By Brenna Kelly
It was registration week at Utah State University, and database administrator Ryan Merrill sat in front of two computer screens in his office. Two other IT administrators — Eric Allen and Duane Black — were adjacent to him, each with two screens in front of them, as well.
“We figure the more screens you have, the more productive you are,” Black said, and the trio laughed.
They had five or six windows open each in order to monitor all components of the registration system — “watching for red flags,” Merrill said. The three of them sat in this office in the Science Engineering Research Building until 1 a.m. on the nights of registration — sometimes later. They arrived at 7 p.m. each night — an hour before registration began — but preparation for registration began months in advance.
About 1,800 more students enrolled this semester than in the spring, which created a new challenge for the group.
“With increased enrollment, that generally translates to increased load throughout the week of registration,” Merrill said. “And so we work to create a robust computing environment that can handle the load.”
USU IT’s main focus in preparing for registration is load testing — making sure Banner XE, the new, modern interface, can handle having thousands of students using it at once. In March, registration times changed so they were staggered throughout the night according to the number of credits students have earned. This way, fewer students are on the site at once.
Since the university started using Banner XE in the spring, IT has encountered fewer problems. While it often staffs the service desk on registration nights, service desk manager Steve Funk said he didn’t see a need for it this semester. Merrill and his coworkers, however, are on duty during registration.
“In previous registration cycles, we’ve been here to deal with issues as they’ve arisen,” Merrill said. “Luckily, this registration cycle, we really have just watched and we haven’t really done too much. But we’re here in case something does go wrong.”
Drew Derbidge, who works in computer desktop support, was also the on-call technician during most of registration. He said registration has not been unusually busy for him, partly because he typically addresses IT issues with faculty and staff members.
Funk said the feedback he has received from students has been positive, and they seem to appreciate the new features, including the ability to plan a schedule ahead of time.
“With the older registration system, we were continuously encountering issues during priority registration,” Merrill said. “The new release of the software handles the load much, much better.”
In addition to monitoring the systems in Banner XE, Funk and Merrill said they pay close attention to social media. By watching USU Twitter accounts and USU-related hashtags, they can see what issues students are having and address them immediately.
“It’s a good way for us to keep our finger on the pulse,” Merrill said.
He said he likes to hear students’ feedback — the good and the bad.
“We’re hearing it as students are discussing this, which allows us to be more proactive rather than reactive,” Funk said.
For USU IT, registration is “a party,” Allen said. Its goal is to register as many students as quickly and easily as possible, so they all closely watch their respective areas of Banner.
“Any one of them could hiccup at any point time, and we want to know what’s going on and which one is having a problem so we can fix it the fastest,” he said.
Allen said the IT teams will start preparing for spring registration at the beginning of December.