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South Whidbey email improves, but still sluggish as businesses struggle

Now in its sixth day of email problems, Whidbey Telecom is reporting that its new system is up and running though customers should expect service to remain sluggish due to a backlog of emails.

Repeated attempts to reach company officials for comment on the problems in time for this story were unsuccessful but a news release distributed to The Record late Wednesday afternoon included both an explanation and an apology.

"We apologize for the inconvenience caused by the service interruption, and are disappointed that an initiative to bring value to our community fell short of expectations," COO Bruce Russell said.

The South Whidbey-based telephone, internet and email provider, began an upgrade to its email system over the weekend but the planned transition was anything but smooth and thousands of customers have been struggling with no or delayed email services ever since.

The problems started when "the new system encountered issues due to a larger than expected demand on the server processing that supports the new advanced anti-spam components of the system."

The transition dragged on into Monday but things took a turn for the worse Tuesday when the system had to be taken offline completely so the servers could be modified and upgraded, the release said.

By noon on Wednesday, the new system was "up and stable" but it was struggling under a massive load of incoming emails. During a normal business day the email system processes over 800,000 email transactions and over 35,000 emails per hour during peak traffic hours, the release said.

While the email problem has been a headache for many residential customers, it has been a big problem for merchants and business owners. Dan Vorhis, owner of Muscle and Arm Farm in Freeland, said he relies on email for his business and that just today he received a two-day old order.

"I've gotten some emails but I'm know I'm missing stuff," Vorhis said. "It's very frustrating."

"If people can't communicate with me, that's a problem," he said. "One day is bad, two days is terrible, three days is unheard of, and here we are in day four and five."

Drew Kampion, the distributor of an email list serve with about 3,350 South Whidbey subscribers, 1,200 of whom are Whidbey Telecom users, also saw severe service disruptions.

While was able to publish several email batches over the weekend, he had to cancel all those scheduled for Tuesday and some for Wednesday morning.

"It's really slowed me down," Kampion said.

However, for a man who's personal motto is, "Life is a wave. Your attitude is your surfboard," Kampion is taking the problems in stride.

"I got a day off so there was a silver lining to this," he said Wednesday.

Unfortunately, it appears the email problems are continuing today. According to a Thursday morning update posted on Whidbey Telecom's webpage, customers are still having both connection issues and delayed deliveries. The company is continuing to engage outside developers and vendor engineers to resolve issues with the mail system, the update said.

"We are greatly disappointed that the launch of the improved email infrastructure which was intended to improve email service for our customers did not go smoothly," said Russell said, in the news release. "Our first priority has always been the customer so an interruption in service is the worst scenario."

"We've been working with our vendor for the last several months to ensure the new system was scoped and implemented properly. Our Philadelphia-based vendor is well respected and used by many other large service providers like Whidbey Telecom. We will be working with the software developer to understand how a system that was sized and configured specifically for our needs did not perform as expected under our actual email load," Russell said.

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