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OIT team, students respond to recent Sakai outage

 Sakai was created more than a decade ago as an open source software project by several universities. Since then though, these universities have transitioned to Canvas as a learning management system, and Rutgers is aiming to follow suit.  – Photo by Dustin Niles

 At 6:55 p.m. on Saturday, April 6, the online student platform Sakai went down due to server storage issues and was back up by 3:51 a.m. the following Sunday morning.

“Office of Information Technology (OIT) staff members responded quickly on Saturday night to identify the problem, find a solution and minimize the impact on Rutgers students and faculty,” said Allan Hoffman, director of IT Communications and Marketing. 

Hoffman said that this outage is an anomaly.

“IT professionals in the OIT completed performance improvements for Sakai in mid-December, following intermittent performance and availability issues last fall. These changes have resulted in improved reliability for Sakai in recent months, the recent unrelated Saturday evening outage not withstanding,” he said.

The outage ended up affecting a number of students in its 9-hour duration.

“I logged onto Sakai around 1 a.m. on Sunday to study for my psychology exam and noticed there was a “time out” message. I couldn’t do anything, so I just studied for another class,” said Diana Nguyen, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year.

Other students expressed similar sentiments.

“I wasn’t able to open study materials I needed that night,” said Pooja Agrawal, an Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy first-year. “All my online resources were on Sakai and I wasn’t able to get all my work done.”

Students were also frustrated with the University’s communication, or lack thereof, Nguyen said. 

“The University did not communicate with the students at all. They should have sent out an email informing us on the situation because I wasn’t sure if it was just my account or everyone’s,” she said.

Emails were not a priority to administrators, according to multiple accounts from students.

“I didn’t like how they didn’t send an email out regarding the situation until the issue was fixed. They should’ve sent an email when the problem occurred and when it was fixed,” Agrawal said.

The OIT does post updates on their social media, though, said Hoffman.

“Issues with Sakai and other IT services are reported at the OIT blog at, with updates provided as new information is made available,” he said. “We also post this information on our @RutgersIT Facebook and Twitter accounts.”

Teachers did not respond to the issue, Agrawal said.

“None of my teachers responded,” Nguyen said. “I don’t even think they knew.”

There were some students who were not affected by the outage, since it occurred during the weekend when they did not need to use Sakai.

“I wasn’t really affected by the shutdown and the main reason is because it went down over the weekend when I didn’t need to use it,” said Kevin Huynh, a School of Engineering first-year. 

Hoffman said Sakai was first created 15 years ago as an open source software project founded by Indiana University, University of Michigan, Stanford University and other universities. Since then, all of these founding universities have transitioned to Canvas as a learning management system.

Rutgers is following suit and hopes to foster collaboration by simplifying the learning and teaching experience using Canvas, Hoffman said.

“We know that a reliable learning management system is essential to the work of students and faculty at Rutgers,” Hoffman said. “That is why we have worked hard to improve the performance and stability of Sakai even as we make the transition to Canvas.” 

Canvas is currently used by more than 3,000 universities, school districts and institutions around the world, Hoffman said. Major universities using Canvas include Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania, University of California, Berkeley and 12 out of the 14 Big Ten universities. 

Students like Agrawal and Huynh prefer the layout of Canvas over Sakai.

“I prefer Canvas because it’s easier to navigate and more organized,” Agrawal said.

“Canvas is vastly superior because of its user-friendly interface and streamlined website. It is easy to find whatever you’re looking for without having to dig through obscure tabs like on Sakai. Canvas also has a great app,” said Huynh.


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