Symantec -Vs- Microsoft

Last weekend’s Bank Holiday was meant to be a time of relaxtion – a chance to go for nice walks in the Countryside, enjoying Ice-Cream beside the river, or at worst, a good book and a glass of wine in the back garden.

Sadly, the majority of my weekend was spent dealing with a series of server failures at two customer sites.

Whilst the bulk of the work was completed by methodically working through the issues over a couple of days and when needed restoring data from backups, two problems stubbornly refused to be resolved and so one server remained off-line.

The server in question was a Domain Controller. The issues were that Windows Server 2003 refused to boot (complaining of Active Directory issues) and when it did boot into Directory Services Restore Mode, it wouldn’t log in.

It’s at this point when it’s very late at night (or very early in the morning) and you’ve been working all day, you’re tired and you’ve got a server down business critical issue… that you turn to Microsoft Product Support for assistance and a fresh perspective. Being a Microsoft Partner allows you to go down this avenue without any costs associated – and so after giving my details to the nice American 1st Line Support lady, I was put into a Queue and after waiting five minutes… was promptly cut off.

So I hang-up, dial Microsoft again – explain I was cut off – and the nice Microsoft Representative apologises and stays on the telephone with me to make sure I get through to somebody properly. I start speaking to a chap in Delhi, and whilst there are some language barriers, he understands my issue and we work through a couple of solutions. Forty Five minutes later, we’ve solved the problem. But he doesn’t finish there – he helps me to check for any other issues too, and then says he’ll call me in a day or so (he does) to check all is well.

Over the next 24 hours I receive an e-mail documenting the issue and it’s solution from my Microsoft Support Rep and further ‘phone calls from my Microsoft Support Rep to make sure everything is still ok (it is) and from another Microsoft rep to make sure I’m happy with the service I’ve received (I am).

So with the server back up and running – there’s just the small matter of restoring lost data. The customer uses Symantec Backup Exec 11D – the industry leader in Backup solutions. Therefore this should be a snap. Except Backup Exec doesn’t work – it’s become corrupted. Fine, I’ll do a repair install. Drat – that doesn’t work. Ok – I’ll do a re-install. Nope, you can’t re-install because the product is already installed. Odd, but ok – I’ll un-install and re-install. Nope, you can’t un-install because the product is corrupted. Well, I know that part – but how can I fix this if I can’t un-install, repair, or re-install the product!

I turn to the Web. Unlike Microsoft’s excellent product support newsgroups, where Microsoft MVP’s work through issues and document their final outcome for future reference, the Symantec offerings are rather less impressive. In fact, finding anything outside Sales Literature and Hotfixes (and in some cases, Hotfixes for Hotfixes, I kid you not…) is seemingly very difficult – especially so when you are tired and irritated with search engines that nearly always belch out bloated .PDF documents as results.

After a couple of hours hacking the registry and numerous reboots (and boy, Domain Controller reboots are the slowest of ’em all) I finally tap out and telephone Symantec Business Support for assistance. The phone rings, and I wait…

… and wait…

… and wait…

Some twenty minutes later I get through to someone who takes my details and puts me through to the Server Support team. I speak to another chap in Delhi, only this time the language barrier is much worse and regardless, whatever language we are speaking, this chap is not very chatty. So quiet that in fact I was forced to ask "Hello" after every few minutes of silence, and even then didn’t get a respones. "Hello – Is anyone there?" followed, at which point I’d get a brief response of "One moment". And so the circle of silence and worrying continued.

Now I know that working in an Call Centre isn’t the easiest of jobs. I’ve worked in a Telephone Helpdesk environment myself and so realise some of the issues being faced – therefore unlike some others – I’m very patient and like to think I’m polite. But that patience can be stretched to a limit, wherever in the world the call centre is!

Two hours and forty five minutes of being on the telephone later (of which, we’d spoken for approximately fifteen minutes – the rest was silence) we’d got Backup Exec re-installed – for which I’m thankful. I had the nagging feeling that if I’d been able to use Symantec’s Knowledge Base properly I could have come to this result on my own, but anyway. Problem was Backup Exec re-installed but it still didn’t work – for which I was frustrated.

