MCI explains frame relay fiasco

Sifting through the damage of its recent frame relay network outage, MCI WorldCom yesterday offered its version of the events and spelled out its plans for making amends with the US customers affected.

MCI WorldCom on Sunday restored service to the one of its four frame relay networks that had experienced problems beginning August 5, according to officials. The network of about 300 switches and nodes, which serves roughly 3000 customers, was taken offline between noon Saturday and noon Sunday, and its software rolled back to the previous version, according to Bernard Ebbers, MCI WorldCom president and CEO.

The company is offering customers two days of free service for each of the 10 days the network was hampered, according to Ebbers, who added that further customer concerns and individual contracts would be reviewed separately.

While criticism of MCI's handling of the outage has been stiff, Ebbers said he was not aware of any customer having dropped MCI WorldCom service as a result.

Although they have yet to pin down the exact cause of the meltdown, MCI WorldCom and Lucent, which supplies the network's hardware and software, have attributed the problems to an upgrade of Lucent's software, and not the network blueprint or infrastructure.

MCI about a month ago began the process of upgrading to the latest version of the Lucent software in an effort to boost the network's capacity and expand the range of its features, according to Ron Beaumont, president of MCI WorldCom's network services division.

Despite extensive testing at Lucent and MCI WorldCom, the upgrade precipitated the outage, according to the officials.

"We can't tell you that any testing procedure will be 100 per cent accurate," Ebbers noted.

MCI WorldCom will conduct an audit of its test procedures, according to Beaumont.

Asked about the financial impact of the two-for-one service refund, Ebbers said it was expected to be minimal, and unlikely to alter earnings estimates for the quarter or the year.

While the network has been restored, further adjustments to individual customers' virtual circuits will be made this week, according to Beaumont.

The software rollback still leaves MCI WorldCom with about 18 months of headroom, given the current rate of growth, according to Ebbers, who added that the company was considering a range of possible strategies to boost volumes and features.

Ebbers declined to comment on any indemnification of MCI WorldCom by Lucent.

Among other issues, the crisis raised questions of whether software vendors are doing enough to ensure the quality and stability of their products in cases of consolidation, according to Beaumont.

The Lucent software in question was originally written by Cascade, which was acquired by Ascend, which in turn was acquired by Lucent.

"One concern is what happened to the people who wrote the software and what happened to [the relevant documentation and expertise]," he said.

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