Friday, November 27, 2009

Dell's Bad Advice and Internet Explorer Requested Lookup Key Not Found in Any Active Activation Context

System: Dell Precision T3400 workstation
Operating System (OS): Windows XP Professional 64-bit
Type of Use: Home / Home Office
Location: Barbados
Date of Dell's On-site Service: November 27th, 2009


  • Power LED on front bezel flashes amber on any attempt to power on from an absence of power condition, e.g. the power cord of the system unplugged from a surge suppressor.

Preliminary Diagnosis

  • A Power Supply Unit (PSU) failure was suspected.
  • The PSU failed when attached to two (2) separate PSU testers - only the +5 VSB LED was active.
  • The User's Guide for the system stated that the diagnostic LED condition implied an internal power issue.
  • From an online chat with Dell's Technical Support a dispatch was created for a replacement PSU.

Dell On-site Technician Diagnosis - 2 Days Later

  • Power supply unit fine but a motherboard replacement is required.

Subsequent Issue

  • The motherboard was replaced but a fault condition was experienced when attempting to load operating system (OS. A STOP error (blue screen, white text) appeared on each OS load attempt.

Real Reason for the Subsequent Issue

  • The Operating System (OS) expects the BIOS to be set in RAID On (or always on - whatever is the exact text) mode. This was not the default BIOS setting of newly replaced motherboard. To Dell's credit, this was also not the setting when the system was shipped from the factory about a year ago.
  • Simply changing this BIOS setting would have allowed the OS to load properly.

Fix Applied by Dell Technician and Dell Tech Support

  • The on-site technician performed an in-place/repair installation of Windows XP Professional 64-bit.
  • The above action would have reversed the OS from being capable be used in a RAID 0 or RAID 1 configuration. I had performed an in-place/repair install less than a week prior in order to setup data redundancy on the same Dell Precision workstation using RAID 1 (disk mirroring). In effect, Dell was restoring the factory configuration of the OS and Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL).

Side Effects of Repair Install
In place/Repair installation of Windows XP Professional 64-bit damaged something in Internet Explorer. Internet Explorer 8 was installed on the system prior to the repair installation. The repair installation probably placed IE 6 as the executing IE version, but remanants of IE 8 where possibly somehow interfering with browsing from the running version of IE.

There were apparently also some networking problems at the same time. The computer was reportedly not always connecting to the Internet. Since I was not on-site, I cannot described the exact nature of the issue. However, the user reported that rebooting the networking devices seemed to have resolved the networking issues - apart from those with IE. The computer is and was connected to the networking equipment via an Ethernet cable.

I am unclearly on if the directly attached Linksys Wireless-N router (with LAN ports) was restarted only or also the Internet Service Provider's (ISP) Customer Premises Equipment (CPE).

However, the interpretation of an "absence of Internet condition" and a "networking problem" is generally one and the same for many end-users. Thus, a web browser not bringing up a web page is usually the condition that triggers fancy fault proclaimations and rebooting of devices. As described later, Internet Explorer was not successfully finding (resolving) and loading address bar entered web pages other that Google's search/home page (which was luckily set as the home page).

Given the previous paragraph, it is possible that assumed networking issues confused the technical analysis by Dell's remote support personnel as well as the on-site technician while he/she was present.

Side Effect Symptoms - IE Specific

  • Home page loaded on opening IE.
  • The user is able to search and access web sites from Google's search results.
  • Typing full URL (e.g., or anything else, in IE's address bar resulted in an untitled dialog box with the message:
The requested lookup key was not found in any active
activation context.

Suggestion of Dell Technical Support - Phone/Remote Session Support

  • Backup data and contact him/her again for a clean installation of Windows XP Professional 64-bit in order to resolve the issue.

A Clean Install is Not Necessary for a Web Browser Issue!

  • The issue existed only with Internet Explorer! Mozilla Firefox was also installed on the user's system and did not experience the same issue.
  • The suggestion of the Dell Support Technician was an inappropriate resolution step and would have been needlessly disruptive to the user in terms of data backup, restoration and application and driver reinstallation.

Solution - Fix IE Installation
Uninstall IE8 from Start >> Run... by typing:


Thanks to

The system was restarted the system after the IE8 uninstall. IE6 was present both as a 32-bit and 64-bit application and operating normally with respect to typing URLs in the address bar.

The system was upgraded to IE8 for whatever security and feature benefits it may give the user. The user reported that all was well after the upgrade.

