Thursday 31 March 2011

Plus.Net responding OK

After we took the the trouble to gain Plus.Net's attention over the issue of a No-NAT service for their business ADSL their support manage has been attentive to the issue. We are seeing some results.
We're told they don't currently support No-NAT on the ADSL routers supplied for their business connection. We were given wrong advice when we signed up for a contract with them.

However to give them their due, Plus.Net have been responsive.  They have found us details of a work around which, after a bit of tinkering by us, has provided us with No-NAT  connection through the Thompson 585 ADSL router they provided. The device is a bit greedy for static  IP addresses. From a block of four IP addresses you are left with one usable address. So we've requested a block of 8 new addresses via; let's hope they have a spare 8 IPV4 hanging around.

Even better had a spare Netgear N300 Router which is "better at No-NAT". we've received that by courier about 20 minutes ago, so when I've some spare time we'll fire that up too and see if it replaces the Thompson unit.

From the information I gathered from it looks like they are ramping up their business offering in terms of support and features like No-NAT but it may be a few weeks/months before that works through into what the public (businesses) see in terms of delivery. The No-NAT configuration workaround we have is not supported at the moment, but if they continue their progress I suspect that will change.

If there is any doubt about the need for No-NAT I can say I've just spent the past 8 working hours resolving a problem where Microsoft FrontPage, used by an external creative, refused to work with one of our servers which is presently behind a NAT firewall. All of our web editing software has no problem, just the damn Microsoft product thinks the world is different. Grrr!!


ps. We spoke too soon.  The saga continues.

Tuesday 29 March 2011 Internet not good for us

I mentioned in a previous post I’d be relating my experiences with the Internet broadband service to my business. I’m sad to say on their current performance I would not recommend them for use within a business environment. I’m awaiting a call from their business manager so I’ll maybe change my mind, but they are going to have to work hard. Their initial response was not "we'll fix this", but "the manager will listen to the voice recording of what was said at the time of order!"

Hello! I'm the customer. I'm not thick. I can actually remember that far back! (a few days). C.Y.A. is not a solution to the business problem.

Here’s the nub of the problem. When I raised the order for the service I specifically requested a No-NAT router (I’ll explain later) and that was agreed on the phone at the time of the order. In fact the sales clerk specifically contacted technical people during the call to confirm this feature.
It turns out, after another call (part of the conversation 853K wav) by me to their support team, that in fact “have never” supplied No-NAT routers for their service. The Router they supplied the Thompson 585 is in fact capable of providing No-NAT, but it would involve us having to perform Command Line Instruction (CLI) programming on their equipment and we’d end up with a non-standard configuration. Others have experience of this.

With my other two broadband suppliers we use Easynet and Demon Internet they supplied No-NAT ADSL routers without a quibble. Their equipment worked first time configured as requested without a problem on the day it was delivered. To put it mildly, I am surprised does not provide this basic business network facility for their service advertised as “Business”.

With NAT routers the external IP addresses are translated to internal network addresses (Network Address Translation, geddit?) with a No-NAT configuration it is possible for external IP addressing to pass through the router direct to Servers and the like behind the router. We use that feature to create a DMZ for public facing servers while our business PCs are protected behind a firewall.
So what else don’t I like about the service.
  • They throttle traffic even on their unlimited business service.
  • If you send an email addressed to their support team it will be bounced unread. You are forced to use their browser based ticket form. In short it is organised for their convenience and not the business customer.
  • I was unable to use their browser support page to close tickets that had been left open.
  • I could have no more than three support tickets open at any time. At that limit you are forced to contact them by phone because you cannot close other tickets and emails are rejected. Again their convenience and not the customer’s. I did not have this limitation with my existing suppliers.
  • They use 0845 numbers for support calls, though there is a geographic number for business support.
My advice to Save your money on Yorkshire accent TV adverts and provide some focus on your business broadband order supply process. It will reduce the number of calls to your support team. Without No-NAT your service is about as useful as a chocolate teapot to us.

N.B. There have been developments since this blog entry.

You cannot teach people Project Management

You cannot teach people how to manage projects! It is a skill learned through experience. It is however a lot easier to learn those skills if you have received training in the techniques of project management as part of the experience period.

No amount of theoretical training can get the putative project manager to realise just how much circumstance and people will act and conspire to thwart project deadlines and budgets. Detailed documentation of project activity will merely act as an aide memoir as you sift through the ashes of a failed project.

A project manager should serve as an "apprentice" under the tutelage of a master project manager. In that way the novice can learn, aided by supplemental formal training, how to manage, and react to, people, resources and events whilst under the protective guidance of the master. A lot of the gain is learning how to react when things go wrong. The other important challenge is learning how to really communicate with people involved in or affected by the Project.

