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For a change... a rave!

Well, you've had to put up with various rants and I'm aware that a lot of them have been directed at Demon. So, by way of penance, I give you a first for this blog - an anti-rant!

Having finally been driven to distraction by Demon (blogs passim), I bit the bullet and drastically improved our internet connections. For the same price as I was paying Demon, we now have two ADSL lines, each one with a different provider - AAISP, and Plusnet. The reasoning behind this is simple - unless a plane lands on our local exchange, this should give enough redundancy that we're never offline.

A quick, related mini-rave - being lazy, I didn't want to have to plug / unplug boxes in the event of outages, and besides as I'm no longer on unlimited tariffs I wanted to be using both lines when available. For that, I needed a smarter router and I'm very happy with the Draytek 2820 I went for; it has more features than you can shake a stick at, including a fallback to 3G dongle which even covers me in the "plane/exchange" scenario above. So, much love to Draytek.

Ahem. Back on topic. Plusnet is just our backup line, and was chosen on the basis that they are cheap. Properly, £6 a month kind of cheap. They give us 10G of bandwidth which is very nice, and they seem to work. They're lightyears ahead of Demon, in that I can actually see my usage and access all sorts of useful things online. How Demon continue to function without any sort of online customer portal thingie is beyond me.

Our main ADSL, provided across a new dedicated phone line, is provided by AAISP and it's them I wanted to rave about. They are just ... cool. They are what Demon were; small, highly technically minded and very focused on keeping their customers happy, informed and (far more importantly) connected.

The ordering process was a dream - they give you full access to what is obviously their internal "todo" work list on your account, so you can watch everything going through. They emailed and even texted me to let me know when BT was providing the line. They attached my router config and password to the bottom of the router - yes, it's trivial but it's precisely what I end up doing anyway. So they saved me from sticking my own label on the bottom of the router, by doing what's so obviously sensible for me. They even phoned me up a week after the install to ask if I was a happy bunny.

Their kit pings your router every second. They give you access to the resulting data, merged into your usage graphs, so you can instantly see what state you're connection has been in. If that's too much work, they actually send you a text message if your line drops (I've had 3 or 4, when I've been fiddling with my router config - so not only is it supposed to work, but it really *does* work)

They give you usage stats, but in so much more detail than Plusnet. I have an hourly breakdown; I have graphs showing my traffic spikes. I can see my BRAS profile. They even use twitter properly - they tweet all their service announcements (and more importantly, don't clutter it up with other stuff) so the first I usually know of any issues will be Tweetdeck telling me.

The really cool hourly traffic stats also caused my only (so far!) dealings with their support guys. I noticed there was a low level of traffic even in the middle of the night, with everything turned off. I even got to the stage of unplugging the router from the network for an hour, and it was still there - so, I dropped a note to support asking if they could see what it was. Now this is a pretty low priority thing, so I was pleasantly surprised when I got a response back first thing in the morning.

What followed was a highly entertaining, technical conversation about what it might be and how we might track it down. Eventually came to the conclusion that it was probably a previous holder of my shiny new IP doing some sort of healthcheck ping, but as neither of us could figure out how to persuade my router to log that kind of thing and I didn't want them wasting time doing tcpdumps at their end, we left it. But the thrill was that I was immediately chatting to a tech, someone who very quickly started talking at my technical level and thinking about the issue, rather than some drone in a Helldesk reading off a script and asking me to turn my router off and on.

I could go on. I like that one of their prime support paths is via IRC - on a channel which always seems to have someone there, and alive. Bit of a shock when compared to Demon's "Dead Chat" service, which I'm fairly sure has never actually been manned.

I just wish I hadn't stayed with Demon so long - the migration process wasn't nearly as painful as I'd feared..