Commentary on Dell Service

  1. The Dell on-site Technician repaired the hardware condition and overstepped his/her scope of work in fiddling with the operating system. Of course, attempting to help the end-user is admirable but doing a bad job is not.
  2. Isolation of the fault with respect to the OS loading after the motherboard was changed was beyond the on-site technician and whatever remote support assistance he/she had.
  3. At the point of experiencing the STOP error, the on-site support technician failed to engage the client in conversation. She would likely have referred him/her to speak to me, and I would of course have decided to take it from there myself or asked about the RAID on BIOS setting.
  4. Isolation of the web browser and assumed networking faults were again beyond the on-site Dell technician and whatever remote support he/she and the end-user had from other Dell representatives. A real IT support technician travels with software and browser setup images. Additionally, the proper diagnosis of networking issues MUST always move outside of web browser interaction observations.
  5. It is disgusting that the remote Dell Support was advocating a clean OS installation to solve a web browsing issue, moreover, a vendor specific browser issue. This points to the usual inadequate networking training of typical PC Support technicians and how dangerous it can be to end-users. From personal observation, strangely enough, years on the job do not appear to broaden our improve their knowledge of networking.

On the Good Side

  1. The user is lucky to have not incurred part replacement fees due to having a sensible warranty (3-year, Next Business Day) on the Dell Precision workstation. This purchase time warranty clearly has significantly lowered the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of the system, which has experiences a hard drive failure, cage-fan failure and motherboard failure all within the first year of the warranty. Many may get frustrated with so many issues in such a short time and claim brand inferiority, however on the economic side they are free to try another brand without the ease of warranty support and on-site service and judge the hassle and cost for theirselves.
  2. The user is also lucky to have expert level assistance in the form of me, though not so luck as above with respect to the fees. :-)

Items for Dell to Address
Observed during Online Chat to Report Power-On Issue

  1. I used the name of the client, a female in the chat sign up so she would remain the primary contact for Dell in the follow-up interaction. The support representative persisted in calling me Mr. Placeholder-for-English-Female-Christian-Name. This is despite me giving the full name being entered in the Chat sign-up information capture. The protocol for addressing customers need to be reviewed.
  2. The support representative asked if I tried the PSU in another computer system, to which I sarcastically commented and rambled on a bit about the likelyhood of having 2 workstations or desktops in the home so I could diagnostically swap parts. The support representative took this opportunity to point out that I was rather impolite - this was obviously an inappropriate and ill-advised action on his/her part. Of course, I so informed him/her.
  3. A summary of the fault was entered prior to the startup of the chat session, however on entering the chat the support representative still asked about the fault. Don't they get to read the initial information?
  4. Even though the system has a Next Business Day (NBD) warranty and the replacement part was in the island the Dell Technical support was saying the replacement service would be scheduled within 1 to 3 days. This is not quite what NBD means.


[1] Rant: requested lookup key was not found in any active activation context. Usenet Group: microsoft.public.internetexplorer.general. Found via Google Groups. Accessed: 2009-11-27.

[2] Accessed: 2009-11-27.

[3] How to reinstall or repair Internet Explorer in Windows Vista and Windows XP. Accessed: 2009-11-28.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

LIME St. Lucia Communicates to Customers on SMTP Blocking Issue - with Tight Deadline?

This is an update to the precursor articles:
  • LIME St. Lucia SMTP Blocking - End User Edition
  • 2009-09-12 - LIME St. Lucia - Blocks SMTP Communication - Outbound Traffic on Port 25 - Disrupts a Business from Sending E-mail for at Least 1 Week!

On September 15th, 2009, at 10:35 hours AST (Atlantic Standard Time) LIME St. Lucia sent an e-mail to customers titled "FW: Email Experience/Spamming":
  1. Requesting information on the mail servers used by their business.
  2. Encouraging those hosting mail servers on-site and using dynamic IP addresses to move to using a static IP address.
  3. Requesting the information be sent by close of business today (September 15th, 2009).

Clearly they have not accounted for the situation where the clients do not host an on-site mail server (and therefore have no need for a static IP address, a static IP has a monthly recurrent cost) and wish to maintain communication with their 3rd party e-mail service provider!

Consider the scenario where an employee expects to access his e-mail from Microsoft Outlook on his residential LIME-provisioned ADSL connection at his home. This e-mail could be hosted either on his business place's on-site mail server or on that of a 3rd party provider. Let's hope that employee and his technical support / e-mail service providers are aware of the alternative means of regaining productivity!

