the dude

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After I left TAC I worked for two years at a Gold Partner in San Francisco.  One of my first customers there was one of my most difficult, and it all came down to timing.

I was dispatched to perform a network assessment of a small real-estate SaaS company in the SF East Bay.  Having just spent two years in TAC, I had no idea how to perform a network assessment, and unfortunately nobody at the partner was helping me.  I had been told they had a dedicated laptop loaded with tools just for this purpose, but nobody could locate it.  I started downloading tools on my own, but I couldn’t find a good, free network analysis tool.  Another engineer recommended a product called “The Dude” from MikroTik, and since it was easy to install I decided to use it.  I needed to leave it collecting data for a few days, and since nobody had provided me an assessment laptop I had to leave my own computer there.  I distinctly remember the client asking me what tool I was using to collect data, and sheepishly answering “Uh, it’s called The Dude.”  He looked at me skeptically.  (Despite the name, the tool was actually quite decent.)

Without any format or examples for an assessment, I looked at bandwidth utilization, device security, IOS versions, and a host of other configuration items.  The network was very simple.  It was a small company with a handful of switches in their main office, and a T1 line connecting them to a satellite office in LA.  They used a Cisco VoIP system for phones, and the satellite phones connected over the T1 back to the main campus.  I wrote up a document with recommendations and presented it to the customer.  Almost everything was minor, and they agreed to have me come back in and make a few upgrades.

One item I noted in the assessment was that the clocks on the routers and switches were set incorrectly.  The clock has absolutely nothing to do with the operation of the device, but having just come from TAC I knew how important device clocks are.  If there is a network-wide incident, one of the first things we look at is the logging messages across the network, and without an accurate device clock we cannot properly compare log messages across multiple network devices.  We need to know if the log message on this router happened at the same time as that other log message on that switch, but if the clocks are set to some random time, it is  difficult or impossible.

I proceeded to make my changes, including synchronizing the clocks to NTP and doing a few IOS upgrades.  Then I closed out the work order and moved on to other clients.  I thought I was done, but I sure wasn’t.

We started getting calls from the customer complaining that the T1 between the two offices wasn’t working right.  I came over and found that it had come back up, but soon they were calling again.  And again.  I had used up all the hours on our contract, and my VP was not keen on me providing services for free.  But our client insisted the problem began as a result of my work, and I had to fix it.  Nothing I had done was major, but I went back and reverted to the old IOS (in case of a bug) and reverted to saved configs (which I had kept.)

With the changes rolled back, the problem kept happening.  The LA office was not only losing its Internet connectivity, but was dealing with repeated voice outages.  The temperature of the client was hot.  I opened a TAC case and had an RMA sent out for the WIC, the card that the T1 connected to.  I replaced it and the problem persisted.  At this point I was insisting it could not have been my fault, since I rolled back the changes, but the customer didn’t see it that way and I don’t blame them.

The customer called up their SBC (now ATT) rep, basically a sales person, to complain as well.  He told her a consultant had been working on his network, and she asked what had been changed.  He said “the clock on the router” and she immediately flagged that as the problem.  Sadly, the rep mistook the router clock, which has no effect on operations, with the T1 clocking, which does.  I never touched the T1 clocking.  I knew the sales rep as she had been my sales rep years before at the San Francisco Chronicle, and I knew she was a non-technical sales person who had no idea what she was talking about.  Alas, she had planted the seeds in the customer’s mind that I had messed everything up by touching the clock.  I pleaded my two CCIE’s and two years of TAC experience to try to persuade this customer that the router clock has zero, nada, zilch to do with the T1, to no avail.

The customer then, being sick of us, hired another consultant who got on the phone with SBC.  It turns out there was an issue with the line encoding on the T1, which SBC fixed and the problem went away.  The new consultant looked like a hero, and the next we heard from the client was a letter from a lawyer.  They were demanding their money back.

It’s funny, I’ve never really had another charge of technical incompetence leveled at me.  In this case I hadn’t done anything wrong at all, but the telco messed up the T1 line around the same time as I made my changes.  So I guess in more than one way, you could say it was a matter of bad timing.