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Thousands cut off from Web as firm consolidates

Internet host Navisite lost connection when servers were moved

Email|Print| Text size + By Hiawatha Bray
Globe Staff / November 8, 2007

An effort to consolidate computers at Andover-based Internet hosting company Navisite Inc. has cut off Internet service to thousands of individuals and small businesses across the country for nearly a week.

"It's mind-boggling that a company can be so ill-prepared about such a huge undertaking," said Donald Brichta, a partner in Anadon Communications, a small website provider in Sharon, whose half-dozen customers finally got back online yesterday. "If I ran my business that way, I'd be out of business tomorrow."

Other Navisite customers are still offline. "This was just a horrendous mess," said Phillip Sego, an independent Internet consultant in Cambridge. As of yesterday, Sego said his customers, to whom he sells Navisite-based Internet services, were still suffering intermittent e-mail outages.

The outage affects customers of Alabanza Corp., an Internet provider in Baltimore that Navisite acquired in August. Rathin Sinha, Navisite's chief marketing officer, said he wasn't sure how many customers have been affected. "I think it could be several thousand," he said. But the number could be far higher; before its acquisition, Alabanza claimed to have 165,000 customers in 25 countries.

Navisite is a major player in Internet hosting. The publicly traded company has 700 employees and operates 16 data centers that provide website hosting, electronic commerce, and content delivery services to major organizations like the US State Department, the advertising firm Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos Inc., and the Salvation Army.

Alabanza mainly sold Internet access to "resellers" like Anadon and Sego, which in turn sell website and e-mail services to thousands of small businesses.

Navisite planned to move Alabanza's Web and e-mail services to Andover, scheduling the move over the weekend to minimize the impact.

The process was scheduled to begin last Friday night. Most of Alabanza's customer sites would be transferred electronically to Navisite computers, but in some cases, Alabanza server computers were disconnected and shipped to Andover for installation at the Navisite data center.

But nothing went according to plan. The reinstalled servers couldn't connect properly to the Internet. Customer websites were invisible and e-mail access was cut off. Sinha said that for reasons that remain unclear, there was a malfunction in the system that routes Internet requests to the correct websites or e-mail servers. "It got into some hiccups," said Sinha. "It became slower than we anticipated."

Worried Alabanza subscribers began peppering Navisite with complaints. Navisite held conference calls with customers to offer reassurance. But Mark Moline, owner of ConceptHost.com, a Web hosting reseller in Winthrop, said the calls have had little value. "They're telling us basically nothing," said Moline. "They're telling us that they're working on it."

Yesterday, Sinha said that Navisite was well on the way to getting all customers back online. "We've definitely resolved some of the major roadblocks," he said.

But that's not much comfort to Moline. "I have e-commerce customers who are losing hundreds and hundreds of dollars a day," he said. "I don't know what Navisite can do to regain any trust. They could come back and offer a free year of hosting; I'm not sure it would be enough."

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.

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