Networking

Tech Tip: A lack of coordination is why technical support isn't working

By Jonathan Yarden

I've recently read several articles that were disparaging toward technical support departments. While some of the issues are indeed valid, I must point out that it's easy to blame someone else when computers don't work the way they should.

Technical support is failing on a number of levels, but it's not because of lack of effort or ability. This field has changed drastically since the emergence of the Internet, and some problems simply aren't fixable.

Internet service providers are currently bearing the brunt of technical support services, and the profit margins for most ISPs limit the staffing of call centers. The rash of recent problems is no comfort to IT departments that must support an entire enterprise either.

No matter how you look at it, supporting computer systems when the Internet is involved has never been an easy job, and it's becoming increasingly difficult—especially when you're dealing with a daily barrage of viruses, worms, Trojans, and all sorts of spyware.

Technical support relies heavily on users' abilities to perform tasks, and we're all more than familiar with the difficulty involved with assisting inexperienced computer users. Most widespread worms and viruses take hold and spread due to poorly maintained systems, commonly home systems found on broadband networks.

Since I can't help these users directly, I must rely on their ISPs to help me fix the problem because it affects my network. I see evidence of worms and viruses coming from other networks all the time, but I'm powerless to fix the problem.

Technical support is failing on a much greater level than most people know. It surprises many people when they find out there's almost no coordination among Internet service providers.

ISPs are on the front line of the Internet, but there's no central method for support pros to communicate and contact high-level technical support in the event of a problem. I see tens of thousands of port scans daily, mostly due to worms, coming from big companies, small companies, universities, and cable and DSL networks. Sometimes I contact the people who manage these networks and tell them there's a problem, but most of the time I can't.

So I move upstream and try their ISP. Still, I can't help fix the problem because many ISPs' automated problem report systems reject my e-mail since I'm not one of their customers. Or worse, when I call to report a problem, I encounter arrogance and attitude.

My main complaint about technical support is that IT professionals are simply not working together as a team in a worldwide manner. Regardless of which ISP or corporation you work for, if you're involved in high-level technical support or you're a person of authority with a major ISP, I'd like to have your contact information. Who knows—maybe if enough of us agree to work together as a team and respond to each other quickly when a problem emerges, we can make a dent in the wasted bandwidth on the Internet due to wide-scale worm and virus activity.

We are the ones that others depend on to fix their problems. So how about working together and treating the entire Internet as our network for a change? We could accomplish more by helping each other instead of pointing the finger at someone else.

Jonathan Yarden is the senior UNIX system administrator, network security manager, and senior software architect for a regional ISP.

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