IT Support Services

Recently, I've logged support calls with HP, Sun, IBM and Borland. I have to say, I've had very different experiences.


We have a few HP bits and pieces around here at werk (servers, printers etc). We bought a desktop machine (a DC7100), so I got it installed with XP SP2 and a bunch of applications and it went into service. The user reported sporadic reboots, blue screens and such like.

Logging a call on a device that comes with a three year warranty is a little different from something with a Carepak. When you buy a carepak, you get an unconvincing booklet with phone numbers in it, and send off a card with your serial numbers. However, you know who to call, and historically, it's worked fine for me.

With no carepak, it gets a bit less obvious. I called our reseller who logged the call on my behalf. I've now got the necessary numbers and things so can do it myself in the future. While all that was going on, I was struggling with the Internet based call logging, which really didn't get me very far because I couldn't enter a contract ID.

Anyway, once logged, the call progressed well enough and an engineer was dispatched. HP didn't have any memory in the warehouse, so the engineer brought a new motherboard and CPU. He actually worked for a support company that HP contracts, and to be fair he was very nice and good at what he did. Since the problem was sporadic, there wasn't really a definitive test to see if the problem was fixed, so the call got closed (without my direct consent).

The problem re-emerged, and an engineer was again dispatched (after a new call was raised). Again, things were changed, but the problem wasn't fixed. A third visit swapped out the power supply, and it's been fine ever since.

So all in all, not bad, although the original diagnosis should have been better. The problem got solved, although it took about two weeks to elapse. Thankfully it wasn't one of our critical servers with the problem (although to be fair they have a different service level).


Sun have historically been excellent service providers. It's never been cheap, and one could argue the difference between bronze and silver support is too great, but either way, you can't fault them on service.

...until now. Sun have tried to back off first line call logging to their major resellers. Currently this is a real mess - the resellers arn't ready, arn't equipped and add no value to the process. I imagine the bigger resellers will invest in the computer systems and people required to make it work, but that's reseller dependent. If you're trying to get Sun kit on the cheap, then you're probably going to use a smaller reseller and so get lower service levels.

The other problem with resellers is that it's not clear who you should deal with. If you've only ever used one reseller for ever, then I guess you know who you need to speak to. If however, you've switched resellers a couple of times, you could potentially need to check the serial number on your contract to figure out which reseller to call. Not good.

Further problems exist if you buy from a non-authorised reseller who backs the sale off to an authorised one. Unless you're on good terms with your reseller, you may not quite get to the bottom of whom you're supposed to call. You could easily end up in the middle of a load of resellers backing away from helping you fix a downed server. We have a situation where Sun think we should be speaking to someone who was out-bid on the sale of the kit in the first place. Not good for us, potentially having to call a reseller we don't want to work with.

At this very moment, I have called Sun and asked for definitive answers to some of the problems above. I'll see how it goes, but even Sun seem to have problems answering these questions.

So anyway, logging calls. Once you've got the call logged, and Sun are working on it, I'd say they're excellent. The engineers you speak to are well trained, have the information to hand that they need and seem to have other people to ask if they need to. In the past I've found them reluctant to escalate calls or to pass them to more experienced engineers, but that information's a good 5-8 years old.

Onsite engineers are much the same - they're well trained, presentable and generally very friendly. I've typically found them to be "get it done" type people who are willing to bend the rules a little if it helps you get what you want. Parts delivery is always prompt and correct. Indeed Sun's products allow for better diagnosis than is possible with lesser machines.

All in all, I'd say once Sun are actually working on the call, they're excellent. They're quick, well informed, well trained and professional. I really can't fault their service. Sadly though, resellers are another matter, and I hope Sun either consolidate down to a couple of master resellers or drop the idea entirely.


We have a number of Thinkpad laptops at werk. Over the years, I've had a couple of dozen issues with them (they get kicked pretty hard by our users). All in all, IBM are really pretty good.

Logging calls with IBM is suprisingly easy (try using their website - it's terrible!). I've never tried any online stuff, but on the phone things work pretty well. Getting to speak to an engineer can take a little longer than I'd like (although our service level isn't super-high). Once you're through to someone, they go through "the script" of stuff to try, which in some cases you've already done. They're usually quite receptive to that, and move along sensibly. In some cases if you demonstrate that you're way ahead of them, they just get parts sent out to you without asking any more questions.

Where systems have intermittent problems, IBM are really quite good. They have tools available to test things, which sometimes work, sometimes not (the DFT is pretty good though). They're usually quite willing to take something on, even if a problem can't be easily or directly proven.

Our contract requires we send things back to base to be fixed. IBM use a number of "dispatch" points around the country. This feels a little wierd, but actually works very well. We send a local courier to a local IBM service point, and IBM magically handle it from there, returning the machine to the dispatch point. We pay a bit in couriers because of this, but it works very well.

In some cases, we've done field replaceable work ourselves. IBM again are fine with this sort of thing, and send the parts out quickly. Laptops are notoriously hard to crack open and work with, but IBM are good at design and documentation.

So all in all, IBM are really rather good at this stuff. Our contract with them isn't for super-high level service, and that's exactly what we get from them. However, in general they get things done with a minimum of hassle.


I haven't got a great deal of experience with Borland. We use Together at werk, which used to owned by TogetherSoft?. Together's an expensive product with expensive support (which is sold under the most horrible and restrictive, scum-sucking leech-like ways). Borland took over TogetherSoft? and the resulting disarray helped people like us out because Borland didn't invoice for support properly. We got an opportunity to consolidate our support contracts, which is probably a good thing, organisationally speaking.

We have a license server, without which none of our users can use the product. There's something wrong with the server, because the clients can't connect (athough the server's running). That, in my view, is a highly critical issue - we have no service at the moment. I don't have a telephone number to call, so logged a call online. It's been a good 24 hours and the call is still in the "not started" state. I've emailed the "if you have problems, email us here" address, basically tearing a strip off them. I sent that about three hours ago, and still no response (Update: they added my email to the call text, but gave me no reply).

Given that we pay lots of money for this support, Borland look to be terrible. Even an automated acknowledgement that they're aware of my existence would be a good thing right now.

So I'm not impressed with Borland at all. Their service is terrible, and they don't appear to be easily available to talk to, or to email. They'll be getting a beating come renewal time (again).

Update: I've just found a support number. The agent said she'd "try and speak to the team leader". Not exactly an awe-inspiring response. I also called the UK office and asked the receptionist for our account manager. She put me through to two voicemails. I've just emailed UK customer service, I'll see if that gets me anywhere.


The support from various major vendors breaks down something like this:

HP: Fair to middling

Sun: Excellent, provided they sort their call logging provisions

IBM: Excellent, even at low service levels (I can't believe I'm saying this!)

Borland: Terrible in every possible way. Avoid at all costs.

Submitted by coofercat on Wed, 2005-02-02 12:55


Account sizes

We deal with these companies freqently. As our business grew so their levels of support improved. If you are an SME use a support provider which has leverage with your suppliers. Dell should be on the list - they are poor.

Good article.

IT Support

Submitted by Gavin (not verified) on Mon, 2008-10-06 19:25.