Why I Like HP

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?

Me: 15K.

HP: OK. Is 1PM tomorrow good to send out the replacement?

Me: Fine.

HP: OK, your case number is xxxxx. Can you give us directions to your location?

Me: Sure…

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)

9 thoughts on “Why I Like HP

  1. HP server support is very good, alas their desktop support lacks a little. We had a batch of 30 dc7600 machines that had a squeak from near the cpu whenever the system was under any load. I called the support line to report the fault for the first unit and went through removing the sata disk, cd-rom, fan on the cpu etc. But the best bit was the guy asking me to remove all the power cables from the system board , and start the PSU on its own… I asked if he was joking but no, he wanted me to try it. I laughed and asked how to turn on an ATX style PSU that has no button to press and no way a power good signal can be returned. He just asked me to try again. Finally we moved on to getting an engineer out. As a side note it was decided to check if some of the other systems still in their boxes had the same problem. My random sample of 4 all had the problem. It took 2 and a half months for HP to admit that there was a problem and got someone to replace all 30 system boards. The engineer who did the job also noted that 3 systems had faulty drives too.
    But I will say that the proliant servers are great and the support for those fantastic, we’ve had speedy replacement for system boards (ILO failure), drives, PSUs, media back planes, the lot. Love ’em. Still have problems with our MSL5052 tape library though :( pesky robot keeps jamming

  2. Um, I know a couple of guys working with Wipro Spectramind, and handling Dell accounts here in Calcutta. I’ll pass on your complaint about the small talk to them :) By the way, I wonder how you figured out that most of the Dell call center people are down here in Calcutta ?

  3. My guess — seeing that you work with ubuntu — is that the people you know are probably higher up in support in some way.

    I also believe that the small talk was something they were told to do, not something that they would naturally want to do.

    In other words, I blame Dell’s policies, not the local employees that are just following them.

    As for knowing they were in Calcutta specifically — I didn’t. I just picked a random example city that I’ve heard has call centers. But I am amused that I happened to pick the right one ;-)

  4. And while we’re on the subject… the other thing that annoys me is that these Indian call centers often give fake American names to Indian employees. We all know what’s going on here, and this whole business of them pretending to be Bill or Amanda or whatever, is just silly.

    It really contributes to the “dehumanizing” of the whole thing. If the company I’m talking to respects me so little as a customer that they use phony names, why should they expect me to respect them or have any loyalty?

    The fact that I’m talking to somebody outside the US doesn’t bother me much (though the economic impact of all this outsourcing does somewhat).

    But that they think that I am so dumb that I won’t notice what’s going on if they call their support reps by American names is just insulting.

    Personally, if I do talk to somebody in an Indian call center, I’d prefer to get the person’s real name and maybe hear about *their* weather or what’s going on over there. They probably have been trained all about ours already. If I talk to somebody — regardless of where they are — let them be a real person.

  5. Hehe — I have one and only one really frustrating HP support call experience. It was NFS networking HP-UX to Unicos, and after much going back and forth, and sending packet dumps on tapes etc, they finally after several weeks escalated it to the NFS team.

    The NFS team immediately came back with “it is a known problem use GNU file utilities (instead of HP-UX’s) or upgrade Unicos”.

    But then I think they were porting NFS from SUN code to HP-UX with each release from SUN, as they several times introduced the same regressions.

    My DELL support experience aren’t great, but aren’t that bad either. I think we usually get put through to Ireland, or somewhere in Europe, rather than India, which probably helps.

    Although I could do without every tool and option defaulting to being shipped as EXEs. Usually there is a Redhat version somewhere, and dig a bit deeper and you find the tar.gz sources.

  6. Usenix is an interesting conference. Probably the best I’ve been to in years.

    There are a lot of people here that maintain really, really big sites. I was at one talk where the presenter said “now this may work fine if you have 500 servers, and a bit

  7. But what about the hardware? This makes me nervous, since my shop is looking at buying all dell servers. They’re pretty quick machines, and have all of the real-server-hardware stuff I’d expect, but is HP’s hardware any better than Dell’s? Really want to know.

  8. So, a little while ago, I wrote about why I like HP. This week, I’m starting to be annoyed at them.

    My employer just bought nearly $100,000 worth of HP hardware. We get a new MSA1500cs Fibre Channel SAN (with redundant controllers, FC switches, disks

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