Paul Makepeace ;-)

February 3, 2006

I'm so over managing hardware

Posted in: Tech

Yesterday afternoon one of my servers crashed. At 16:20 I got on the case, and it was finally resolved by 20:30. It required putting a new PSU in the server, and sundry post-crash sysadmin jobs. Most of the time spent however was a product of some of the worst customer service I have ever experienced.

It turns out that the company that houses a server of mine was bought out recently. The difference between service from Mailbox before and after has been a stark illustration of the difference between dealing with a company in it for the cash and a company in it for the love of what they do.

Usually when I've called up Mailbox (which is usually only about once a year, mercifully) one of the highly technically adept and friendly guys has plugged in a monitor and checked it out, usually with direct contact on one of their mobiles. While it's no way in their SLA, they just get on with it because they're geeks and know the score. Thus far it's been fabulous.

All that however has changed. Mailbox were recently bought by 186K in Leeds and the Fulham data centre is running on a skeleton 186K staff (their words). In fact, so skeleton there was, I was told by first line support, only one person in there.

Last night I had a fan fail in one of my servers at their Fulham data centre. I called at around 16:25 and, after 12min waiting to get through, heard about the buy-out. I was then informed the best they could do was do a server restart. I would really rather avoid just powercycling a box when there's the possibility of a fix after a typically tiny amount of command line diagnosis (in the past restarting apache has been enough, for example).

This one person in the data centre was adamantly jobsworth about it, point blank refusing to make any effort to plug a keyboard & monitor into a server. (There were an account manager after all! The fact that my 60+ yr old non-technical mother will happily plug in a keyboard & monitor to a computer is notwithstanding...)

This process of discovery of the technical non-capabilities of the single person in the data centre took no less than 15mins of being put on hold for ages while the 1st line support guy called the datacentre back, over & over. Essentially what could've taken 4mins with a direct line to the guy in the data centre resulted in 15+mins of wasteful relaying. Eventually I succombed and said "ok, do a restart" at which point the chap had decided to leave, before five o'clock. So effectively midway through dealing with a customer's server crash, off they went.

Mind boggling, and phone bill grinding up I escalated up to one of their sales team members. At this point actually useful stuff started happening. They mysteriously found another person at the data centre (I still don't quite understand this) who did the restart. This didn't help so I said, I can head down there ASAP. The same thing essentially happened: there was so much on-hold action that the remaining staff had left again and so I couldn't visit the centre after all. We're up to 17:30 having started 70mins ago.

There was a happy ending - one of the previous Mailbox employees got involved! He Tubed in from east London, opened the place up, and we gutted random spare machines for PSUs (fan had failed), fscked the disks, and I scootered at high speed to PC World for a replacement PSU. So 186K acquitted themselves, beyond the call of duty actually, in the end, although I hope they review what happened to get to the point where they were sending ex-employees across town to get a result...

Posted by Paul Makepeace at February 3, 2006 13:01 | TrackBack

I used to be a Mailbox customer in Fulham... I pulled my kit out 3 weeks ago because it became obvious that 186K didn't much care about Fulham and indeed would be happier if it didn't exist. I was in Fulham 'cos a friend of a friend (who is now a friend..) worked there. It was a nice arrangement. Its now to corporate for what you don't get, so another friend of a friend is hosting my box up in Manchester now. I hope your Fulham kit stays up long enough for you to establish that 186K are going to service you better, or for you to move.


Posted by: Al at February 3, 2006 13:42

I've been speaking to a bunch of disgruntled (and some soon-to-be former) Mailbox customers over the past few weeks. Nobody seems to have anything good to say about them, but there are plenty of stories.

It's a terrible shame that it's come to this. I only get ADSL from them (my servers are in Telehouse and Redbus anyway) so it's not going to be too hard to throw them in the trash, but it's still saddening. They used to be so damned good - quite a diference I see now.


Posted by: Jon Masters at February 19, 2006 20:21

I'm sorry to hear about the buyout. I guess it was too good to last. I very rarely had to call them, and when I did, I'd get straight through to a helpful geek, often the technical director (Karl?).

When I thought it was my idiocy rather than theirs (I was teaching myself *nix on a home network) I'd send them an email and they'd turn it around in a few hours.

Well, I haven't yet had occasion to review the service--it is working fine, still need the fixed IP--but this news will make me unsentimental when doing so.

Posted by: Dougie at February 20, 2006 12:09
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