As IT guys people sometimes think we are immune to the random routine problems that plague our workstations daily. Not so. Recently I brought a new workstation on board for my website development work. This requires a fairly sophisticated software stack and, because I’m working on websites, a reliable network connection. The workstation initially appeared to be working fine – I was developing a site on my local machine and everything was as expected.
However, when I began to work on my ‘live’ sites i.e. on the internet, I noticed significant problems loading certain sites. I began routine troubleshooting – check DNS and DHCP settings, perform network speed testing, observe which sites are failing to load and any specific URLs that are causing pauses. I launched task manager and discovered Microsoft Security Essentials using inordinate amounts of system resources, so I decided to uninstall MSE and download ESETNod32.
Ditching MSE resulted in performance improvements, but certain sites were still loading slowly or not at all. I uninstalled ESET and, to my surprise, this seemed to fix the problem.
Meanwhile, our wireless phones had been getting noisier. A little investigating turned up that I had unplugged my handset when installing my new workstation, causing the battery to begin to die. I plugged it back in and moved on, assuming the problem was solved.
Two problems solved and time to get back to work. But no such luck. My network connection continued to be spotty and our phones remained noisy long after the battery should have recharged. No amount of local or network troubleshooting had improved matters, in part because some of the diagnostics I would ordinarily use to troubleshoot my system were failing due to my network connection.
Time to call our ISP. After four calls over four days (our problems were disguised by the fact that our ISP was in ‘bandwidth exhaust’ – they had literally signed up more subscribers than they had bandwidth for), we finally had a tech arrive onsite and determine that our DSL filter connection was bad. This fixed the noisy phone line, but still I had internet connectivity issues on my one workstation.
Time for more troubleshooting. My speed testing had turned up an interesting failure on the upload test, which failed with the following error message: “testing cannot continue, bad socket.” I launched Wireshark and examined the related TCP packets. Winsock protocol on my local computer was throwing an unknown error. At least now I had narrowed the problem down. I suspected either my network card or network driver were bad.
My tool of choice in these situations is Dell’s System Detect and Diagnostics, which are specific to each machine’s Service Tag. Unfortunately, my network problem was interfering with their functionality. I still wasn’t sure our ISPs problems weren’t at the root of my problem (although other local workstations weren’t so problematic), so I took my machine to my personal office, which is served by a different ISP.
There I was able to download and install Dell Diagnostics and identify part of my problem. I had a corrupt network driver. This completely repaired the problem on my local workstation and when I returned the workstation to our MTS store, it worked fine there as well.
However, we are still left with a potential problem. Our ISPs bandwidth exhaust situation leaves us vulnerable to packet loss and, apparently, this may interact with other issues to make life more complex for us. Given that we are in the business of repairing broken hardware and software, this is hardly convenient. In fact, it’s a serious problem.
We are told our ISP will be implementing system upgrades in May of 2017 to remedy the situation. Hopefully, we don’t burn too much more time troubleshooting problems made worse by this situation.