Sunday 27 March 2011

Moving away from Easynet

We're in the process of shutting down our Easynet Internet link. It is a pity because their engineering support tends to be good and responsive to any problems. We've had a business LLU ADSL link from them for a few years now. It is rated at 8mbs but has never come close to that rate. It typically hovers around the 4 mbs line speed. That in itself should not be a problem, but we've purchased a similar 8mbs link from Demon Internet and that runs at twice the speed of Easynet for both download and upload running from the same Deptford exchange. The Demon link has also been running for a couple of years with only a couple of noticeable outages.

The Local Link Unbundled (LLU) circuit is a copper pair (telephone wire) leased by Easynet from BT travelling direct from the local exchange to our building. Within the BT Deptford exchange that copper pair connects to equipment owned by Easynet. They have control over everything and should be able to deliver a service equal to the Demon (badged BT) service, but that haven't been able to do that. To be fair to them Easynet have tried to fix the problem:
  • they've swapped out the ADSL modem/router in our building;
  • they've had a new BT line installed;
  • they've rerouted the service to another card within the Deptford exchange.
However despite their engineering efforts over 2 years they have not been able to match the line quality. I suspect there is something in the way their bulk traffic is handled in the exchange or deeper within their network. The service is supposed to be a 5:1 contention, but I have my doubts. It is possible their retail SKY TV service may compete with the business service.

In any event it is most noticeable with VOIP applications, such as Skype. The voice telephony is clear and undistorted over the Demon link, but as soon as we divert the traffic over the Easynet link the quality of the voice service drops off considerably. For resilience purposes we have two ADSL links coming in to a load balancing/failover router so it is possible to redirect the traffic at the click of a mouse.

The reason why we've stuck with Easynet company so long is their technical support team are great. You have a skilled engineer answer the phone within a few seconds. They normally deal with most problems promptly. Their billing department gives few problems.

With Demon Internet their first level support team are noticeably less skilled and the mean time to fix is unpredictable. We absolutely hate Demon's billing and credit control team, they are a constant pain in the ass with little idea of good customer relations. Fortunately the ADSL service they provide, via BT, is good.

Now we need to look at the cost of service. Demon works out at £40 a month ex VAT, though they recently promised to bring that down to £25 (we shall see!) when I complained existing customers were paying the old £40 while new customers were getting a £25 deal.

The Easynet service comes in at £90 a month ex VAT for a business service. Strangely enough we don't begrudge the difference of £90 over £40 because Easynet are so much easier to do business with over Demon Internet. However the unresolved poor Easynet line quality is a kicker. Effectively we can only use it as a backup line, but we are not confident it will always kick in if the Demon line fails; plus there is the poor suitability for VOIP.

So with some reluctance we've purchased a contract with to replace the Easynet service. It will be about the same price as the Demon Service for a similar bandwidth. After a week we have the service working in a testing mode. Their customer support is reactive, but the sign up process is a bit patchy. We find ourslves having to remind them that we actually ordered a static IP address range and a no-NAT router; this bit doesn't quite work yet so we are having to allocate some resources to resolve the issues. Not good for a business client.

We'll keep you posted on here.

Monday 21 March 2011

BT Price increases

Yet another outrageous above inflation price increase by BT. The report is per minute price of a call will rise 9% to 7.6 pence on 28th April 2010.

This time last year a call minute was priced at 5.4 pence. By my reckoning the year on year increase has actually been more like a 40% increase. See my note in February 2010. Of course that is not all. The call set up fee will increase to 12.5 pence (last year in Feb 9.3 pence - that is a 35% increase).

So from the 1st of April 2011, if you make a BT call and speak for 10 seconds it will cost you 20.1 pence. The price of a similar call via Skype: 5.8 pence (including VAT).


Friday 18 March 2011

BT Marketing - misleading?

I've just received a mailshot from Nigel Stagg of BT Business offering unlimited UK calls, broadband and business line phone all for [an amazing] £1.35 per day (or £492.75 a year).

Ah, but then you look at the small print:

Broadband limited to 10 GB a month; it would be a constraint easily broken.
There's an "optional" router price £59 ex VAT. - if you want the service you'll need a router!
There's a £99 connection charge.
Unlimited calls is really 2.75 hours per day; then you start paying full phone tariffs.
If you want a static IP Address, that'll be an extra £5 per month (£60 a year).
It's an online billing price; if you want paper bills to pass on to your accountant it costs extra.

However the kicker is: "annual minimum spend of £500" ex VAT. So be ready to write a cheque for at least £1,200.