Wednesday, February 07, 2007

*%#$ the Proxy

OK, Keefieboy, try to be calm. Don't bash those keys too hard, you'll be needing them when you leave this wonderful country. Deep breath
.................. innn....................... outttt
...................innn ....................... outtt.

OK. I'm calm. I'm CALM!!!

For the last week I have been having a problem with my Etisalat Al-Shamil ('broadband') connection from my mansion. The problem is that I can no longer use FTP. You don't want to know this, but FTP is File Transfer Protocol - a thing that allows you to upload and download files to and from web servers. It's pretty essential if you design websites like what I do. The problem is that I can connect to various servers, but once connected I cannot change folders or upload/download files. Why? Well, some of my research on the web suggested this was symptomatic of a firewall problem. Somewhere in the chain of computers between my labtob and the web server, a little pox is saying 'computer says no'.

So, with the greatest reluctance, I called the Itisalot Call Center in Ajmaaaaan. I say reluctance because many years of experience have taught me that they have a very limited range of responses available to them, namely:
1) 'Your computer is misconfigured, please format your hard drive.'
2) 'There is something wrong with your server.'

So we go through that and then I request a phone number for someone who actually knows something about the Itisalot Interweb network. No can do, says the boy on the phone: 'send an email to Yeah, right. So I did.

To my absolute and utter amazement I got a phone call from someone who sounded like he knew what he was talking about. Admittedly he did go through the usual 'it's not our fault' routine, but I feel like we are making progress of a kind. But not fast enough.

In the intervening days I've provided this guy with Traceroutes of my connection attempts to various servers in the UK and US. I have suggested to him that it may be a firewall problem. I have told him that I can successfully use FTP from my office in Media City, so configuration of my laptop and of the servers concerned is absolutely ruled out. So now we are at a stage where they are on the verge of admitting that they have a problem, and he's trying to get a meeting together with various departments to sort it out.


The other day I realised that we (BetterArf and moi) have a related problem, and we've had this one for quite a while. We cannot easily access 'https://' domains from our house. This means that e-commerce transactions almost always fail, it takes forever for me to use Red Triangles' online banking, and BetterArf cannot access her work email from here.

So, enough of the Sherlock Holmes. I just thought I'd try something. Forget about Etisalat's restrictive and ill-configured infrastructure, I'll try my own. I have servers in the UK. I set up a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to one of them. This means that anything I send or receive comes straight from that server without any of the intervening Itisalot stuff getting in the way.


FTP worked straight off! And much faster than it's ever worked through the Broxy. But, the Interweb fell over. So it helps if I need to do an emergency out-of-hours upload, but not if I want to visit my bank or

Itisalot (sorry, Etisalat, you might not recognise our little jokey name for you), I hope you read and understand this post. It tells you two things

1) The Proxy screws everything up and everyone with more than half a brain hates it

2) Stop your Call Center staff from always assuming that the problem is at the customer's end. Because more often than not, it isn't.

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