Today I had the pleasure of our 4th visit from BT who have been troubleshooting a flapping ADSL circuit we use for one of our remote regional offices. The problems have been on going for approximately 6 months, however this time BT aren’t entirely to blame for once. Let me explain:

We use a single managed ISP who ‘manage’ all of our WAN infrastructure which in theory is a really good idea with numerous advantages and 95% of the time works really well. I believe it is the right solution for my current employer based on the size of our organisation; The business is not dependent on just a single person for their WAN infrastructure and it works out cheaper than employing two network engineers. Anyone with authorisation, so someone managerial who is not necessarily technical, can just as easily pickup the phone, explain to our ISP what they would like to achieve and request a change is made. The ISP handles the change control logs and certified technicians carry out the changes. Nice and easy for us. A monkey could run it and that monkey is me. Indeed there are many benefits to a single managed ISP besides giving monkeys jobs. The problem is, like any corporate ISP, they mainly specialise in managing our larger leased line circuits that typically offer very high SLA’s over the top of them.

What happens when the site in question is a small remote regional office that hosts only 3 part time members of staff who do not require massive amounts of bandwidth and the office is based in the middle of nowhere making it economically impractical to install a leased line circuit to this site? The answer is ADSL. ADSL is fit for purpose and the perfect cost effective solution for providing connectivety for small remote offices back to their corporate HQ and the outside world. A BT line is ordered and an ADSL service is provisioned over the line terminating directly into the managed corporate MPLS core or via a site to site vpn.

The problem is how this is implemented and then managed. Our ISP do not provide ADSL as a service, but instead they outsorce their ADSL to a 3rd party company. The 3rd party company now providing the ADSL service to our ISP in turn piggy back their ADSL network of a larger vendors network which in turn has just recently been bought out by an even bigger ISP and im sure you can now see where this is going. I’ll be honest in reality it’s not as bad as it sounds, but its not that great either. The result is really high contention ratio’s and terrible SLA’s – 48hours just to acknowledge a fault. I’m sure you can imagine the escalation/troubleshooting process, but then this is why you pay for the managed service. The problem is the responsibility and urgency of a fault is often shared and lost between several layers of management and service providers in the middle.

In reality ADSL as a managed corporate service actually does work very well and the cost savings simply cannot be ignored. We run a couple of sites over an ADSL service and unless there are physical problems with the line the service is completely fit for purpose and reliable enough for a small office team.

If however you do run into problems with your ADSL line/service be prepared for nearly non existent SLA’s. My advise is to not sit back and let the managed ISP resolve the faults. Find out when the BT engineers will be on site and make sure you are too, not to police them and to make sure they are working, but rather to find out as much information from them as you can; ask them exactly what they have been able to find out and if they haven’t found anything ask them what they recommend the next steps should be. Its funny how this works but you will often find that the engineers themselves will know alot more and have a much better idea of how to resolve faults than the management layer that you will find yourself dealing with.

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