Where are the Caribbean's Telecommunication Regulatory Authorities and Consumer Commissions on this matter? I know I e-mailed NTRC ( at - e-mail from their web page!

As of September 15th, 2009, 13:20 hrs AST no update was done in the Service Alerts ( or Press Releases ( section of the LIME St. Lucia web-site.

By the way, those direct hyper-links above are likely to fail because the web server would NOT know the country context unless chosen from on the LIME Home Page ( Any further discussion on this is for another blog though. :-)

Monday, September 14, 2009

LIME St. Lucia SMTP Blocking - End User Edition

By: Jason Hynds
Date: 2009-09-14

LIME St. Lucia was discovered to be one of the sites for a hush hush change in network policy that blocks persons from sending e-mail through third party E-mail Service Providers (ESP) using SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) on TCP (Transmission Control Port) port 25.

LIME St. Lucia ( has not issued any on-line alerts on this change in policy. Checks were made up to September 12th, 2009 on their Service Alerts web page - which was empty, and also with other informational pages such as Press Releases and Promotions.

This network policy changes apparently intends to combat spam from originating on the LIME network, especially from subscribers with infected computers commonly called zombies. These zombie computers can act as a spam sources by mimicking the functionality of mail servers. Such spamming computers can utilize significant network bandwidth and cause spammed destinations to complain to and for the customers' Internet Service Provider (ISP).

Unfortunately the same SMTP on port 25 is popularly used for legitimate business communication. Particularly those end users and businesses utilizing third party ESPs are expected to be affected by this policy change. It is suspected those using LIME St. Lucia as their ESP remain unaffected, but this has not been confirmed. This possibility however raises the question of if this action can be considered an anti-competitive business practice, especially since the choice of Internet Service Providers (ISP) is limited, and most local and regional ESPs are likely to be considerably smaller and less technically resourced than LIME.

This network policy change may have resulted in multi-day and multi-week outages for some customers and shaken their confidence in their otherwise innocent ESPs. Some affected LIME clients have been notably peeved at what has been seen as the lack of proper notice from LIME.

The network policy change is known to affect ADSL (Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line) subscribers. It is however possible that, at least on initial roll-out, leased line customers were also affected. This change in policy appears to be 2 to 3 weeks old at the time of publication.

For ADSL subscribers looking to resolve this issue, LIME states they must first migrate to a premium business package, at additional cost - if not already on one. Perhaps at no additional cost the customer can use LIME St. Lucia as a smart host - as this is the standard practice by ISPs who implement this policy.

The SMTP protocol on port 25 has traditionally been used for both:
  1. sending e-mail messages between end-user e-mail client software (such as Microsoft Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird and Eudora) and mail servers - a process known as message submission and,
  2. for sending e-mail between source and destination e-mail servers - a process called message relaying.
The actual correct solution to resolve a problem in message submission is for the customer and their ESP to utilize message submission on port 587, instead of port 25, as described in RFC 4409 ( LIME St. Lucia does not block this port. By applying this solution, the customer is neither coerced into paying LIME St. Lucia more money in order to workaround its silent change in network policy nor does he/she have to introduce LIME's mail servers into the process of message delivery (thus separating technical support responsibility for mail issues based on if messages are being sent or received).

To resolve an issue with message relaying - where a publicly accessible mail server is operated on-site, is may be necessary to request a site exception to this policy from LIME St. Lucia.

If further silence comes from LIME on this issue, other jurisdictions should probably brace for similar policy changes.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

2009-09-12 – LIME St. Lucia – Blocks SMTP Communication – Outbound Traffic on Port 25 – Disrupts a Business from Sending E-mail for at Least 1 Week!

What Has LIME St. Lucia Done?

LIME St. Lucia has blocked the e-mail communication in a manner that stops Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) Internet service subscribers from being able to send e-mail from desktop (or end-user) e-mail clients such as Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Outlook Express, Mozilla Thunderbird, Eudora etc.

An Introduction to ESMTP

Extended Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (ESMTP) is a protocol used to transport Internet mail. It is used both as:

  1. An inter-server transport protocol (transfer of messages between mail servers on the Internet) and,

  2. As a mail submission protocol (transfer of messages from end-user e-mail clients to their subscribing mail server - often with restricted behaviour enforced).

The protocol operates on Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) port 25 [].

