By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2004-01-16 Print this article Print

Remote personnel, incompatible computer gear, unreliable power and communications lines, and equipment-disabling lightning strikes are just some of the obstacles confronting the technology managers supporting the United Nations' peacekeeping mission in Si

. 31, DPKO Headquarters, Freetown, Sierra Leone">

Oct. 31, DPKO Headquarters, Freetown, Sierra Leone

Mayordomo and McKenzie have a Friday-morning meeting with a group of military officers, a review of how well their communications and information-system needs are being met.

As Mayordomo is hustling up the steps leading to the Mammy Yoko, someone asks how his day is going. "Not so good—we're fired up already," he says, meaning the complaints are rolling in. A network segment is down on the fourth floor of the Mammy Yoko, and whenever that happens at least 25 people are affected. He's thinking it has something to do with last night's lightning storm. It's not until much later that he finds out about a recall of the Cisco 3524 switches the mission uses.

The military officers include Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, a Nigerian and a Brit. The group works its way down the agenda, noting which problems have been solved or partly solved. One of the Pakistanis is from Koidu, and he repeats complaints about the backlog in Lotus Notes IDs and networking failures. Mayordomo recaps his concern about needing to control the proliferation of e-mail accounts. The Aironet issues have been fixed, he says, and the problem router should be replaced today.

McKenzie takes the rap for some recent problems, such as an outbreak of the MSBlaster computer worm. He's here as the communications representative, but filled in as I.T. director while Mayordomo was on a recent vacation. "And I can't spell I.T.," he says, repeating a favorite catchphrase. "When we got a virus, I ran for the med kit."

Putting on his comms hat, however, McKenzie argues the network is congested partly because some of the regional sites, including Koidu, are overloading it. Just as Mayordomo had noted unauthorized computers on the Koidu network, McKenzie has noticed a proliferation of phones. The Pakistanis must prioritize which phones really need trunk lines with dedicated connections, he says.

As the meeting is breaking up, the British officer, Lt. Col. Ian McKend, pulls Mayordomo aside to talk about the unreliability of document sharing over the network. When the commanders come in at 6:30 a.m., all the military and military-observer reports from the field that they need to condense into situation reports for the daily briefing are supposed to be at their fingertips. But when something goes wrong—for example, when the shared network drive where those reports are stored is slow or unresponsive—there's no one around from I.T. to help.

Although the help-desk staff doesn't get in until 7:30, Mayordomo tells him there's always someone designated to be on call. This is news to McKend, who scribbles down the pager number saying, "This may be a big part of the solution right here."

"And let me know if there's any reluctance to come in," Mayordomo tells him. "If it's, 'Can't it wait?' or 'I'll be there in a couple of hours'—no, not good enough. They're supposed to come right in."

Mayordomo spends much of the rest of his day trying to finalize plans to visit Liberia and see how the rapid deployment of technology he arranged for the new mission there has panned out.

At dusk, when his staff assembles for barbecue and beer on a wooden deck out by the satellite farm, Mayordomo spots Ambrose Majongwe, just back from a return engagement in Koidu.

"Ambrose!" he shouts. "Is VoIP working in Koidu?"

Majongwe isn't ready to celebrate just yet, though it was working when he left. "Let's just wait until Monday, OK?"

It turns out that when Majongwe tried installing several alternate versions of IOS, he was attempting to solve the wrong problem. The router operating system crashed because it didn't have memory allocated properly for the hardware that had been installed, not because it was the wrong operating system.

At last report, the new router was still working in Koidu, handling both data and phone calls as Internet packets. Yet Mayordomo says network congestion on the link to Koidu remains a problem—perhaps other traffic has rushed in to grab whatever bandwidth was freed up.

Cisco's global account manager to the U.N., David Andemicael, says he believes the technicians in Sierra Leone and throughout DPKO need better training to be more successful with Cisco technology. "We're now providing them with a lot of courses we usually charge for," he says. Majongwe's misadventures with the 3725 router in Koidu prove the point, since he skipped the crucial memory-configuration step, Andemicael says. "It's not trial and error, the way they tend to want to operate."


Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
eWeek eWeek

Have the latest technology news and resources emailed to you everyday.