So Mr. Symantec goes away with his quiet routine again and I start to sweat, realising the sun is starting to rise and staff are going to start wandering into the office and logging on in an hour or so.

It was at this point that I realised that I needed to restore that data through another route. I found another server with Backup Exec v11D installed upon it – restored the business data, and used Robocopy to move it to the correct server – all the while still listening to the silence from Symantec India.

Minutes into the start of the working day, the data is restored – and the users are non the wiser to the issues. Phew.

It’s now a week on, and Backup Exec still doesn’t work – and each day I get e-mails from my Symantec Rep asking me if they can close the call because they’ve not heard from me. Each day I say no – I need to fix, and each day we exchange e-mails and move at a snails pace forwards. I know where this is leading – a complete server re-build – surely defeating the object of a Backup package providing protection!

So a contract of two support experiences with very large companies. Whilst the Microsoft Support Team apologised for the delays in my call wait, thanked me for my patience, and then checked I was ok when they’d finished helping me – the Symantec equivalent seemed to be oblivious to the fact this was a Business Critical situation, and seemed annoyed when I asked if he was still there after every few minutes of silence. Perhaps he was struggling to use the Symantec web-site as I had earlier!

Now I’m sure many of you have had much better dealings with Symantec (and please, leave comments with any and all of your experiences, good or bad) but just one incident like this can sour you on a company permanently.

I’d already recently taken Symantec UK and my Symantec Account Manager to task for their seeming indifference towards the Small Business Market and in particular, their failure to work with their SMB Partners like myself – I think they are starting to address that. But after this incident, I’m afraid to say that I’ve just added a new date in my diary for the near future – that date being a workshop evaluation of the current Backup Software market and in particular, the non-Symantec offerings.


4 Responses to “Symantec -Vs- Microsoft”

  1. 1 Mike May 14, 2007 at 11:54 pm

    Hi Rich,
    Obviously I can\’t comment about the Symantec support experience but I\’m glad te Microsoft experience was very positive. I\’ve passed this blog on to a few colleagues who are responsible for support (Premier support rather than Professional) as an example of what customers expect and value from the service (and what frustrates them when it\’s not great). I hope that\’s OK.
    Sorry I missed you when I was in the UK. I just ran out time to squeeze everyone in. Next time I\’ll try to make sure we can have a beer or three together.
    Take care

  2. 2 Andy May 16, 2007 at 1:01 pm

    Fortunately for me i\’ve haven\’t arrived at the "call Symantec" stage yet. As you mentioned their on-line support is far from useful. It\’s terrible when companies lose business when issues with support get in the way of the actual product as it\’s something that other companies do so well (such as your MS experience)
    I generally agree that Backup Exec is the best their is  so hope that the support sees improvments soon!

  3. 3 Richard May 18, 2007 at 9:21 am

    As a follow-up to Mike\’s post – I understand from feedback from a few people that this blog has "done the rounds" at both Symantec and Microsoft. Thanks to Susanne Dansey for pressing Symantec on this issue also. I\’ve received a message from James Baker at Symantec UK advising he\’d look into my dissatisfaction at this case, but haven\’t heard anything more as yet. I also received an automated e-mail from Jeff Russakow, Symantec Global Enterprise Support VP asking for my opinions – you can imagine my response! The issue is now resolved, but it\’s left a very sour taste in both mine and the customers mouth.

  4. 4 Richard May 19, 2007 at 12:09 pm

    Had a telephone call on Friday from Alex Claude Braganza, a Technical Support Supervisor at Symantec. We talked through the issues I\’d had, and Alex promised to speak to the Support Technician involved to improve his game. Alex also left his details with me so that if I have any other problems in the future, he can "intervene and assign my best technician to the call". Whilst the issues I experienced initially still reflect very poorly on Symantec, it\’s nice to receive an apology and assurances of better performance in the future. I\’ve still not heard back the UK SMB Development Manager who promised to look into the issue and get back to me earlier this week though – although he did say he was away from the office and had limited e-mail access – I\’m hoping the issue is followed up through that channel too.

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