Message Submission and Secure SMTP

For years, port 25 has been the well known port for Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) communication. However, under the weight of Internet spam, concerted efforts were made to separate inter-server transport from mail submission via the development of a message submission protocol (see RFC 4409 - Message Submission for Mail (April 2006) at and the use of a separate well known port for this function. In essence, very similar software, and essentially the same SMTP protocol, is used for both functions. The separation of the two (2) functions lends to better e-mail management and security policies.

The adoption of a Message Submission specific port, notably port 587, as well as other other secure SMTP communication ports such as for SMTP over SSL or TLS has experienced a quite slow roll-out amongst both E-mail Service Providers (ESP) and end-users. Some system / network / e-mail / security administrators are blissfully unaware of their existence. Clear evidence of this is:

  1. The absence of these services on some nationally and internationally popular mail servers and,

  2. Firewall policies at some sites that specifically prohibit communication on the ports that these services use.

Thus, port 25 is by usually the most popular port used by E-mail Service Providers (ESP) and by local mail server implementations to communicate both with end-user e-mail software and with other mail servers when sending e-mail.

Concerns with the Blocking of TCP Port 25

It is in this context we address the action by LIME St. Lucia. The major concerns with its action are:

  1. The business communication disruption to persons using end-user e-mail client software to communicate with an external, Internet-based mail server to which they are subscribers. Typically, that external mail server performs an e-mail relaying service on behalf of the e-mail subscriber. Most small and medium-size businesses (SMB) with simple local network architectures would have such a set-up, some relying on LIME St. Lucia to perform this service, others relying on some third party provider.

  2. The difficulty in troubleshooting this type of issue without explicit knowledge of LIME St. Lucia's change in policy. Otherwise, it could take significant time to stumble on this issue or to conclusively rule out other possibilities.

  3. The absence of information pertaining to this policy in the Service Alerts or other informational sections of LIME St. Lucia's web-site (

Specific to two (2) known cases of service disruptions emanating from this action by LIME:

  1. A business endured a disruption in service for at least 1 week without knowing that the fault lay with its Internet Service Provider (ISP).

  2. In another, site Information Technology (IT) personnel initially attributed the fault to a configuration or failure condition in the network-level firewall and, at the very least, wasted time trying to swap devices.

An important question is, how much money do those outage translate into? How many more case of this exist?

Assumably, Internet subscribers of business-class services, as well as those paying for static IP addresses were immune to this network configuration issue. Or alternatively, such persons were suitably and comprehensively informed, inclusive of mitigation measures such as:

  1. The provision of a smart host to use to circumvent this SMTP blockage and,

  2. Informing on the use of the message submission protocol.

As the author is not based in St. Lucia, further assessment on this is not possible without persons sharing their experience. However, information reaching me suggests this issue also occurred with Internet leased circuit subscribers.


There are several problems with the application of the solution of blocking TCP port 25 in response to whatever network performance of security issues LIME St. Lucia had encountered:

  1. There are better solutions for blocking communication from illegitimate mail servers.

  • At the destination mail server level employing:

  1. DNS Blackhole Lists (DNSBLs) that list dynamically assigned IP addresses can stop unauthenticated SMTP communication attempts from zombie computer systems before they are able to transfer bulky or malicious data to the destination mail server.

  2. Grey-listing can slow down or avoid spam sources from being able to successfully transfer messages to a destination mail server, depending on the configuration of the grey-listing and the spam source.

  3. Certain e-mail validation / authentication schemes such as Sender Policy Framework (SPF) can be used to reject mail from unauthorized originating mail servers.

  • Perhaps LIME's network engineers can identify the users / spam sources that led to this SMTP blocking decision and inform them of their non-compliance with the Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) associated with their service:

  1. The captive portal solutions used by LIME Barbados to notify of ADSL modem upgrades may be employed to notify offending users of their situation, or alternatively a simple telephone call or letter.

  2. This may be an opportunity to partner with an Information Technology (IT) support organization to offer “for fee” corrective service to subscribers afflicted with malware.

  3. Resolution of the issue, or mitigation of it, may involve the use of some host-based or network-level firewall that restricts outbound SMTP traffic, on a per computer or per site basis, to the finite list of valid mail relay servers.

  4. Additionally, it would be useful to identify the source computer(s) and application(s) / process(es) performing the malicious SMTP activity and to disinfect the machine(s) whilst enacting measures to avoid a repeat of similar infections.

  5. The level of corrective service could be based on client desire and budget.

  6. However, a zombie computer may be under-performing for the end-user and making the end-user(s) think that LIME St. Lucia's Internet service is slowly. Therefore, identifying and correcting the real issue could yield reputation benefits.

