Missed Opportunities

By Frank Ohlhorst  |  Print this article Print

After answering a cry for help from a small-business friend, I learned how VARs should not service their customers.

I recently got a call from a friend who was having a problem with his Microsoft Small Business Server network that his local VAR was unable to solve. The problem seemed challenging enough that I wanted to take a look for myself.

In a nutshell, the problem consisted of his desktop PCs experiencing "blackouts" of Internet connectivity—what’s worse is those blackouts were random and sometimes rolling from PC to PC. One minute, one PC would lose connectivity to the Internet. Then you would go to another PC and the same thing would happen. Then a few minutes later, the original PC would start working again. All the while, connectivity to the server worked absolutely fine.

The problem had existed for several months and was slowly getting worse. He had his local VAR in a number of times, and the problem still went unresolved. Eventually the VAR blamed the problem on the broadband connection and could offer no fix.

I popped into my friend’s office and took a quick look around—it was a typical SBS2003 installation, with a DSL connection for the Internet, but the server used a single NIC card and all of the PCs and the server were plugged into the same switch, which was then connected to a Cisco PIX 50 security router. Right off the bat, I thought that the networking setup was the culprit. To follow through on my assumption I telneted into the Cisco PIX and took a look at the license and the translation table.

The PIX had a 10-user license, and that was the real problem here. I performed a "show xlate" command and could see that all of the connections under the license were being used. Unlike other router vendors, the license for the PIX counted the number of IP addresses trying to access the Internet. Most other VPN routers on the market base their licenses on concurrent VPN connections. Those that work only occasionally with the Cisco PIX assume that it is the same under Cisco’s licensing, but the Cisco PIX license is based on concurrent connections to the Internet. That said, the easy fix would have been just to upgrade the license for the Cisco PIX and be done with it.

That would have been an easy sale for my friend’s VAR, only if the VAR had been fully familiar with the products he was selling. What’s more, a temporary fix could have been to add a second NIC card to the server and use SBS2003’s built-in routing and firewall (along with NAT translation) to connect the PCs out to the Internet via the DSL connection. If the VAR really wanted to fix this in a slick fashion, he could have combined the routing of SBS with the outbound/inbound firewall capabilities of the Cisco PIX. That way only one IP address would be used for the Cisco PIX.

The moral of the story here is to know what you sell, how to integrate it and how to support it; otherwise you are throwing add-on sales along with customers out the window.


Frank Ohlhorst Frank J. Ohlhorst is the Executive Technology Editor for eWeek Channel Insider and brings with him over 20 years of experience in the Information Technology field.He began his career as a network administrator and applications program in the private sector for two years before joining a computer consulting firm as a programmer analyst. In 1988 Frank founded a computer consulting company, which specialized in network design, implementation, and support, along with custom accounting applications developed in a variety of programming languages.In 1991, Frank took a position with the United States Department of Energy as a Network Manager for multiple DOE Area Offices with locations at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPL), Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), FermiLAB and the Ames Area Office (AMESAO). Frank's duties included managing the site networks, associated staff and the inter-network links between the area offices. He also served at the Computer Security Officer (CSO) for multiple DOE sites. Frank joined CMP Technology's Channel group in 1999 as a Technical Editor assigned to the CRN Test Center, within a year, Frank became the Senior Technical Editor, and was responsible for designing product testing methodologies, assigning product reviews, roundups and bakeoffs to the CRN Test Center staff.In 2003, Frank was named Technology Editor of CRN. In that capacity, he ensured that CRN maintained a clearer focus on technology and increased the integration of the Test Center's review content into both CRN's print and web properties. He also contributed to Netseminar's, hosted sessions at CMP's Xchange Channel trade shows and helped to develop new methods of content delivery, Such as CRN-TV.In September of 2004, Frank became the Director of the CRN Test Center and was charged with increasing the Test Center's contributions to CMP's Channel Web online presence and CMP's latest monthly publication, Digital Connect, a magazine geared towards the home integrator. He also continued to contribute to CMP's Netseminar series, Xchange events, industry conferences and CRN-TV.In January of 2007, CMP Launched CRNtech, a monthly publication focused on technology for the channel, with a mailed audience of 70,000 qualified readers. Frank was instrumental in the development and design of CRNTech and was the editorial director of the publication as well as its primary contributor. He also maintained the edit calendar, and hosted quarterly CRNTech Live events.In June 2007, Frank was named Senior Technology Analyst and became responsible for the technical focus and edit calendars of all the Channel Group's publications, including CRN, CRNTech, and VARBusiness, along with the Channel Group's specialized publications Solutions Inc., Government VAR, TechBuilder and various custom publications. Frank joined Ziff Davis Enterprise in September of 2007 and focuses on creating editorial content geared towards the purveyors of Information Technology products and services. Frank writes comparative reviews, channel analysis pieces and participates in many of Ziff Davis Enterprise's tradeshows and webinars. He has received several awards for his writing and editing, including back to back best review of the year awards, and a president's award for CRN-TV. Frank speaks at many industry conferences, is a contributor to several IT Books, holds several records for online hits and has several industry certifications, including Novell's CNE, Microsoft's MCP.Frank can be reached at frank.ohlhorst@ziffdavisenterprise.com

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