By David F. Carr  |  Posted 2004-01-28 Print this article Print

. 29, Koidu, Sierra Leone"> Oct. 29, Eastern Sector Command, Koidu, Sierra Leone

Arriving at the Koidu base, Majongwe takes the Cisco 3725 and goes to work in the cramped server room, promising the base administrator the network connection to the outside world will be down a half-hour at most, while he changes the router.

Mayordomo is ushered into the office of Lt. Col. Sohail Hamid, commanding officer for the Pakistani signal battalion assigned to provide communications support for this U.N. base. Before starting on his list of complaints, Hamid emphasizes that he and his staff are trying to be self-sufficient. "We will try to bother you less. And we are bothering you less," he says.

Still, this sector headquarters is responsible for about 4,000 troops at bases throughout the eastern part of the country and three military-observer teams with 15 to 20 members each. Hamid tells Mayordomo he needs more-reliable network services. In addition to the bad router and malfunctioning wireless-network node, Hamid complains about a backlog of e-mail account requests, lost e-mails and overall network congestion. Hamid cant provide his superiors with the quality of communications they expect if he cant rely on the U.N. network.

Mayordomo has his own agenda for this visit, which includes getting unauthorized computers, users and traffic off the network. Some of the congestion the Pakistanis are complaining about is of their own making, he says.

The Pakistanis have been connecting a lot of their own computers to the U.N. network, which is supposed to be against the rules. As a practical matter, U.N. policy on this point is somewhat conflicted, given that Pakistans government is paid to provide the equipment its troops require, from guns to computers, rather than relying on the U.N. to equip them. Still, the lack of control concerns Mayordomo. "If, for example, your computer has a virus, you only need one to take down a network or propagate to other devices," he says. "I need a list of devices connected to the network, and Im going to have to insist that they conform to our networking standards." He doesnt really want to ban all non-U.N. equipment, he admits, because that would put more pressure on him to replace it.

To reduce network congestion, there is some phone traffic Mayordomo would like to get off his network entirely—namely, the "welfare calls" that U.N. soldiers make to their families back home. He is encouraging Sierratel, the national phone company, and other carriers to reestablish service to this region, which would let him tell the soldiers to use the public phone system. The Pakistanis ought to be able to get better rates than the U.N. itself is charging. Hamid is interested, as long as access to U.N. phone lines will remain as a backup.

The Pakistanis also complain about a backlog in requests for IBM Lotus Notes e-mail accounts. But Mayordomo explains those accounts arent free. He pays $35 for each Notes account and the DPKO is already paying IBM $1.2 million per year. Accounts have been multiplying unnecessarily as military personnel rotate in and out of the mission, without the old accounts being deleted. He needs the Pakistanis to provide a list of inactive accounts as soon as possible, and he wants to move to a system where Notes IDs for the military will be assigned by function and location rather than by the name of an individual. If military personnel want individual accounts for personal e-mail, let them use Yahoo Mail, he says.

But one of Hamids biggest problems is communicating with a base in Kenema, another diamond-rich town about 50 miles to the south that has seen its share of war and violence. Like the other outposts in the region, Kenema is supposed to coordinate military and military-observer activities with the sector headquarters in Koidu, but electronic communications between the two has been poor. Personnel there can send e-mail, but whenever someone from Koidu tries to write them, the message is delayed or bounces back with an error message.

Mayordomo says he has heard this complaint before. "Remember I told you how to monitor transmission of e-mail, with a receipt for each stop?" he asks one of the junior officers in the room. "That would help us see where the bottleneck is." Maybe messages are being improperly routed to a mail server at headquarters, he says, but thats guesswork—forwarding the error messages would let his staff see the address of each server that handled a piece of mail, which would help them diagnose the problem properly.

Next Page: Wireless networking problems.

David F. Carr David F. Carr is the Technology Editor for Baseline Magazine, a Ziff Davis publication focused on information technology and its management, with an emphasis on measurable, bottom-line results. He wrote two of Baseline's cover stories focused on the role of technology in disaster recovery, one focused on the response to the tsunami in Indonesia and another on the City of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.David has been the author or co-author of many Baseline Case Dissections on corporate technology successes and failures (such as the role of Kmart's inept supply chain implementation in its decline versus Wal-Mart or the successful use of technology to create new market opportunities for office furniture maker Herman Miller). He has also written about the FAA's halting attempts to modernize air traffic control, and in 2003 he traveled to Sierra Leone and Liberia to report on the role of technology in United Nations peacekeeping.David joined Baseline prior to the launch of the magazine in 2001 and helped define popular elements of the magazine such as Gotcha!, which offers cautionary tales about technology pitfalls and how to avoid them.

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