Sunday, June 24, 2007

Are Critical Systems Hardware Contracts Really Worth It?

I had a very frustrating week last week from the viewpoint of a harried system adminstrator. For the first time in almost 20 years of operation, our primary adminstrative server lost a hard drive. Fortunately, we had the server configured in a Raid-5 array so the hot spare kicked in and took over for the failed drive. However, when we contacted Hewlett Packard to obtain a drive replacement under our 4-hour critical systems contract, we discovered that (1) the drive was not in stock in the regional warehouse even though it was only a little over a year old and (2) according to the fine print in the contract, the 4-hour service guarantee only applies if the part is available.

I asked the customer service agent if we were to be compensated for their failure to perform under the terms of the contract such as extending our contract for a year at no cost (which I thought was a reasonable solution) but they refused saying they had no responsibility for their failure since the part was not in stock.

Then, I was told they located the part and I should receive it by the next day. The next day came and I received no hard drive. The next morning I called customer service again and was told that they were doing the best they could to get it to me as fast as possible and after all it had only been a day (!!!) Then another day passed and still no hard drive - actually three days since it went over the weekend and I still had no hard drive on Monday. I obtained the UPS tracking number myself and went up on the UPS website to find out what happened to the drive. All it said was "billing information received". So I called HP back to ask what was going on. I was told they didn't know but would check into it and could I call back. I told them it was their responsibility and that they should call me back when they had an answer. I also told them I didn't care what happened to the original replacement drive, just get me a drive no later than the next day. Needless to say, I did not get a call back. So, I found a number on the web for the Higher Education Account Rep for Oregon and called it. The main rep was out but I reached Brian (I didn't get the last name). Brian tried very hard to get me connected to the right people. Finally I was told that someone from the Critical Systems group would get back to me shortly with an ETA for the part. Before long I got a call from a member of the group with an ETA of 4:59 p.m. that same day. I was skeptical because it was already 4:00 p.m. but the rep insisted it was coming by Sky Courier.

Anyway, I hung around the office until almost 5:30 p.m. but still no drive. I finally went on home. The next morning I was about to call HP AGAIN when I received a call from a man who said he had a package to deliver from UPS and he was down at the bookstore and needed to know where my office was. I was puzzled since UPS delivers here all the time. Anyway, I gave him directions and decided I better walk outside and intercept him just in case. (By this time I was desperate for the part anyway). So, I went outside but didn't see the usual brown UPS truck. Soon a rather well-worn red vehicle pulled up driven by an elderly man and I noticed he had some packages tossed in the back seat. I asked him if he was delivering a package from UPS and he said yes. I noticed he had a rather dog-eared label taped to his dashboard that said "Sky Courier". I signed for the package and took it inside. With bated breath I opened the box and compared the capacity, speed, etc. to make sure it was the correct part since it wasn't absolutely identical and had a different part number, but it did work.

So, after almost a week, I finally got the part I needed for a critical systems server. We were just very fortunate the server did not experience another drive failure while we were waiting for the replacement. Apparently, I was told HP had somehow gotten an incorrect address printed on the delivery label that contained a P.O. Box (I don't know where that came from since we don't have a P.O. Box and HP admits my customer record showed the physical address I had given them) so UPS kept returning it because they don't deliver to P.O. Boxes. However, I'm still of the opinion that if the service I received is indicative of the typical response to a critical systems failure, I don't think paying for 4-hour service is probably worth it.
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