  • Although, I am not specifically sure of operation or availability of the SMTP proxy setting described here, it seems such an operation is likely and could allow network operators to restrict its user base to using SMTP-AUTH communication from its network or otherwise communicate from mail servers with legitimate host names. The network operator would thus funnel SMTP traffic through the proxy and it would reject SMTP traffic once:

  1. SMTP-AUTH fails or alternatively,

  2. The HELO / EHLO greeting host name does not match the originating IP address when an DNS A record lookup is performed on the host name.

  1. It is possible this action of blocking SMTP communication may be considered monopolistic and malicious against third party E-mail Service Providers (ESP), specifically if the Internet Service Provider has blocked SMTP communication to all Message Transfer Agents (MTA) other than its own.


LIME St. Lucia should seriously consider reversing this policy and utilizing other means to handle whatever problem they had. Really, this network policy decision must be informed by the human and the business perspective, especially in terms of productivity loss, cost of outage and cost of remedial IT services.

The use of the message submission TCP port 587 for SMTP-AUTH communication needs to be introduced to the user base and a smart host feature may be provided. However, further concerns may exist with blocking communication to all other mail server providers other than the ISP's own.

A more offender specific - that is targeted blocking, and further corrective action, needs to be employed rather that the user of broad-spectrum and disruptive network policy settings.

If this SMTP blocking is later deemed the only viable long-term solution, there needs to be a notification and education campaign to reduce possible harsh effects to end-user and business place productivity and any attribution of uncompetitive practices to the company. This is especially the case if the consumer does not actually have the real power of choice with respect to any affected business-level Internet service.

LIME St. Lucia should ensure their dynamic IP ranges issued to dial-up and DSL clients are registered with the appropriate DNS-based Blackhole List (DNSBL) e.g. Spamhaus Policy Block List (PBL) Such IP addresses should theoretically never be used to operate Mail Transfer Agents (MTA). Most e-mail administrators should expect the previous to be the case.

Any destination mail servers afflicted with a spam problem originating from a LIME St. Lucia IP range should seriously consider improving their e-mail administration and security practices, especially by employing the DNSBL containing a list of dynamic assigned public IP addresses issued by ISPs.

If LIME St. Lucia has an issue with bandwidth utilization for spam activities originating from their subscribers, there is likely another, more suitable, service provider network solution to this problem other than full TCP port 25 blocking.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

LIAT Can’t Do Simple Arithmetic? Plays Musical Chairs with Confirmed Reservations. 3-Year Old Child Suffers!


On Sunday, July 5th, 2009 our daughter's aunt - after several calls to LIAT in Barbados, Antigua and St. Vincent from Friday to Sunday - found a non-managerial LIAT employee who was most helpful.

This customer service champion within LIAT asked us to come to the airport that morning. By afternoon, after a few minor moments of uncertainty, our daughter was trotting through Immigration in the company of this wonderful LIAT employee. Our daughter was actually accompanied on the plane by a lady her aunt knew. However, the LIAT employee also had a travelling mother available as a possible in-flight companion.

On Monday, July 6th, 2009 we were grateful to have or correspondence acknowledged by phone calls, clarifications and apologies from LIAT's management.


On the evening of Friday, July 3rd, 2009 I had the displeasure of dealing with LIAT and observing suspect business ethics, suspect arithmetic and an unprofessional game of musical chairs with confirmed and paid carriage reservations.

Our 3-year old daughter was confirmed to travel to St. Vincent & the Grenadines on scheduled 9:10 pm departure of LIA369 flight out of Barbados. Her Aunt had booked the ticket from St. Vincent and managed to squeeze her on the same flight as one of our Vincy Mas bound friends about 9 days prior. Our friend’s ticket was booked about a month prior. Being under 5 years of age she must be accompanied by a caretaker, and cannot be the flight attendant’s responsibility. By this, we mean her ticket had to be associated with our friend’s ticket (an explicit reference on our daughter’s ticket).

Our daughter and the accompanying adult arrived at check-in at approximately 8:08 pm - over 1 hour before flight departure. On check-in we were informed that there are two persons to be checked in but only one seat available. Additionally, the check-in agent said she would confer with her supervisor on the issue. Our suggestions that were shot down included asking about 1) accommodating someone in the jump seat in order to make a fit and 2) some type of double seating of our friend and daughter. The final statement was that they could not be both accommodated on the flight.

