MUNICH (04/10/2000) - "Never again do I want to hear anything about problems at Strato," Xlink chief Koen Bertoen said in a Computerwoche interview at this year's CeBIT. The provider of Internet services from Karlsruhe implemented the technical infrastructure for the Berlin Web hosting provider Strato AG.
After Strato, an affiliate of telecommunications specialist Teles AG, displeased its users with an unprecedented series of mishaps during November and December of last year, Xlink is now giving assurances that these difficulties are a thing of the past. Xlink feels they can make this claim thanks to improved hardware and a faster Internet connection. However, now customers are complaining about massive performance problems.
One of these customers is the company Pet-Style (www.pet-style.de). Founded last April, this company makes dog-sport accessories and uses the Strato service "E-Shop" for its online business of 1,800 mail order items. The company is complaining about hour- and even day-long downtimes of its homepage and says that problems have actually increased after the expansion of computing and net capacity.
They were even refused an entry on the shopping and low-price portal Preisradar.de because their service was often not functioning or extremely slow, according to an announcement by Pet-Style. Preisradar.de confirmed this.
Not accepting these circumstances any longer, Pet-Style is building a new Internet business independent from Strato and has purchased special software for this purpose. The company is also miffed about the misleading information of the range of services included in E-Shop. Strato's advertising promises an unlimited number of items, but Pet-Style says that 15,000 entries were the limit.
The medical supplier Abalm Medizinbedarf from Neckargemünd is also irritated about the insufficient availability of Strato's Web shop service, at http://www.medizinbedarf.de. According to the company, failures of their online business occur daily. Customers were complaining in numbers because the shopping site was not readily available. The situation of the small company is tricky: On one hand, their image suffers because of the poor availability of the e-commerce services, but on the other hand a switch of providers is out of the question because it is too complicated and too expensive.
Armin Reimer from Hürtengewald also feels damaged by Strato. He rented two domains from the Web hosting company and has been complaining more or less constantly about the poor availability of his home pages since last December.
Furthermore, the real estate specialist is experiencing serious delays in receiving his e-mail.
A scenario especially aggravating for Reimer: He had stacks of business cards printed which list his e-mail account at Strato. Reimer has had to ask business partners from abroad and at home to resend him information several times. He has yet to get an answer from the Strato tech support center, although he has sent at least 50 inquiries. And daily log files that show the behavior of users are nothing but a dream for Reimer: "I received the last log files in February."
Reimer, a Strato customer since August 1999, suspects shrewd business sense behind this: "They are only interested in new customers, and they simply do not care about their old customers."
Christian Bendt from Kierpse confirms Reimer's suspicion. The Strato user rented two Web "business cards," a "Powerweb" package with two domains. His criticism: New customers have to pay in advance for services. According to Strato, "Powerweb" services run for six moths, business cards for 12, and the premium service packages for three months.
Although Bendt only uses the internet services privately, he wants to point out problems since many Strato customers find themselves economically harmed. Bendt himself is still waiting for his February log files and did not receive e-mail for several days. Like many others, Bendt also complains about the constantly busy telephone hotline. E-mail inquiries are only answered with standardized texts.
Frank Günther from Himmelkron, among the first 5,000 Strato customers, is also extremely angry about the information policy of the Berlin provider. Among other projects, Günther runs the domain http://www.himmelkron.de, where one can find the public site of his hometown.
Günther does not even dare to file an application for changing providers since he is worried the city's homepage could be offline for a few days in the interim - something that happened to other Strato customers, according to Günther. He'd rather accept some of the technical difficulties and warn potential customers against Strato. And this is even though Günther used to be a satisfied customer with a premium package that he recommended to others. But that's the past. Wearily, he comments: "With Strato, the only thing that arrives on time is the bill."
Customers accept service dropouts by signing the Strato's conditions of service, in which the company guarantees an availability of "generally 99 percent." In other words: generally. Strato allows itself a downtown of 87.6 hours every year. The provider does not guarantee uninterrupted availability of data. Also, according to its conditions of service, the Berlin company is not responsible for loss of data. But in spite of the promised availability of 99 percent, it would be difficult for customers to prove to Strato that the agreed-upon services were not rendered, according to experts.
Xlink, the technical provider for Strato, is certainly aware of the difficulties. Company spokesman Thilo Hoys agrees that there are "still a number of shortcomings," which are related to Strato's strong growth. According to Hoys, Strato signs up 2,000 customers a day, and Strato says that they are currently managing close to 700,000 domains.
According to a Strato spokesperson, the e-mail from of angry customers that were sent between March 30 and April 1 are related to a hacker attack on Xlink.
The provider was forced to install a network filter, which resulted in longer response times. Xlink spokesman Hoys confirms the attack but doubts that performance problems can be blamed on the filter. Neither Strato nor Xlink, however, told their premium customers about hackers. Instead, during the time of the attacks, the Web master's service area reported routing problems that occurred on March 30th and caused the service to fail for a short period of time.
However, according to a number of customers, this incident was only one of many, which contradicts Strato's claims. During March alone, there were 11 dropouts, which were reported to premium customers in the mentioned service area. The server had to be rebooted, "atypical usage patterns" occurred, computers' caches failed. Strato and Xlink readily admit problems with log files. Here, as so often, "a solution is in the works."
What drives many customers up the wall is that in spite of the dropouts and failures, Strato is still advertising heavily. Angry Web site owners feel neglected and change to competitors in droves. But changing providers can also cause problems: It can take up to eight weeks for an application for a change of service to be processed completely.
According to Strato, the delays in the processing of change of service applications are caused by the large numbers of customers intent on changing.
Also, many applications were supposedly filled out incorrectly, a point that is somewhat difficult to believe when one looks at the detailed information about changing providers posted at http://www.ig-stratokunden.de under "Hints & Tips."
To allow Strato customers a better perspective on the performance of the service, Xlink will soon make a performance-monitoring service available. The Karlsruhe company is also already working on a new infrastructure. Will there soon be more problems at Strato?