GEEKNOTE: Quite a few of my Geeknotes are inspired by my customers. Some of my customers have served as the inspiration for multiple Geeknotes. This week's Geeknote is a special request from a local lawyer named Rich, who coincidentally learned this lesson the hard way last week.
Regular readers know that I have a generally low opinion of the ability of large companies to do anything that requires fixing problems on a timely basis. It isn't that small companies don't make mistakes. We do. The difference is that small companies can fix problems a lot faster than large ones.
Several years ago, Rich signed up with a yellow page provider to handle both his yellow page advertising and his company's domain and website. Having used us for years for email, he told them to point the MX records at us and let us continue to handle his email. This arrangement worked well up until a little over a week ago. That Saturday night, his domain and website disappeared and his email quit working.
It seems that his yellow page contract renewal had gotten lost somewhere in the vast bureaucracy that is the yellow page company. With no notice, they took down his website and nuked the domain service (DNS) for his domain, effectively killing his company's email.
His assistant was knocking on my door bright and early Monday morning to let me know that they weren't getting any email. I did a quick check of our server and everything looked fine. I checked the domain and realized things were definitely NOT fine. I advised her that they needed to contact their yellow page company.
Repeated calls to their yellow page rep went unreturned. Rich finally got through to a supervisor and the supervisor figured out what had gone wrong and got the website back up Thursday. Unfortunately, the yellow page company put in some generic mail (MX) records in the DNS that weren't correct.
Rich noted that their email was still not working and he came over late Thursday with the name and number for the supervisor and asked me to help get the email working again. I immediately called and got voicemail. I called again bright and early Friday and got voicemail again, so I called yellow pages' main number and had worked my way to their tech department when Rich walked in to get a status report. I put the call on speaker so Rich could participate and give them enough information to validate that I had authorization to have them make the necessary changes. Within an hour, we had their email back up.
What should have been a 10-minute fix took a week, all because Rich was dealing with a large company where nobody sees the whole picture and nobody is responsible for making sure that things work.
What makes this story so compelling is that, as of September 1st, lawyers in our area are going to be required to do all their filings over the Internet. Without a functioning email address, they might as well lock the doors and send everybody home.
The problem boils down to having a single point of failure controlled by a slow moving bureaucracy.
We've solved Rich's longer-term problem by setting up an emergency address using one of our domains and configured that address to forward to his regular mailbox. Even if his domain winks out again, he will still be able to get email using the emergency address. His emergency address is hosted on a different mail server than his primary address, so even a server failure doesn't leave him high and dry.
Redundancy is a good thing. Another customer we have is an insurance agency. They can't afford to be without email if/when the big one hits here, so we have things set up so that a server in California gets a copy of all their email and acts as a "hot spare" for their email in the event of a disaster. We figure that the odds of a Cat 5 storm hitting Florida at the exact same time "the big one" hits and California drops into the Pacific Ocean are pretty long. Just in case though, we have arrangements in place to put them on a Kentucky server in the event of a dual disaster.
We use the same yellow page company that Rich does, but we don't trust that company with our domain name, primary website, or email. (We use multiple yellow page companies, because oddly enough in this Internet age, the yellow page books actually get us new customers).
The moral of the story once again is that you are almost invariably better off to deal with a local company and real people who you can talk to directly if you have a problem. This is true for computers, websites, email, cars, air conditioners, and any number of other products that I could name.
Feel free to drop me a note or leave a comment here if you have any questions about your computer or your office network.
Rob Marlowe, Senior Geek, Gulfcoast Networking, Inc.
(Rob also serves as deputy mayor of the City of New Port Richey. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent the position of the city.)