Steps for CIOs

By Larry Barrett  |  Posted 2002-08-02 Print this article Print

Worried about your ISP in the wake of the telco tidal wave? Get a backup plan in place now.

Steps for CIOs

Here are some of the steps Siegel suggests any CIO should take:

  • Think about a backup plan. If you can, decide to pay for backup service. If your service goes down, Siegel points out, it could be as long as six weeks before you get a new "local loop" set up through another company.
  • Go to another ISP and establish a connection that's burstable (instant, just by using it), fractional (it will take a day or two for them to flip the switch) or frame-relay (a fast but older technology for lease-line service). Such a connection takes low bandwidth, and installing the physical connection that can be activated instantly—or at least quite quickly—makes you ready for any possible problems with your primary ISP.
  • Decide how or whether to connect that new backup wire into your system. Even that is not cut and dried. For pulling in a backup wire, there are a couple of options.

    Option 1: Don't connect the wire into your system. This can save you money. You establish a pre-arrangement with your Domain Name Service provider to be ready to change your authoritative record quickly—when you need to. This translation service reroutes traffic from your established IP (Internet Protocol) address (with, say, WorldCom) to a backup address with another ISP provider. It's a kind of address change that's fairly quick, although not seamless. You don't pay for service you're not using.

    The key with this option, says Siegel, is to make sure the box that does the translating is on a separate network, not on the same network that's in trouble.

    Option 2: Connect the wire and officially become multi-homed. In this option, you have two separate ISPs wired and ready—one as your primary, one as your backup. It's more complicated, more difficult to deal with initially and probably more expensive, but the switchover is more seamless. This way, you have separate IP addresses on two ISP providers.

    To make the second option work, you need a router to handle the BGP-4 (Border Gateway Protocol 4) Internet routing protocol. You have to deal with that protocol with the assistance of both ISP companies, and it will cost money. You may have to upgrade your router. Also, in this case you must get status as an "independent network" in order to have two official addresses with different ISPs.

    To get that status, which will take a couple of weeks, you must apply for a new AS (autonomous system) number through ARIN (American Registry for Internet Numbers), the international standards body. You must show it proof that you're going to be multi-homed. To Siegel, these are the steps that make the most sense. If you decide to leave WorldCom entirely and move to a different primary ISP, you create a whole set of potential problems and complications.

    Take Trans World Radio, for example. The not-for-profit Christian broadcasting company, with stations scattered across 160 countries and an annual technology budget of $3 million, is learning just how complicated it can be to make a change in telecommunication services providers.

    About two weeks before WorldCom's accounting issues came to light, Trans World Radio's contract with WorldCom expired. What seemed to be excellent timing turned out quite different. Unhappy with what he called "poor customer service" and "rampant overcharges," Information Technology and Systems Director John Baines vowed to leave WorldCom and went looking for a new services provider. After weighing all his options, including other telecom behemoths such as AT&T and Sprint, he went with ITC-DeltaCom Communications, a regional provider based near Trans World Radio's home base in Georgia.

    "But the problem now is that just a few days after I signed the contract, I find out that ITC-DeltaCom, at least its parent holding company, has serious problems, too," Baines says. "Especially after hearing about the layoffs at WorldCom and all their problems, I thought I'd made a great choice. I was really proud of myself for a few days. Turns out I may have just traded in the frying pan for the fire."

    After signing up Trans World, ITC-DeltaCom Inc., the parent company, did its best to break Baines' heart when it announced a massive restructuring itself and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

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    Senior Writer
    Larry, of San Carlos, Calif., was a senior writer and editor at CNet, writing analysis, breaking news and opinion stories. He was technology reporter at the San Jose Business Journal from 1996-1997. He graduated with a B.A. from San Jose State University where he was also executive editor of the daily student newspaper.

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