These OARS do not row

A slowly unfolding chaotic mess of incomplete information, erratic errors and temperamental tantrums, the OARS surely creates a place for itself in the hearts of every student who has ever used it. Time and again, we realise the multiple ways in which it is inadequate, despite there being multiple ways in which we are adequate to change it.

The last preregistration season witnessed quite a lot of drama with the OARS shutting down every now and then. As a result, we received multiple mails from the DoAA regarding guidelines to handle the OARS, and had also witnessed a deadline extension of around a week. Many members of the faculty had come out citing their concerns against it, some in rather humorous ways, and there was also a surge of memes mocking it. Facebook pages like Humans Against OARS quickly gained traction as they resonated with the feelings of the entire student community, as well as the instructors. So, we decided to have a look at the various diseases that plague it, so as to better understand the causes.

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(Image courtsey : Humans Against OARS)

Going through the information available on the OARS website, we came to know that it was created in the year 2001 by a group of students from the Department of Computer Science under Prof. Phalguni Gupta. It was initially designed with a handling capacity sufficient for the students of the Computer Science and Electrical Engineering Departments. The system involved using the Oracle database used by the Undergraduate (UG) office as the back-end. Modifications were made to that database and the front end was created in ASP (Active-Server Pages). PL-SQL programming was used to reduce load on the ASP engine and put it on the Oracle server instead. The entire page is built on HTML frames, and is incompatible with HTML5.

At the OARS office, we learnt that the current system is handled by Mr. DC Mishra, and a group of engineers and technicians from the Computer Centre. Mr. DC Mishra also happens to be heading the development of the new OARS. Here is what we learnt from our conversation with him.

VP: Why is it so slow?

DCM :If the server is hit more that 50 times in a day with the same IP address, it marks this address as spam, and restricts it, which is the usual reason why it is perceived to be slow. This is due to existing firewalls in the system. A tradeoff has to be made between reducing system security and increasing the performance of the server and hence the firewalls cannot be removed entirely. Further, the presence of a virus scanner makes the server slow, turning off which restores the speed.

Also, the system had a defective RAM, which was supposed to be of 64GB, but functioned as a 16GB one. This has been replaced by a 128GB RAM now, which would hopefully make the process much smoother next time.

VP: Why does it work only through Internet Explorer?

DCM : It is difficult to write code for every page to make it compatible with every browser. Even if this is done, it would make it incompatible with the older versions of IE. With around 70% of the professors still on the older IE version, it becomes rather difficult to make the shift. However, we are updating it, and parts of the website are now accessible on Firefox, though only for professors.

VP : Is there anything new in the pipeline?

DCM : We expect to come out with an improved OARS by the end of February. A variety of algorithms are being considered to make the process student friendly and more flexible. The following are most likely to be implemented in the new system-

  1. A new system for clearing queues for Open Electives.
  2. Three days will be initially given to students to apply. Post this, the first list of selected students will be intimated of their selection. The students who haven’t got their preferred course will then get two days to reapply. The final list of all selected students will be made after this.
  3. The common practice of instructors clearing the queue in the end which is of great inconvenience to students will no longer be the case.

We are also in the middle of talks with the DOAA and the Students’ Senate to decide on the minimum number of students to register for a course.

 

Another new development in this regard was intimated by the President, Students’ Gymkhana, Ashutosh Ranka. In his recent status update on Pingala he said, “The team will now be picking up work on DoAA modules, with a priority given to the OARS module. Hopefully, we will see an alternate to OARS available in the next semester!”

With the next preregistration season approaching soon, we hope that the improved OARS will be up and about, making the entire process much more hassle free. Let’s wish loads of luck to the entire team, for this is going to be one output for which we can’t wait any longer!

Written by Homanga Bhardhwaj, Naman Verma, Shruti Joshi

 

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