Archive for November 2012

Resolving Verizon/DirectTV Problem: Only Kafka Could Write This

November 5, 2012

Hopefully you are familiar with Franz Kafka, whose literary works confuse, anger and frustrate. My favorite example is The Trial, published in 1925, with a great film adaption by Orson Welles released in 1962. In The Trial, a man is summoned to court, without knowing when or where to go, and put on trial without ever being charged or accused of a crime. Kafka perfectly captured the feeling of being trapped in bureaucratic processes with no reason or explanation. Unfortunately, that was exactly how I felt all weekend trying to resolve a conflict with my Verizon DSL service and my DirectTV service.

Last Tuesday, my home land line and DSL service went down. According to Verizon it was due to the storms in NY, though I found that hard to believe since I’m 3,000 miles away. But anyway, my central office was down. It came back up on Wednesday, but my DirectTV box could not connect to the internet to download OnDemand movies–a feature I use all the time.

On Thursday, I called DirectTV who trouble shot it for me and scheduled a repair person to be onsite between 8am-noon on Friday. I was pleased with the fast appointment and friendly techs at DirectTV, who always take good care of me. When the tech arrived on Friday, he walked in, looked at my Verizon D-Link DSL modem/wireless router, and said, “I’ve seen this at least a dozen times, that modem has port problems.”

At this point, I started to feel Kafka slipping in. I consider myself more technical than the average person, but when the DirectTV tech started explaining to me what was wrong, it sounded like the teacher talking in a Peanuts cartoon:  blah blah blah, blah blah-blah. None of it made sense. Home networking has now become far too complex for anyone but a network engineer.

The crux of the problem is that when the Verizon central office went down and came back up, they used a default configuration that included blocking the port the D-Link modem needed to connect to DirectTV. There was also an issue with the way this modem refreshes IP addresses. While the DirectTV tech was still there, I called Verizon tech support and asked their help in resolving the issue. They immediately said it wasn’t their problem and there was nothing they could do. I handed the phone to the DirectTV tech, who explained the problem in terms beyond my comprehension…unfortunately also beyond the comprehension of this tech support guy in India. The phone call lasted over 2 hours. The Verizon tech didn’t kn0w how to configure ports, and was using a public website for instructions, which was years out of date (it gave procedures for DirectTV using a software version number that hadn’t been supported for 5 years).

The DirectTV guy apologized, said there was nothing else he could do (he replaced my box, the cables, and everything else just to be sure), and finally left when the Verizon tech hung up on us. I called Verizon back, and was told I needed to talk to Level 3 support and would have to pay for that. Then I hung up in disgust.

The DirectTV guy told me to buy another DSL modem and the problem would go away. I didn’t want to do that since I’ve already paid Verizon for the D-Link modem/router, and Verizon refused to send me a different model.  But Saturday I broke down and went to Best Buy and bought the only DSL modem they had, from Actiontec.

Sunday morning it took 3 hours to setup the new modem, requiring another 1+ hour call to Verizon India. Once the new modem was finally connected, DirectTV instantly connected and began downloading OnDemand movies. The Verizon tech even said himself that the Actiontec was a much better modem than the D-Link and had no connectivity problems with other company’s equipment.

So the problem that started on Tuesday was finally resolved by lunchtime on Sunday, after probably 8 total hours on the phone to tech support, a few smart agents, and a few clueless agents with little or no English skills. While I’m glad the problem is fixed, I’m frustrated as hell that I buy my Verizon and DirectTV service bundled through Verizon, yet Verizon provides modems that don’t support DirectTV, and seem clueless and uninterested in fixing the problem. And to charge extra for level 3 support to fix your own equipment problem is totally unacceptable.

So, in my spare time this week, I’m shopping for a new internet provider. Verizon is the only “traditional” carrier here in the mountains where I live, but there are some satellite companies offering service I need to investigate. In fact, DirectTV is going to begin offering phone and internet via satellite in my area soon, which I may have to wait for.  When you drag a customer through a process that can only be described at Kafka-esque, you have to expect a lot of customer churn. And I’ve reached my limit with Verizon.

Thanks for reading.

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Storm of the Century: How Did Your Cloud Providers Perform?

November 1, 2012

Boy oh boy. Hurricane Sandy made a real mess of the East Coast, and the effects will linger on for some time. For some companies, it was a great scapegoat. When my home land line and internet service went down on Tuesday, Verizon told me it was due to storms in New York. I know it was a terrible storm, but was it really responsible for knocking out DSL service for 24 hours in Los Gatos, CA, 3,000 miles away? I doubt it.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one experiencing an unplanned outage. I received this email from a TSIA member at 5:30am PT on Tuesday:

“My cloud PSA solution is completely down today. They made no provision for a backup data center, despite having a week to prepare for the storm. They have not communicated anything about the situation to their customers. It is our quarter end and my core business system is completely unavailable with no word on when it will be restored. If I could move off of this product tomorrow, it would be at least a day too late.”

That stings! Especially for companies that take disaster recovery seriously, finding out your cloud application vendors didn’t prepare a fallback plan is unacceptable. At least for this PSA vendor, I suspect considerable customer churn is right around the corner. I am obligated to pass along this outage information to any members evaluating solutions in the future, so there are impacts to future prospects as well.

I was working for Giga Information Group, an early analyst firm, when September 11th happened. Reeling from shock, we tried to do something useful in the days that followed, and the research organization published immediate reports about disaster recovery planning for every area of technology Giga covered. Hopefully, Hurricane Sandy will similarly force tech firms to create a realistic plan to keep systems running regardless of weather.  In light of the enormous shift to the cloud, it appears that many companies have launched cloud initiatives without much thought to emergency situations.  I have to agree with the above email about the PSA solution–this wasn’t a freak earthquake that no one expected–companies had nearly a full week’s notice that this “storm of a lifetime” was brewing, and any cloud vendor in that vicinity that didn’t immediately plan for a backup server farm on the other side of the country seems downright negligent.

Apparently, someone needs to state the obvious: if you are going to make money by assuming the complexities of your customers’ deployments via cloud hardware and software, you darn well better make sure you have recovery plans for every conceivable emergency…and even some inconceivable emergencies. Your customers have placed their trust in you. When your systems go down…and you don’t even have the common decency to reach out to customers with updates…you probably won’t last long in this marketplace. There are too many competitors who pay attention to the fundamentals.

So if you are being pushed to launch a cloud alternative or a managed service offering this year, I hope you take a lesson from Hurricane Sandy. A single data center isn’t enough. Multiple data centers in a single region isn’t enough. And you better have a plan in place when the unthinkable happens on how to contact customers and keep them updated. Radio silence is not acceptable.

Just my 2 cents.