Companies purchase support for most of their enterprise hardwares (servers, switches, routers, firewalls etc.,) and softwares (databases, OS, applications, frameworks etc.,). They spend lot of cash on support mainly for two reasons: 1) To get help from vendors to fix critical production issues 2) To keep up-to-date with the latest version of the software and security patches released by the vendors. In this article, I’ve given 10 practical tips for DBAs, sysadmins and developers to use their hardware and software support effectively.
1. Use the Knowledge Base
Most vendors have dedicated support website including a separate knowledge base section with lot of white papers, best practice documents, troubleshooting tips and tricks. Use the knowledge base section of support website to learn and expand your knowledge. Most of the time, the best possible solution to solve a specific problem can be found from the knowledge base or forum of your vendor support website. For example, when you have an issue setting up Automatic Storage Management during Oracle 11g installation, Oracle’s support website metalink, will give you appropriate solution than searching Google.
2. Use support website to create ticket
Instead of calling the support over phone, use their website to create a ticket. It is not easy to explain complex technical issue in detail to the support person over phone. Even when you take time to explain the issue in detail over phone, they may still miss lot of details or write the issue description little differently. This will cause unnecessary delay, as you’ve to explain the problem again to the support engineer who will be assigned to the ticket. If you create the ticket yourself from their website, you can upload all the supporting materials and copy/paste the error message. After you create a ticket from their website, call the support to follow-up and make sure an engineer is getting assigned to it immediately. If they don’t have a support website, ask them whether you can create a ticket by sending an email.
3. Explain the issue in detail
Provide as much as information possible in the ticket description. Don’t assume that the support engineer will understand the issue just by looking at the error message you’ve provided. Providing as much as information upfront in the ticket will help you avoid lot of wasted time going back and forth explaining the issues in detail to the support. Provide a clear step-by-step instructions on how to reproduce the issue.
4. Do some research and debugging before submitting the ticket
Before creating a ticket, perform some basic debugging to eliminate some of the common issues. Attach related log files and debugging output to the ticket. If you’ve worked with your vendor before, you’ll have a good idea of all the basic log files and testing they may ask you to perform. Don’t wait for them to ask the same thing again. Go-ahead and do those basic testing yourself and attach all the log files to the ticket.
5. Don’t waste time with first level of support
Dealing with first level of support is waste of time for complex issues. If you’ve done #2, #3 and #4 mentioned above properly, call the support and demand them to escalate it to the second level of support. If they don’t respond properly, escalate the issue through vendor’s account manager assigned to your company.
6. Use support for your research project
Don’t just call support only for production issues. Call them even for your research project. For example, if you are performing a prototype of a new software that was released by your vendor, call the support to get their help when you get stuck. When you are testing their new bleeding edge software, that was released recently, most of the vendors will even assign a dedicated resource to help you resolve the issue, as they want to fix all the issues in their new software as soon as posible.
7. Setup your support profile
Anytime you create a ticket, you may have to repeatedly enter some basic information related to your account and environment. Most of the support site has the ability to setup a profile with all the basic information, which you can use when you are creating a ticket. This will speed up the ticket creation process.
8. Setup support access for admins
Make sure all your DBAs, sysadmins and senior developers have access to the support website. If you are the only person who has access to support website, identify another backup resource for you and make sure they know how to access the support website to create a ticket, when you are not available. Also, create a separate support-access document with vendors support telephone number, your account number, support website URL and put it in a shared area where all admins can access it.
9. Subscribe to security alert
It is very important for DBAs, sysadmins, and senior developers to subscribe to the security alerts from the support website. If there are any critical security updates that affects your hardware and software, it should be immediately tested on test environment and moved to production. I have seen admins who receive the security alerts, but don’t read those emails consistently. It is very important to act on security alerts from your vendors immediately.
10. Get official documentation and diagnostics tools
Use support to get official documentation for your hardware and software. Call your vendor support and ask for diagnostics tools and best practice documents for maintaining your hardware and software. Most of us hate to read documentation. But experienced developers and admins understand that reading official documentation of hardware and software will give them in-depth understanding about the product.
Do you use support from your hardware and software vendors? If you have any tips, please leave a comment.