Surprising experience with DELL support

Background: we had terrible support experiences with DELL over the last 4-5 years or so and I just had a single really good one today. We started moving slowly to a different vendor and won’t change our decision because of this one experience.

Our situation: we are currently fighting a subtle issue in or data center: spontaneous reboots of physical servers. It only happens rarely but is a bit of an annoyance. We have now experienced 10 cases over the last year and starting to investigate. The problem is that almost all machines rebooted only once and we can never find an actual cause.

While getting an overview of all restarts (machine, time, hardware model, role, bios version) we had to contact DELL ProSupport to figure out a contradictory statement on new BIOS versions.

First, I got directly to the technician and he actually (for once) did have our machine’s service tag on his desk. I explained to him that I needed a specific piece of information and that I’m currently investigating a broader issue that doesn’t seem to be related to a single machine. He took up on that, passed me the information and followed me building and correcting our model of the fault and gave helpful comments and additional data from their experiences in the support with those machines.

What I wondered about is that he gave me information which I expected to be one of the selling points of DELLs machines: management features, access to support experience instead of scripted/technologically challenged call-center Zombies. Again: kudos to the supporter who helped me today.

Here are the positive surprises:

  • The DELL R610 and R510 iDRAC express cards have SSH and WEB UIs for accessing some of the fancier features. I even finally found the power meter!
  • There seems to be a tool called “repository manager” which can create a bootable ISO that includes all firmware updates for all the machines that you select. Cool! However, it seems to need Windows 2008 (WTF?). Even on Windows
  • Maybe (I didn’t understand this fully) the lifecycle controller can perform all required firmware/BIOS updates via FTP directly when entering it during boot time. (Unfortunately you need to reboot just to find out whether you need updates.)

Recapitulating this phone call and the information I got, I reached some conclusions:

  • Big, big personal thanks to the DELL supporter, you made my day! (And you know who you are!)
  • Why do I get huge amounts of stupid manuals that I just through away but readable, accessible information that the iDRAC Express has HTTP and SSH support?
  • Why are all Linux updates for no reason wrapped into binaries that require Red Hat stuff? All the tools are there on other distributions. Can you please release things so that grown-ups can use them?
  • Can we please have an accessible, platform-independent way to retrieve the information whether firmware updates are pending? Aand whether any update in the chain is urgent?
  • I see myself confirmed that hardware vendors are just terrible at software. Even your supporter is trained by now to think that having to hit a button twice isn’t a bug but a feature. Come on!
  • We knew that the express cards do not support VGA redirection (we use ipmi sol generally) but that leaves AFAICT only the “mount a remote disk” and “redirect VGA” as features of the bigger iDRAC option. And that thing AFAICT costs around 300 EUR more.
  • Given the issues of how to update firmware if you are on a true free platform then I wonder why those cost extra. Seems like DELL does support MS and RedHat’s business model by forcing customers into those options.

Lastly, it’s nice to have an actually good experience with DELL support for once, but, given our overall experience we’re more than happy to be migrating to Thomas Krenn now.

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