D2L outage causes disarray across MSU campuses

In February, 248 online MSU classrooms were affected when students and faculty were unable to access the university’s online learning platform, Desire 2 Learn (D2L).

Used by all four of MSU’s campuses, D2L is a digital classroom where students interact with peers and professors outside of the physical classroom. Instructors often use D2L for homework, quizzes, papers, distributing grades and sending e-mails.

Jerry Sheehan, MSU’s chief information officer explained that the learning platform was taken offline by MSU Information Technology (IT) on the morning of Feb. 11. IT services was informed by Brightspace, the company behind D2L, that a human error had occurred during their data migration. MSU has been using D2L for eight years, and this is the first time data loss has occurred.

Brightspace planned to upgrade their hardware for approximately 50 of their customers, including MSU. In order to do so, each customer’s data was migrated to an upgraded storage system, aimed to create a more secure and reliable site. MSU was the only customer of Brightspace that experienced any disturbances during the mass data migration.

Brightspace’s error caused 17 hours worth of MSU student and faculty information to be lost. Sheehan was presented with three possible courses of action: the first was to move forward with the system upgrade and disregard the missing 17 hours of data. The second was to revert to the old system but restore the 17 hours of data, and the last option was to restore the 17 hours of data at the expense of possibly losing three hours of data collected between the hours of 8:15 – 10:45 a.m. on Feb. 11 while keeping MSU on the updated system. Sheehan, who had the final say in the decision, chose the third option.

Restoration efforts of the 17 hours of missing data were ultimately successful. Brightspace was then also able to restore data from the missing 8:15 – 10:45 a.m. time block. A formal apology from Brightspace was issued during the restoration process. According to Sheehan, there have yet to be any reports of missing data since the restoration from any of the MSU campuses.

“We take this very seriously,” Sheehan said, “D2L is mission critical for all MSU campuses. Any downtime is unacceptable.” MSU President Waded Cruzado and the Provost Martha Potvin have requested a formal meeting with the CEO of Brightspace to discuss the impact their error had on campus.

Sheehan and his office has issued numerous apologies for the outages, but reiterates that “this was an error on the part of our vendor [Brightspace] and not MSU. This is a hiccup we’re most certainly paying attention to.”

MSU’s contract with Brightspace and D2L expires in July 2016. Starting this upcoming July, the MSU technology department will begin looking into possible alternative online learning services. They plan to speak with students and faculty on their experiences with D2L to decide whether the existing contract will be renewed.