Swakopmund Workcation

The other week I was dispatched to Namibia’s seaside resort town of Swakopmund to take my boss to a workshop and also to see if I might help out our colleagues in the Erongo region with their IT problems.

I arrived to find their server locked up and unresponsive (though still serving some stuff). Luckily just as I was pondering exactly which hammer I should use to hit it with a couple of familiar faces turned up; two of the IT guys from our head office had also come to beat Erongo’s computers into submission.

This was an amazing piece of luck and meant they could actually work on complex stuff like our VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure – I think) systems while I posed about, tapped PCs encouragingly with one of my aforementioned hammers and stood with them in the server room interjecting pointless suggestions; “could it be the Dilithium crystals or perhaps the fan-belt?”.

Surprisingly even with my inept getting in the way (actually I am truly brilliant at getting in the way) not too much went wrong and after a day and a half of turning stuff off, then on, then off, counting to five, and finally back on again most of the really important stuff was working.

The guys then left back to home base leaving me to try and finish off the couple of remaining small issues, one of which I actually fixed. I also totally setup a new Active Directory user account which bizarrely enough worked.

Of course all work and no play makes Dave a dull boy so it was my sacred duty on the Friday afternoon after finishing off in the offices and before collecting my boss from the workshop to go Quad Biking in the dunes.

Very expensive but worth it. They gave me an automatic bike and we were off through the sands. I even got to use briefly my dune charging skills and get a few stories out of daring do in the Namib on MoHSS missions. Beautiful scenery and I didn’t get stuck once mainly because I was just shouting “Banzai!” and going full-pelt at the sand.

Random Technical Rant: Proxy Servers

The GRN (Government of the Republic of Namibia) network is a large-scale WAN (Wide Area Network) and encompasses hundreds (if not thousands) of sites around the country.

Because lots of stuff is tied together between Ministries (for example the financial systems for the Ministry of Health are actually run by the Ministry of Finance) this is one big network rather than each Ministry having its own WAN.

The buck stops at the core of the network in the OPM (Office of the Prime Minister) where all the core backbone links from the various Ministries end up.

To get internet access from anywhere in the GRN network you need to use a proxy server in the OPM.

All good.

Now the problem for a long time has been the main proxy server has been overloaded. This doesn’t seem to be some deliberate attempt to slow down internet access (keeping bandwidth free for internal systems) as even proxy error pages and responses take forever if they come at all.

There is a second proxy server which you can also use but this, though faster, seems more unreliable than the main one.

To try and fix this a new super-shiny proxy server has been built.

The only problem now is that all the clients have been manually configured to use a proxy. It seems that using WPAD/PAC (Web Proxy Auto-Discovery Protocol/Proxy auto-config) has been somehow overlooked or decided against.

Argh!

Combine that with the new super-shiny server being down while I was in Swakopmund meant that everyone is still using the old super-slow one and will need a visit to every office to resolve once its up.

The new super-shiny server is on the same subnet (nary a single IP apart) from the super-slow one so another alternative would have been to just use the same IP. But alas this is not to be.

All three (super-slow, randomly-working and super-shiny) are of course various proprietary bits of kit, the super-shiny being some sort of Oracle thing.

I’m sure all this is happening for some reason I don’t understand but for what it’s worth here is my advice: use WPAD/PAC and SQUID for the love of all that is sacred.

Easy, automatic, fast, wonderful and FREE!

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