Websites for several local institutions – including the AATA and Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation – were disabled Monday in the wake of business problems suffered by IAS, a local Internet company that’s been evicted from its office in the Lowertown area.
The NEW Center, a group that provides support services to local nonprofits, received calls from several people on Tuesday who were searching for alternatives to get their websites up again, said Linh Song, a NEW Center technology manager. Song is director of NEW’s npServ program, which helps nonprofits manage their information technology services.
The timing of this outage – which in some cases affected email service as well – was especially difficult for nonprofits, given that it has occurred during the height of the giving season, when groups typically see their largest year-end donations and await word on grant applications. You want to be as responsive as possible – you don’t want to worry about whether your email works, Song said.
IAS has a strong presence in the local nonprofit community. In addition to AATA and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, it provided web hosting services for the Ann Arbor Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Ann Arbor Arts Alliance, among others.
NEW Center was directing institutions to Online Technologies Corp., another Ann Arbor firm that provides Internet services. On Tuesday afternoon, The Chronicle left messages with OTC executives Yan Ness and Mike Klein – two longtime local tech entrepreneurs – but has not yet heard back from them. UPDATE: Just after 4 p.m. we received a call from Klein, who said that OTC is offering a free month of website and email service to anyone affected by the IAS situation. They also are offering free co-location of servers, if necessary. OTC, with offices at Avis Farms, has received dozens of calls from people seeking help, Klein said: “They can’t afford downtime.” To contact OTC, call 734-213-2020 and press 2 for sales.
It’s unclear what has happened to IAS, owned by Arthur Talbot and Kelley Bezrutch. Outside the firm’s former office at 1327 Jones Drive on Tuesday, landlord Doug Smith told The Chronicle he evicted IAS for “chronic non-payment of rent,” but declined to give further details. The streetside curb outside the building was piled with office furniture, computer equipment, signs, and books.
The Chronicle was unable to reach Talbot or Bezrutch. The firm’s phone rang unanswered. The IAS website was also down.
When the giant eye on your screen turns red
When called by The Chronicle to find out how the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation was dealing with the situation, AAACF staff pointed us to their network consultant, LTI Information Technology, which is not affiliated with IAS, to give us some insight into what happens when the company hosting your web services gets its plug pulled. What does your tech support service do?
Kevin Phillips of LTI spoke with us by phone and explained that LTI has provided network consulting for AAACF long before now.
In fact, LTI knew about the problems with AAACF’s web services before AAACF did. How? LTI runs an appliance on AAACF’s network that monitors status on all manner of conditions at any given time. How does that appliance give an alert when something goes wrong?
What happened at 1:30 p.m. yesterday was this: A giant eye on a computer screen at LTI turned red and displayed a message that no MX records were being served. That, said Phillips, could mean several different things. And as it turned out, what it meant was that IAS’s servers – with both the DNS (domain name server) and the content for the web service – were no longer providing that service.
Phillips said that they’d advised AAACF to begin migrating some of their network operations off IAS servers a few months ago, something AAACF had actually done. “It’s great when clients follow your advice, and it pays off almost instantly,” Phillips said. One of those operations was electronic mail. For two months now, AAACF has hosted its email content on its own Exchange servers. By 4 p.m. today, LTI expects to have completed the switch to a new DNS provider (the part that converts all the numbers used in Internet addresses to the names we typically see, like www.thisheresadomainname.com). It could take as long as a couple of days, Phillips said, for the new information to propagate across the whole Internet.
According to Phillips, the content of the AAACF website will have to be retrieved from backup files, which were not stored on IAS servers. The first step, though, is to get the DNS back up and running.
Linh Song said staff at the NEW Center were trying to figure out if they could provide temporary email service for some of the affected nonprofits. She said this situation is a good example of how much we rely on technology and how important it is to have contingency plans.
[Note: Dave Askins provided some of the reporting for this story.]