Failed Sessions

For exactly two months now I have been working on a re-opened issue (on Oct 7, 2009) where sessions appear to die in Blackboard Vista 8.0.2 hf1.

The first time this came up, Blackboard support wanted us to overhaul the session management. BIG-IP documents saying attempting this new method was a horrible idea caused us never to get on board. We agreed to conduct tests which showed there wasn’t a problem with session spray, which the solution was designed to resolve. Stonewalled, we closed the ticket when the institution reporting it didn’t have any cases to provide us.

So our client with the issue asked us to resume work on it. The key information they provided me was their users hit the /webct/logonDisplay.dowebct. Since they use Single-Sign On (SSO) from a portal, no users should ever hit this page. From investigating these cases, I was able to find a number of cases of users hitting /webct/displayAssessment.dowebct or /webct/displayAssessmentIntro.dowebct with the guest user.

See, the guest user exists at the domain learning context. Users appear as guest before they login or as the logout. They should not appear as guest when taking a quiz.

So I provided this information to Blackboard with the web server logs. They wanted more cases, so I provided more. More clients reported the issue, so I had plenty of sources. Plus it pointed to this problem affecting at least 4 if not all clusters.

Next, our TSM left, so we were provide a new person unused to us. It took just the first note to make a huge mistake. “Provide us all the logs from all the nodes.” At 5GB of logs times 14 nodes in a cluster, 70GB of information for an event which took up maybe 10KB seems like overkill. So… No. I like to think of my self as proficient at system administration, which means I can gather whatever logs you desire.

Now we come to the second mistake. Please refrain from asking me questions already explained in the ticket. Sure, the ticket has a large amount of information. However, if I can remember what is in the ticket, then so can the people working it.

Unfortunately I had to answer a question about replicating this with: it was based on my log trolling not actual cases of students complaining. My mistake was not going to the clients to find a description of the problem. Therefore, Blackboard wanted a WebEx so I could explain the same one sentence repetitively. *headesk* We agreed on me getting a case where a user could explain the problem.

As luck would have it, I got just a case a few days later. So I captured the web server log information and sent it along with the user description. My laziness resulted in me not trimming the log set down to the period of the error. Therefore, this log set showed a user1 login, user2 login, then user1 login again. Blackboard responded this might be a case of sporadic shifting users. Hello! I guess these folks are not used to seeing the SSO login to be able to know the session shifted to another user because… it… logged… in?

By pulling the entries from the f5 log showing the client IP address, Blackboard now wants us to implement a configuration change to the f5 to reflect the browser’s IP in our web server log. Getting such a change isn’t easy for us. Don’t say this is the only way to get client IPs when I… have… sent… you… client IPs. We’ve been at this impasse for 3 weeks. So I get to have another WebEx where I explain the same thing I’ve already written. *headesk*

Maybe it is finally time to ask the people if they are at all familiar with the known issue which sounds like the issue?

VST-3898: When taking an assessment the session is not kept alive. The student’s session times out forcing the student to restart the assessment or makes them unable to complete the assessment.

We plan to implement the upgrade which resolves this issue next week. So, I am hoping this does resolve it. Also, I am tempted to just close this ticket. Should the institutions find they are still having problems in January when the students have had a few quizzes fail, then I might have forgotten how utterly completely useless Blackboard has been on this issue.

All I ask is:

  1. Know the information in the ticket so I don’t have to copy and paste from the same ticket.
  2. Don’t ask for all the logs. Tell me what logs you want to view.
  3. Don’t tell me something is the only way when I’ve already shown you another way. I’m not an idiot.
  4. Don’t ask me if the f5 log has the cookie when the entries I’ve already sent you don’t have it.