Agencies and ISPs: Trusting a team effort

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A vicious attack on a New York-based Internet service provider is making some ad agencies think twice about how they house their clients' Web sites.

Public Access Network Corp., a New York-based ISP known familiarly as Panix, was barraged with garbage messages for more than a week earlier this month. The attacker tied up Panix servers by sending scores of requests with unusable return addresses.

Several businesses, including Glen Head, N.Y.-based agency Erin/Edwards Communications, ended up with unreachable Web sites and frazzled clients.

"We did have some sites that were kind of frozen due to the Panix problem," said Ed Brennan, president of Erin/Edwards, whose clients include the 1-800-FLOWERS site and Olsten/Kimberly QualityCare.


Agencies should plan for the possibility that their sites can be paralyzed, experts say. The ease with which the Panix servers were brought down is not unusual. Even if an Internet service provider takes every precaution possible, the Internet's global reach and interconnected nature make break-ins and harassment a possibility.

"I think the best thing to do is to have a relationship with a few ISPs," said the battle-weary Mr. Brennan. "And we keep the files. If we do have a problem with a client's Web site and have the original files, we can just upload the files to the other ISP. Other than that, you're stuck."

TN Technologies, the digital and interactive marketing unit of True North Communications, is handling the uncertainties by forming a partnership with Internet service provider UUNET Technologies.

Implicit in UUNET's sales pitch is the assurance that major players like UUNET, which has 4,000 customers, are at the core of the Internet and can't be brought down like a house of cards overnight.

UUNET, a Fairfax, Va.-based company working exclusively with businesses, is helping True North create a few critical applications, including a global intranet to coordinate work among employees and share content.


The deal not only streamlines TN Technologies' digital marketing efforts but brings facile Internet access to sister companies such as Foote, Cone & Belding; Publicis FCB; and Borders, Perrin & Norrander. UUNET will also host all of True North's client Web sites.

TN executives have come to see an in-the-know ISP partner as vital to staying on top of Internet technology.

"The core reason we liked UUNET is that they're very grounded in engineering," said Mike Dunn, a technologist at TN. "You can't afford to put your site out there and then have it fail on you whether because of improper technology, improperly planned capacity or security problems, especially."


What's more, it became increasingly clear that the company would not be able to handle Web sites for all of its clients on its own, given the complexity and capital-intensive nature of Web hosting, Mr. Dunn said.

For UUNET, the deal provides an inroad to the creative side of TN's business. The company hopes to tap into TN's resources to offer creative development work to other clients.


UUNET has already been selling its own turnkey Web hosting packages, including creative services, under a program called Team UUNET. UUNET has contracted with a series of content providers, said Paul Hoffmann, manager of business development.

"In the past, companies have just stumbled across content providers," Mr. Hoffmann said. "We want to offer something better than that."

TN is not the only agency to protect itself by forming close relationships with ISP professionals. Many smaller agencies have quietly been cutting their own deals with ISPs.

A typical case is Baltimore-based Richardson Myers & Donofrio, whose interactive work includes Web hosting for Sylvan Learning Systems and a CD-ROM catalog for Rubbermaid.

The agency does all of its Web hosting business with a business-only ISP called Nomius, Lanham, Md. The agency has a "co-location" agreement in place with Nomius, under which it owns the hardware but operates it at the ISP's offices.

This agreement gives Richardson some control and free access to its sites, while technical problems and 24-hour maintenance are handled by Nomius.

"We can put whatever the heck we want on the server," said Sean Carton, managing partner of the agency's Carton Donofrio Interactive division. "But if it goes down in the middle of the night, they have to deal with it."

Mr. Carton knows that it's still possible to bring down his sites if a malicious person mounts the right attack on Nomius. But he isn't changing his plans in the wake of the Panix attacks, which, he said, just go with the territory.


"There's always things that people can do to you other ways, like spreading false information about your company." Mr. Carton said. "You just can't prevent it."

Copyright September 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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