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Sprynet hits rough water

Hundreds of Sprynet subscribers have been without email for more than a week because the ISP tried to update its system but corrupted password files in the process.

Hundreds of Sprynet subscribers have been without email for more than a week because the Internet service provider tried to update its system but corrupted password files in the process.

Sprynet's problems follow a recent 19-hour outage at America Online that received widespread attention. Both problems underscore the vulnerability of the networks, which are coming under close scrutiny as more consumers log on to the Net.

Sprynet, an Internet access service of CompuServe, planned to implement a new hub architecture on August 26 that involved taking each of its six email servers down one at a time, Craig McCallum, Sprynet's general manager, said today.

"Usually an outage of about a few minutes occurs when each server is taken down, but we ran into some software problems," McCallum said. "User password information files got corrupted in the process as well."

He said the company corrected 98 percent to 99 percent of the corrupted files late Friday and today restored hundreds of email accounts as a result. But hundreds more remain, and the only way to fix the problem is for users to contact the company directly.

Sprynet plans to take a stab at updating the system again in three weeks. This time, McCallum insisted, the process will be "flawless" and members will be notified in advance.

Email has become a necessity for most Internet users, and being without email for two weeks creates a lot of disgruntled subscribers.

"This is ridiculous," fumed one Sprynet subscriber. "They lost more subscribers than I can count (just by looking at their online message board) and will probably lose more if this next evolution goes as crappy as the last one did."

Company executives deny that any of its 175,000 subscribers canceled after the outage. "We all know that email is important and people have a low tolerance (for outages)," McCallum said. "It wouldn't surprise me if people left, but we have haven't seen any drastic effect at all."

As a result of the outage, the service has added a 24-hour-a-day on-call Webmaster to deal with future problems.