10 September 2009

Network Disasters Happen in Threes Fours

Only 9 more sleeps to go...

Strike 1: Last week, disaster struck in the form of a 2-day DSL outage. Telkom -- my current DSL provider -- blithely went and cleared the fault ticket after 24hours -- without any consultation with me -- because their test centre said that my router was getting a connection to the local exchange. The ticket comment was, "Fault closed at customer request." Liars!

Much wailing and gnashing of teeth later, they discovered that a whole lot of people in the area were experiencing the same problems: very sporadic connectivity with almost no traffic getting through. Turned out to be a fault on the exchange itself.

Strike 2: On the same day that this problem started, my London-housed server went down for Reasons Unknown. Of course I was blissfully unaware of it until Friday. 2 days of server outage. Then my service provider there was terribly slow to rectify the problem (which -- as the universe will insist upon -- involved a fractal nesting of sub-problems with their own sub-sub-problems ad mandelbrot.) As I write, the server is still only partially up. Apache service -- the one my paying customers rely on -- is up and working fine on one IP address, but Tomcat, hosting my personal and "corporate" sites, blogs and wikis still cannot talk through the other IP address. The service I get from VAServ is pretty kak, but not so kak as to be noteworthy -- they really are giving me a very low-cost package, and, as always, You Gets What You Pays For.

Strike 3: At the same time an FTP backup service I use for offsite backups refused to authenticate me, using the same credentials I've been using for years, with the result that I could not even ensure the safety of all the data! Be Still, My Twitching Ulcer.

You're Out: Welcome to this morning, where we present -- for your entertainment and edification -- a reprise of last week's DSL outage. Telkom, predictably, and once again, are in complete denial that there is actually a problem. Their tests show a solid connection between my router and their exchange. No shit, Sherlock! Pity the bits can't squeeze through the tiny opening.

I've always been very happy with the ISP service I've received from WebAfrica, and have, over the years, put many friends and colleagues onto them, not one of whom has had anything less than Sterling service. I've asked WA to take over my DSL service1, too, in light of recent events. The only bit of business Telkom will be getting from me for the foreseeable future will be POTS.

Only 9 more sleeps to go...2

I think this sorry whining actually has a point; it tends to back up my long-held belief that telcos are constitutionally incapable of competently running IP services. The cultures and philosophies that make end-to-end controlled networks are unable to comprehend -- in some weirdly deep, DNA-level way -- how to cope with IP networks which have almost no intelligence in the middle, but live, instead, with all the intelligence at the edges.

People who run IP networks, on the other hand, are able to provide perfectly adequate voice services over IP, which is why they're going to eat the telcos' lunch over the long term.

[1] There's no transfer/installation fee. Their monthly rates are at present the same as Telkom's, and as they roll out their own infrastructure, they anticipate reducing the charges. Their support desk is outstanding, staffed by people who actually know stuff, don't mind admitting mistakes and problems, treat customers like Real Humans instead of problem-id's, and follow through on promises and commitments and ensuring that things get fixed. I can't see any downside, can you?

[2] Of course, it occurs to me a little late, that I'll only be able to actually post this when I get the server working properly again. Which will only happen when I get some reasonable connectivity back. Which might happen slightly after Lucifer goes skiing from his front doorstep.
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