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Saturday, October 27, 2007

This weekend?!

USAC has announced that in order to be ready for the opening of the 2008-2009 window a week from Wednesday, they will be performing maintenance on their systems this weekend. You've got to be kidding.

First of all, the announcement came out on Friday. I have a general beef with USAC taking its systems down with little or no warning. Did you know, for instance, that the Data Retrieval Tool is frequently unavailable from 9:00 to 11:00 p.m.? (It maybe every night; I haven't tested it.) I realize that the downtime does not affect normal users, and that it is a sad comment on my life that I am even aware of the outages. But putting aside whether the E-Rate has taken over too much of my life, my complaint is that when you're going to have a system outage, you give users notice. In the case of one-time, non-emergency outages like those planned this weekend, a week's notice would be fair, two weeks would be better. (OK, I know the FCC barely gave USAC any notice of the window opening, but the timing is hardly a shock.) In the case of routine outages like the DRT being out most nights, that information should be published on the USAC Web site somewhere.

Second, the timing is foolhardy. The announcement says, "any interruptions should be of minimal duration." In the IT profession, we call such statements "famous last words." Of course interruptions should be minimal, the same way that my kids should do as I say. But IT systems can be as unruly as my children. In any change to a system as complex as the USAC IT infrastructure, there will be unexpected results. I actually think that USAC has a pretty good record when they make system upgrades, but that means that the glitches are minor and quickly repaired, not that upgrades go off without a hitch.

In general, I have to question the choice of a weekend to do upgrades. If I (or any other sad individual unable to leave the E-Rate alone for a whole weekend) find a problem, my only option for reporting it is to use the incredibly lame "Submit a Question" (SAQ) application on the Web site. First problem: SAQ is finicky in the best of times, and if there's a system problem, it may become collateral damage. Second problem: if all goes well, my complaint goes into a Client Service Bureau (CSB) mailbox, where it will languish until Monday morning. My perception is that Solix (who seems to doing the systems work) does not have a big team of QA people testing the Web site after every change, so many glitches are discovered by users. That's OK with me, but only if the users have a way to report the glitches immediately.

So with two major deadlines coming up on Monday, I don't think this weekend is the optimal time to make system changes.

1 comment:

  1. Well, I didn't notice any interruptions in service this weekend.

    And for those keeping score, my kids were as unruly as usual, so it's USAC/Solix 1, On-Tech offspring 0.