The Bitter  Network Administrator

A Website Dedicated to Computer Professional...and some not so Professional

Don’t trust those Techies, Part 1
by Graham Parks

Reading the Network Administrator, I have noticed a couple of recent articles having a bash at phone companies. Never one to let a bandwagon pass by, I am jumping on. As well as having a good laugh at the expense of phone companies I also hope to show you that, as a network administrator, you need to keep a close eye on all things and do not assume that other technical “professionals” working on your network work to your standards.

I once had a network problem between two sites. There was a link, but it regularly failed. The root cause of the problem was the company beancounter who had wrecked the original plans for the link by going behind everyone’s back and selecting a cheaper option. For “cheaper” read “crap”.

Because of the frequent failures it was decided (not be me) to connect the routers at each site to an ISDN line. These could be used if the link failed and also provide some extra bandwidth if the link was very busy. The failover from the fixed line to ISDN was completely automatic and transparent to the user. The guy from the phone company who came to discuss this was very knowledgeable, friendly and helpful. I was very impressed and had high hopes for a successful outcome. Alas, this was to be the last intelligent person I was to meet from the phone company.

The work involved the installation of an ISDN line at both sites and new routers that would support the failover/top-up options.

The ISDN lines were installed without any problems and then an engineer arrived at each of the two sites simultaneously to install the routers. Looking good!

The engineers had instructions to install the routers. That is it. No information about what equipment they were to link to or anything else. Not so good!

So I showed the engineer on the site I was at what it was all about and left him to get on with the job and communicate with his partner at the remote site. After an hour or so I had heard nothing so went to see what they were up to. They had got nowhere. They were completely at a loss as to what to do. So I explained what to do and with some scepticism they went ahead. Ten minutes later we could ping anything in the chain successfully.

The engineers left and said that other engineers would do the final configuration and tuning remotely.

The link was up and working so a week later in a quiet period I set a large file copying across the link and went and pulled the plug on the link to check if the failover worked. It didn’t.

It turned out that the final configuration had not been done because the engineers had password protected the routers and not told anyone what the passwords were.

This got solved and I then repeated the test and it worked.

I then did another test to check the bandwidth top-up was working. It wasn’t!!!!!!

By now I’m getting more than a little pissed! So I rant at the phone company again and the problem gets fixed and finally, everything works. End of problems, right? No!

The bills arrive, one each for the work at the two sites. Remember, exactly the same work has been done at each site. So why are the bills different???? I managed to dump this problem onto accounts.

The lesson I learned here is do not assume that anything added to your network by an outside company actually works unless they can provide you with evidence or you test it yourself. Since this incident I have found non-working solutions more than once and in my next article I’ll tell you all about what I consider almost criminal negligence/stupidity on a database system that came with a six figure price tag.

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