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Newly Installed Software Causes Outages in 411 Directory Services

By Carina Fung
associate news editor

Since September, there have been several temporary outages of the Bell Atlantic 411 Directory Service on campus. The last outage, which was the most visible, started in early February and was not resolved until early April.

The 411 service offers directory information inside the 617 area code. Normally, Bell Atlantic charges a small fee for each use of 411 from a normal telephone.

The interruption was caused by Bell Atlantic in each case, said Louise T. Keohane, the team leader of 5ESS operations services in Information Systems.

"This was caused by a software change. Since the new software did not interface with ours, we had to reroute traffic," said Valerie L. Hartt, Supervisor of Operator Services in Information Systems.

Software update causes outage

Bell Atlantic, like MIT 5ESS operations services, performs software updates all year long. "Each time they performed a software upgrade, they would knock [out] 411 services," Keohane said.

Since most of MIT's telephone connections have special restrictions, Bell Atlantic was unable to resolve how to configure them after it performed a software upgrade and, therefore, blocked 411 as a feature, she said.

"Part of the problem with this was that Bell Atlantic never informed MIT's 5ESS service team that it would be performing this service," Keohane said. "Therefore, we could not inform the community, nor be available during the upgrade to perform our own testing."

The most recent outage started in February and lasted for approximately four weeks. This outage would have been extended if not for the MIT's 5ESS service team, Keohane said. Bell Atlantic, which was in contact with MIT's 5ESS service team everyday during the outage, responded by stating they did not know how to remedy the problem, he said.

I/S developed a method that would allow the problem to be fixed before calls left MIT. After coming up with their solution in early April, MIT told Bell Atlantic to remove all blocking from student telephone connections, Keohane said.

The first correction Bell Atlantic made enabled students to reach 411, but those calls were routed to an automated system and most likely resulted in busy signals. MIT 5ESS operations services again helped them to correct this problem, Keohane said.

"Bell Atlantic was not very helpful in fixing this problem because they did not have the technical expertise behind them," Keohane said. Once the MIT 5ESS service team figured out why the outages were occurring and found a solution, Bell Atlantic began to work with MIT to make the corrections, he said.

Keohane believed that there were two methods available while working through the problem to alert the MIT community that 411 was out of service: students could contact the computing help desk via phone or e-mail, or students could have been informed by the operators when students complained by phone or e-mail. "No one expected it to take as long as it did, and at times, the trunk was operational when dialing 411," he said.

MIT covers costs for 411 service

Keohane said that MIT is allowed 7770 calls per month to 411 Directory Service and that MIT's generally exceeds that number. Recent usage figures will probably come in lower that due to the recent outages in 411. The number also fluctuates at different times of the year based on usage, he said. Each call over 7770 costs MIT 35 cents, she said.