Cloud trouble: 4 things to ask before you call Tech Support

Dan Toth

If your network is like mine, then your users utilize both in-house applications as well as cloud services in the form of hosted applications. We all know the buck stops with us when it comes to the in-house applications, but what do we do when users are having problems with those hosted applications? It is tempting to come back with a quick answer like “Call the service provider.”

But wait… is that really the first step? Before we place that call it makes sense to ask a few questions because problems can occur at more than just the destination hosted application. It is just as likely that there is a problem at the source or between source and destination. That means the problem could be on our machines, our network, our ISP’s network, or elsewhere on the Internet. So we should ask ourselves:

What is the nature of the problem?
problem
Is the hosted application responding slowly or is it completely unreachable? If it is unreachable then what error is the user receiving? A “Server Not Found” or “Unable to Connect” error can mean that the user has no Internet connection at all. An HTTP error code can mean that the user reached the server but that the request could not be fulfilled. If the HTTP error code is in the 400s it means there was a problem with the client request. If the HTTP error code is in the 500s it means that there is a problem on the remote server itself.

Is the Problem limited to this one user or is it pervasive throughout the organization?
If the problem is limited to just one user then the problem may be with their local computer. So, do they have a problem reaching all websites or just the hosted application? And if they can’t reach the hosted application using one browser, can they reach it using an alternate browser like Google Chrome or Firefox? Also, ask them if they have changed any of their browser settings lately. This could include upgrading from one version to another. I recently had an instance where when a user upgraded Internet Explorer it dumped the URLs that were in the “Trusted sites” zone back into the “Internet” zone. Without these “Trusted” security settings the hosted application could still be reached but it could not run properly.

If the problem is with multiple users, is it just with the hosted application or is it with other websites too?
Can you reach and use a simple website like http://www.google.com? What is your response time on performing a search? If that works fine then try a website that's a little more resource intensive like http://www.6speedonline.com and see how smoothly it loads and responds. And then you can also use a free online tool like http://speedtest.comcast.net/ to get a more exact idea of the upload and download speed to your network from a Comcast Web server. But don’t use it too much or you may actually be the one responsible for hogging all the bandwidth and slowing others down!

Does the problem appear to be with your ISP or on the Internet itself?
For situations like this traceroute, or in windows tracert, is a useful tool. This is a utility that can show you the path a data packet takes from your computer to the endpoint you specify, such as the IP address or URL of your hosted application. As it runs it will list all the routers it passes through until it reaches its destination, or fails to and is discarded. But the most useful thing is that it tells you how long each “hop” from router to router takes. This time, called latency, is dependent on physical distance between routers, so don’t worry too much if one hop takes longer than others. If there is an actual problem, the long latency will continue or increase for all future hops.

In conclusion…
We can see that there are a number of things for us to check before we reach for the phone to call the tech support for our hosted application. Maybe we will locate and solve the problem at our end. But even if we are not able to, the information we gather can prove invaluable when reporting a problem and can greatly speed up a resolution.