May 17th, 2006
I’ve been managing servers professionally for some years now. Support is one of the most important things when you are managing computers for work. You don’t need support to help you out with a printing problem or an e-mail problem. You need support because every minute the machine fails to power up, your company may lose twice the value of the entire machine. Or even more.
My first day job managing servers involved Dell hardware. What a nightmare. I’ve never had a good experience with Dell support, ever.
First off, Dell support never puts me straight through to an intelligent support rep. I don’t care whether I get to the Indian call center or someone in Texas. The first support person I speak to at Dell has less computer aptitude than my grandmother. One conversation I will always remember went like this:
Me: We have a disk in our array that went bad on our Linux server. The red light on the disk itself is on. Please send us a replacement.
Dell: Have you tried rebooting?
Me: No. This is a production server. The reason the disks are redundant is so I don’t HAVE to. Besides, the light ON THE MACHINE ITSELF is on.
Dell: Ah, OK. Have you run scandisk?
Me: No. This is a Linux server, as I told you, and scandisk wouldn’t see a problem anyway since this disk is in an array and the array is still up.
Dell: OK, great. How about you download the diagnostics .exe from our website…
Me: Can’t. We don’t have Windows on this machine. You did say you support Linux when we bought it.
Dell: Ah. Can you right-click on My Computer…
Me: NO. This runs Linux, and the BAD DISK LIGHT ON THE MACHINE IS ON.
Dell: Ah, OK. I wonder if the problem really is that you have a bad disk.
Me: Could be!
Our first HP server purchase happened to be at a time when HP had undercut Dell by several thousand dollars. I liked the hardware, but it wasn’t anything that much more special than Dell.
But what I really like is the support. I haven’t had to call HP support often, but when I do, I am almost always speaking to a live, experienced person within 5 minutes.
With only one exception, all the HP support people I’ve talked to have been very experienced. They all sound like they’ve been working with HP hardware since the late punched card era. They know what is going on and assume that I do too. The HP people don’t make small talk (it *really* ticks me off when someone obviously in Calcutta or something asks me about the weather in Kansas, because you *know* they are reading it off a screen and don’t care). But that’s fine. I’m not calling them to talk about the weather, I’m calling them because my server is down.
We had a bad disk in an array on a HP server once. That conversation went more like this.
HP: Server support. Serial number please?
Me: [gives it to them]
HP: OK. What’s the problem?
Me: The array dropped a disk. The failed disk light is on and the controller logged a disk error.
HP: OK. That’s a 146GB SCSI, right? 15KRPM or 10K?
HP: OK. Is 1PM tomorrow good to send out the replacement?
HP: OK, your case number is xxxxx. Can you give us directions to your location?
So recently we got in our MSL4048 tape library. A very nice unit. And faster than most *disks*. 48 Ultrium3 tapes — 400GB native each — very nice. And a barcode reader built in.
So anyway, one small problem. When you open up a magazine to put tapes in, you can close the unit back up. It says “scanning”, but it doesn’t notice that we’ve changed tapes until we give it a command on the operator panel (yes, this tape drive has a LCD screen built in). This can be worked around, but is annoying and is just waiting to cause confusion. Plus it’s not how it should work.
So I call HP support yesterday.
Turns out this MSL4048 is a brand-new unit. Had only been on the market a few weeks. Our support rep has never seen one or taken calls about one, and they haven’t even given him all the HP technical docs yet. But no matter, he is willing to try to help us out.
He calls me back twice yesterday with tips and questions after speaking to colleagues. He asks intelligent questions, doesn’t bother with the “are you sure you’re putting the tapes in the right way around” or the “is the power cord securely plugged in” crap, and generally doesn’t waste my time. He called me back about four times more today — they duplicated our setup in their lab, right down to the exact firmware version, but didn’t have the problem. Two of those callbacks were apologizing for taking so long, and explaining that they were learning about this machine as they went along. So a HP rep will be out to our location shortly.
Now THAT’S what I call service. No blaming it on someone else, no trying to make me do stupid troubleshooting things, and returning calls.
My *one* bad experience with HP was one time we put a new internal tape drive in the machine, and it was acting flaky. I got the only not-very-experienced HP rep I ever had spoken to that time, and they tried to blame Debian for what turned out to be a bad SCSI cable. (The symptoms weren’t very similar to what I’d expect for a bad SCSI cable, and the cable had been working fine.) Oh HP, you donate to Debian — why don’t you support your hardware under it?
(In fairness, that is the ONLY time they have flinched when I said I run Debian, though it does make them hesitate sometimes)