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The Campus Computing Project - fault tolerant
sent a copy of my angry fax to the Los Angeles Office of
Information Technology, the city agency that supervises
cable systems, that someone at Adelphia contacted me to
arrange for a service call at my home.
Admittedly, you, dear reader, have little reason to care
about my unhappy experiences with Adelphia. But my
Adelphia experience reminded me of some conversations
with campus CIOs a few months earlier. We were talking
about the impact of e-learning on campus IT operations.
According to the CIOs, what has changed dramatically
in their world in recent years is the expectation, indeed the
requirement, for 24-7 services. And it is primarily due to the
campus movement toward e-learning. This transition was
best summarized by one participant in the conversation:
"Everything operates in a different context when you talk
about keeping systems up, network infrastructure going, the
whole ball of wax. Traditionally, we thought about just
having [to run] payroll. However, if you truly have e-
learning going on -- online or in a traditional classroom -- it
[the system and accompanying resources] just must be
Other participants in the conversation agreed. The
movement toward e-learning -- providing electronic
resources, using course management systems, integrating
elements from various campus databases to assist students,
offering campus services on the Web -- imposes new
requirements for access and reliability on the campus IT
infrastructure. A college or university may serve on-campus
students, off-campus students, distance learners and
students at a campus center halfway around the world: they
all want and expect, and indeed, demand the system to
operate 24-7.
And this small epiphany helped me see the link
between my frustration with Adelphia and the online
experience of the undergraduate student (age 18 or 38) in a
sociology course or the executive M.B.A. student in an
online finance class: We want access to services 24-7. We
expect, indeed demand, nothing less.
What this says, of course, is that we are now well
beyond the "if we build it, they will come" model that has
often been part of the discussion about Internet services.
Today, it is a matter of when, not if. When we build it, when
we post it, when we offer it -- it better work, 24-7. Be it Web
materials for intro sociology or "The Sopranos" on Sunday
evening: When we offer it, it better work, 24-7.
In the 24-7 world created by the Internet, it is no longer
just a matter of operating fault-tolerant equipment. We as
users and consumers of technology resources have become
increasingly unwilling to tolerate faults.

C. G
, visiting scholar at the Claremont Graduate University, is the director of The Campus Computing
Project (

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