Mainly because we did not want to disadvantage our young friend’s carnival schedule we indicated to her that she should take the seat before the check-in window expired. After all the discussions with the counter agents, our friend was checked-in. Our daughter’s ticket was thus cancelled by the counter agents (there being no other alternative) but we were unable to reschedule her flight on account of not knowing any other accompanying adult on a later flight.

As far as we know, check-in closes 45 minutes prior to the flight’s departure time. Thus, we made it to the check-in counter within the stipulated time. When presented with comments on how the situation is unfair and questions on why this situation would occur, a LIAT counter agent indicated that overbooking was industry practice. She further explained that this was carnival season and a time of high traffic to that particular destination and with the overbooking it behooves passengers to check-in as early to avoid such situations. She indicated that we had a 2 hour check-in window and we arrived last to check-in. She stated she does not know the overbooking ratio.

This flight was the last of the day between Barbados and St. Vincent. At the counter we were informed it was delayed and would be departing around 11 pm. While we were still at the counter, we overheard a counter agent tell a baggage handler the flight was closed. Just after that most of the staff started to disperse. There was however a single adult lady intended to go to St. Vincent still lingering at the counter. That lady was not on the flight for which our friend was supposedly the final person to check-in for the last available seat. We left her at the counter, but it would be interesting to know what happened next for her.

We consider the LIAT’s representative explanation unsatisfactory. Clearly LIAT’s procedures or flight reservation system would have to be faulty to permit this particular situation. Overbooking cannot be an appropriate explanation because whilst one may conceivably allow more bookings than there are seats, one should not allow more confirmed reservations on a flight than there are seats.

LIAT is a plane and the ability to carry each passenger should be determined by seating capacity and informed by the passenger type (child or adult, which probably informs on estimated weights and seating arrangements). Simply put, the most reasonable conclusion is that our 3-year old daughter - a Vincentian national, returning home - got bumped from the flight to accommodate someone else who was allowed to check-in prior or after.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Does SurePay Barbados’ Web Page Really Have A Defunct Outlet Listed?

Location: Barbados
Afflicted Site:
Affliction: Outlet location information is out of date.
Type of Business:
Electronic bill payment services via
multiple small outlets located in malls and supermarkets.

Company Tagline: The convenient way to pay.

On the afternoon of Saturday, June 27th, 2009, it was discovered that SurePay Barbados, did not have an up-to-date listing of its outlet locations on its corporate website. SurePay is a division of the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) company ILLUMINAT ( and member of the Neal & Massy Group.

Any customers checking the trusty WorldWide Web (WWW) to find a suitable outlet location should cross check that information; in order to avoid any extra searching, extra commuting or wastage of time and other resources.

The Merchandise King, Spooners Hill location listed on the page was reportedly closed for several months, to approximately one year.

The accuracy of other listed locations was not checked. This is clearly an exercise for Illuminat's employees. Following that exercise, they can try accessing the user interface (UI) to their website’s content management system (CMS) to update the identified web page, or otherwise find a webmaster.

Corporate reality and corporate web presence should not become unsynchronized by a period of months. The Web is a dynamic medium. The corporate web presence should always contain relevant and accurate contact information – covering electronic, telephony, mailing and geographic contact - at the very least. It may not be difficult to imagine a listing of outlet locations and contact information in the annually published telephone directory being a few months out of date, however excusing a similar occurrence on the Web is more difficult.

All information provided in this document is "as is", with no specific warranties, expressed or implied as to applicability or accuracy.
All trademarks, trade names and registered trademarks are the property of their respective holders.

AUTHOR'S COMMENT: On Mon, Jun 29, 2009 at 12:24 PM SurePay responded to state that the site was updated.

Certainly cursory examination shows a few other things changing under the St. Michael outlet information other than the defunct outlet I mentioned.

The One Accord Plaza location has changed from Push Shoes to Insurance Sales & Services and the contact numbers on opening hours are different. It appears another outlet in Rock Dundo was added.

Good work Illuminat / SurePay! Thanks for being responsive. Try not to let the site age so much next time.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

2009-02-19 - LIME - BARBADOS - Windsor Lodge Area ADSL Service Outage for Users without PPPoE Configuration

Created: 2009-02-21
Last Updated: 2009-02-23

NOTE: The following describes an issue discovered in a specific locality and is not broadly applicable to any other. Please do not adjust your setttings based on this unless timeline, locality, service type and configuration data makes it clearly applicable. PLEASE SEE THE DISCLAIMER.

