database administrator teams.
  • Ensured appropriate resource allocation and consistency in the configuration of Moodle web servers.

Week of September 7, 2020

 

September 11, 2020

We continue to work to improve the student and faculty experience with Moodle this semester.

We have implemented changes to expedite page load times in Moodle and reduce the load on the IT infrastructure. We also implemented improved session caching, to enable our servers to store and retrieve session information more efficiently. Testing and monitoring continue.

 

September 8, 2020

Currently implementing IT architecture changes based on recent performance reviews and expert recommendations.

  • Increased server memory allocated to Moodle.
  • Updated infrastructure settings & directives.
  • Continue performance testing and monitor the Moodle environment.

Week of August 31, 2020

September 4, 2020

Optimization changes implemented, which are expected to improve page load times and enhance Moodle’s performance with more simultaneous users (phase 1 of Moodle remediation plan).

 

Convened with higher education and industry experts on LMS health during COVID-19.

 

September 3, 2020

Testing additional web servers to increase capacity for Moodle and other IT services.

 

September 2, 2020

  • Accelerating project timeline for Moodle cloud hosting.
  • Monitoring IT infrastructure after server additions.
  • Service resiliency project meetings continue.

September 1, 2020

  • Increased web servers by 50%.
  • Successfully added three additional servers to the web applications server pool.
 

August 31, 2020

  • Firewall review underway for improved service reliability.
  • Web server testing complete. New servers added.

Week of August 24, 2020

 

August 28, 2020

  • Firewall issue identified as the root cause of this outage.
  • Removed monitoring software that contributed to server slowdown/Moodle performance issues.
 

August 27, 2020

  • Network maintenance planned. No service interruption expected.
  • Diagnostics continue.
  • Partial cause of performance issues identified.
 

August 26, 2020

More Moodle performance issues reported.

 

August 26, 2020

  • Diagnostics begin immediately.
  • Log analysis of individual web nodes and overall use of Moodle complete.
  • Started the process of setting up new web servers.
  • Contacted cloud-based hosting provider for expertise & scalability assistance.
 

August 25, 2020

  • Solution implemented rectifies login issues in under 20 minutes. Login issues resolved.
  • In-depth diagnostics continue.
  • Removed the web node associated with initial reports of slowness.
 

August 24, 2020

  • Cross-functional team of 15 assigned to Moodle resiliency project. Diagnostics begin.
  • Web requests increased by almost 100% compared to fall 2019. Moodle usage doubled compared to the same time last year, in part due to the number of asynchronous sessions scheduled.
  • Cyber security or other malicious attacks ruled out.

Week of August 17, 2020

August 19, 2020

IT User Services Help Center opens using an online appointment system.

 

August 17, 2020

Contract executed for hosting for Moodle in the cloud. Benefits of moving IT services to the cloud:

  • Scalability. Services hosted in the cloud offer virtually unlimited capacity.
  • Resiliency. Cloud services do not depend on servers and other physical infrastructure.
  • Agility. Rapid deployment of IT resources.
  • Efficiency. Cost savings as a result of improved business processes and services.

Week of August 10, 2020

August 13, 2020

Remote access for campus technologies and resources launched: students and faculty can access high-performance and specialized software on their own devices at no additional cost using Windows Virtual Desktop.

 

August 10, 2020

  • Monitoring in progress for the number of classes/students enrolled in Moodle to determine expected demand.
  • Tested and added another node to the web server pool to meet expected demand.
  • Completed load testing to ensure web servers can accommodate expected load.

June 2020

 

June 1, 2020

Preparations for fall semester begin using data and metrics from spring 2020. The availability, stability, and resiliency of IT services are the main areas of focus.