Pain of WorldCom outage sidestepped by some

A few well-prepared organizations were spared the headaches caused by problems with WorldCom's Internet service last week.

Last week's Internet outage was a daylong disaster for many companies, but it didn't have to be.

A few vendors are now offering tools for monitoring performance of the Internet in much the way that companies can monitor their own networks. Now, rather than getting stuck in data logjams, companies employing these tools can reroute their data so their customers don't experience any service interruption.

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The slowdown last week was a perfect example of the kind of problems that can crop up on the Internet.

At 8 a.m. EDT Thursday, WorldCom began having trouble with the routing in its U.S. backbone. According to a WorldCom spokesperson, route tables were incorrectly loaded on the company's routers. As a result, performance of the Internet for 20% of WorldCom customers in the United States slowed to a crawl. It took nine hours to fix the problem.

That much downtime is a big problem for any company that does business on the Internet, said Max Smetannikov, senior analyst with the Sterling, Va.-based Current Analysis.

Brendan Hannigan, vice president of marketing for Waltham, Mass.-based Sockeye Networks Inc., said his company's service is designed to ensure that its customers maintain Internet service even during large-scale interruptions like the one that took place last week.

Sockeye's service monitors the performance of the Internet. If the system detects a change in performance levels, it will automatically reroute traffic.

It's a system that worked well for Ramesh Ajitaprashad, CTO at Origix Corp., a Minneapolis-based data storage and network service provider. The company sells bandwidth and storage, and its customers expect to have uninterrupted access to these services.

Origix has three ISPs, including WorldCom. Ajitaprashad said that when WorldCom's system went down, he didn't even know about it. Sockeye's system automatically switched his data flow from WorldCom to his other service provider and routed his data away from trouble spots.

"We did not see any problems at all; not a single customer called us," he said.

NetVmg Inc., a Fremont, Calif.-based company, provides a similar fix. NetVmg offers an appliance that is housed either at the data center or on the customer's site. Eric Wolford, vice president of marketing, said that the company's product increases reliability and allows network managers to understand more about the problems and routing on the Internet.

With increasing use of the Internet, these services are becoming more important. Smetannikov said the Internet experiences fluctuations in service quality all the time, whether it is from natural disaster, weather, overzealous backhoe operators or route table upgrades like the one that caused last week's problem.

Though these services are not for everyone, and most small and midsize businesses cannot afford the cost of the multiple backbone providers, more companies will likely be looking to make their Internet services more reliable, Wolford said.

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