Discovering LIME's Broadband Network Upgrade - by Trial

On the morning of February 19th, 2009 I discovered that LIME (Landline, Internet, Mobile, Entertainment)), formerly referred to as Cable & Wireless (C&W), had made changes to their Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL) infrastructure in the vicinity of the Windsor Lodge, St. Michael, Barbados area.

My discovery of what actually occurred was made after I was at the site of the second client affected by the service change and had, by the time, partially troubleshoot connection issues with a total of 2 ADSL subscribers and fully resolved an influenced but slightly different issue at 1 other subscriber (issue of a bad password in a new SpeedStream modem). The previous client count is inclusive of the client I was at when I was able to conclusively realise the nature of the service change, and thus move that client from the stage of partial troubleshoot, to full issue resolution.

Interestingly enough, at the site of the first ADSL service problem I engaged the services of LIME's Call Centre. Despite communicating all relevant fault observations to the Call Centre agent, she assured me that the solution was to replace the Starbridge Pyxis 210 ADSL modem with a free new one from LIME's Windsor Lodge Annex (via trade in). Despite questioning on if I could not resolve the issue at the moment on the pre-existing equipment, and some ranting about the impact of the disruption on business productivity, she offered no further helpful technical details. I resigned myself to comply and to later observe the "magic stuff" in the replacement modem so I could make any applicable changes when other specialized ADSL customer premises equipment (CPE) - as some businesses may have - require similar adjustment.

How an ADSL Upgrade Becomes an Outage

Specifically, LIME's service change would have caused a service outage to ADSL subscribers with ADSL modems that were not configured for Point-to-Point Protocol over Ethernet (PPPoE) on Virtual Path Identifier (VPI) 0 (zero) and Virtual Channel Identifier (VCI) 36 (thirty six).

The issue usually would manifest itself as one in which any status indicators on the the ADSL modem would:

  1. indicate a successful DSL link but,
  2. suggest a failure of Internet communication or in Point-to-Point Protocol (PPP) authentication.
Usually both of these conditions, are represented by appropriately labelled light emitting diodes (LED) on the front bezel of ADSL modems.

Apparently the issue would have more likely affected persons with older modems, which would usually not have been configured in the above described manner by Cable & Wireless / LIME. Additionally, persons and businesses using their own ADSL modem and possibly lacking the PPPoE configuration described would also have been affected. Of course, the issue is not limited to LIME's ADSL subscribers, because Sunbeach Communications Inc. uses LIME's ADSL infrastructure to deliver the service to their customer base. Additionally, Sunbeach Communications Inc. was at some point in time in the habit of requiring that customers acquire their own ADSL modems, so they may assumably have the larger base of customer acquired and self-configured ADSL equipment.

Complicating ADSL issues further is the observation that the layout of the web management interface of certain ADSL modems makes it difficult for an unfamiliar user to change the PPP settings on the appropriate Wide-Area Network (WAN) protocol/service (e.g. PPPoA versus PPPoE when both exist). The LIME distributed SIEMENS Gigaset modems' web management user interfaces (UI) requires careful and correct interpretation to avoid innocent misconfiguration. Essentially, the Point-to-Point Protocol (PPP) authentication settings (i.e. username and password) are configured on a per line protocol basis. Any data entry errors in the username or password on the new line protocol (PPPoE) would result in LIME's authentication infrastructure detecting an invalid authentication attempt (e.g. "bad password").

Furthermore, it seems some ADSL modems were preconfigured by LIME with some initial default PPP authentication settings such as a username of "adslpppoe" and possibly similar password. The effect of this was to make the subscriber have to verify his or her account on the first attempt to browse the Worldwide Web (WWW). Subsequently, LIME's infrastructure attempted to auto-configure the device with the appropriate user settings via TR-069 device management protocol. Sometimes, this activity repeatedly fails and thus may prevent the end-user from being able to browse pass the first time account verification prompt or a bad password error page. Some pages on the LIME web server are however still accessible if one wishes to restrict viewing to these.

LIME's Prior Notice

LIME notified customers of the upgrade in the media. For example, page 22A in the February 8th, 2009 edition of the Sunday Sun, indicated that they are upgrading their broadband network and told the user what to do should they see a particular LIME web page come up. That web page allowed users to check if their ADSL modem required changing.

Contemporary Internet Usage

Internet access is currently finely interwoven into the fabric of life of many residential users and certainly important for many businesses. In some cases, unfettered access in the home is just as important as in the office because a growing number of persons would be accessing work related systems from the comfort of their home, sometimes with high and hopeful expectations of availability, and tight work deadlines.

