Open Wide, This Won't Hurt a Bit

Tech support ain't what it used to be. In fact, it's about as painful as a root canal...without the Novocain.

March 31, 2003

3 Min Read
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A case in point: Recently I attempted to install the network version of American Power Conversion's PowerChute (software that communicates with APC's intelligent UPSs and tracks the status of power to the equipment) on three headless production Solaris boxes that I'd plugged into a brand new APC Symmetra UPS, only to find that installing PowerChute on a Unix box requires an X11 environment. APC doesn't publicize this requirement, and it took several hours looking for a work-around before I finally threw my hands up and called the company's tech support line.

I explained the situation and asked the support person why you'd need a graphical environment to perform an installation so simple that it requires only one piece of information. He responded that he didn't understand why that requirement should present a problem, so I had to spell it out for him: Many Solaris boxes run headless, and text-based installs via telnet are the rule in such situations.

Nothing but the faint sound of a dental drill in the background.

"OK, just send me the work-around and I'll go away happy," I told the guy.

Silence again, except for the now deafening sound of the drill.Turns out there is no work-around. In my spare time, I'll have to reverse-engineer the process using a Solaris box with a graphical install.

Next Case

We'd been limping along with an old backup system for which no support was available. We brought in a new Veritas system, set up the backup server without a hitch, then installed the client software on a test system. But something was wrong with the client. I found what looked like a glitch in the installation log, but the log didn't provide enough information for me to determine what had caused the problem or how to solve it. I took the next logical step: I called Veritas tech support.

After exhausting all the suggestions from a first-tier support person, I persuaded him to escalate the incident to the next level. This entitled me to spend another couple of hours explaining the problem to a second-tier support person, and to send her the same logs and config files I'd already sent the first guy. She couldn't figure out what was wrong either, but she did find someone who could. As I suspected, the solution was simple, it just wasn't documented, and the installation routine didn't check the system's status when it ran. Frustrating.

What's Going On?Is technical support really going downhill fast, or did I just have a run of bad luck? I suspect that over the past few economically challenging years, the support arm of many technology vendors has suffered--after all, support is typically viewed as an expense rather than as a revenue generator. And while support cuts may make sense from a strict bottom-line perspective, more often than not they're shortsighted. Customers need and expect good support, and they'll vote with their dollars if they don't get what they need.

Misery loves company, so drop me a line and let me know about the quality of your most recent tech-support experiences.

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