Remember: ADSL Service is Used in the SMB Market

ADSL service due to it relative affordability versus all other "business class" Internet connectivity products is quite popular in the small/medium-sized businesses (SMB) in Barbados. Often ADSL service is cheaper that other business class Internet connectivity services by a factor of 10!

As businesses grow in size in terms of number of employees and computing devices (and thus network nodes) the network in the office may evolve to incorporate firewalls and servers and often the network architecture may place demands on the services that must be offered by the Wide Area Network (WAN) device. In the case of ADSL, the ADSL modem is the WAN device.

The corporate-resident ADSL modem may be expected to have a certain static Internet Protocol (IP) address, function as a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) server on a certain range of IP addresses, or not provide DHCP services at all, forward incoming Internet traffic on some ports to certain internal network devices, and a myriad of other site specific requirements. The meaning of all the above can be captured in this statement:
"A corporate ADSL modem is often not a commodity device that can be blindly swapped due to the WAN provider upgrading they network, it is usually a device with a specially configured role within the corporate network."

Of course, each SMB should have access to competent network management service/team that allows the company's WAN service to be as highly available as possible in spite of the whims, technical and customer service limitations of any Internet Service Providers (ISP). I like to regard this as a form of insurance - Information and Communication Technology (ICT) insurance by doing business with a competence network service team.

Issues with the Methods of LIME

I think the customer service person I spoke to at LIME could have certainly released more information on the nature of the upgrade. Further, she was clearly misinformed or misinforming me when she stated the Starbridge Pyxis 210 modem had to be changed for the service to be restored - I successfully reconfigured one at the second customer. I certainly hope other customers had a better experience.

The mass media approach of broadcasting this service upgrade may have been useful to some, but I was actually unaware of it prior to observing the issue. I think the method was too impersonal. Also, I think there was an opportunity to provide:
  1. information for the average users,
  2. more information to the technical user and
  3. useful information for business users to stave off protracted, unplanned service outages.

By providing a means for technical users to get further details and sending the notice directly to subscribers the downtime experienced by some could have been avoided or reduced.

What Could LIME Have Done Differently?

What could LIME have done to minimize the service disruption, where applicable?
  1. Keep the mass media approach, it probably helps the local economy. It was however an incomplete communique, and an incomplete solution when a piece of properly packaged, technical communication was also required. I regard it as a Corporate Communication or Marketing response, with glaringly inadequate Engineering input. If the electricity provider turns off the power supply during an upgrade, I may have to wait until they turn it back on. However, if my ISP changes a system, and a settings change in a device (pass the service provider's demarcation point thus, on my property) can restore my service (rather than unplugging a device, communing to LIME, queuing, waiting, communing the return trip, plugging up the new device), then why would they not instruct me to do so? Then they can offer me more leisure time to complete the "nice to have" device replacement option.
  2. Use the LIME website to show a detailed notice consisting of timelines of the upgrades and areas affected.
  3. Utilize the technology that redirects web page requests to that Modem Upgrade page to actually offer more information on: the settings change, which modem models must be replaced immediately, upgrade timelines et cetera and possibly only redirect to the Modem Upgrade page if the ADSL modem resides in the affected upgrade area (it is highly possible the later was the case).
  4. The press advertisement on the Modem Upgrade should have published a Uniform Resource Locator (URL) for curious users to self-check if they require a modem upgrade. This should reduce the number of unnecessary Customer Service calls due to anxiety over the ad.
  5. When sending customers their bill, insert a notice on the upgrade, with at least a URL (Uniform Resource Locator) with further details on the configuration changes. The details could list per ADSL modem model instructions on how to change the settings to be "upgrade-proof". If particular ADSL modems cannot work with the upgrade, or have limitations, this should also be communicated.
  6. Corporate customers should be advised to seek the advice of their ICT service team. This is because customized network infrastructure would normally exists in a business place and an ICT layperson handling any device replacement may be unable to complete the change without causing a service outage and possibly losing undocumented infrastructure specifics that may have resided on the traded-in old ADSL modem. Of course undocumented network details would be the customers' fault.
  7. Send e-mail notices to customers.
  8. Give customers a thoughtful timeline for engaging the free device replacement service bearing in mind that device swapping or actual replacement may be best done outside of normal work hours and on weekend days. Additionally, home users experiencing the outage after the first day or two after the upgrade may not realise the outage until in the after work hours.
  9. Inform ICT service companies about the "service upgrade" so they could assist their customer base.


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