There has been a recent discussion in one of the mailing lists about Microsoft's new callback support model for SBS. This model went into effect on August 1, and was announced on the Official SBS Blog on July 2, 2008. Over the weekend, I had an opportunity to make use of the new callback model, and wanted to share my experiences with it here.
Caveat: as you may or may not know, I used to work in PSS (now CSS) on the SBS team in Las Colinas, and still keep in touch with several of the folks there. I was present on the lines when the switch to have first-level calls get routed to India went into play. While I have my own thoughts about the process, I have to admit that I get a bit frustrated when calling in and dealing with a first-level tech (no matter where they are located) who doesn't have the experience and background that I do. When I do call in, I have to be patient with the process and let it work, because trying to get around the process, in my experience, has just caused more problems. That said...
Over the weekend, I went into a customer's server to install the August security updates. As per our normal practice, I did a full restart of the server before installing any of the updates. Only the server did not come back up. I'm in Texas, the server is not. Once my client got on site, we saw the dreaded "Cannot load operating system" message on the screen. While I had him track down the install media to boot into Recovery Console, I placed a call to the Partner Business Down support line.
I placed the call at 12:15pm. Within 5 minutes, I was speaking with a call router. Even though the core problem was an OS load issue and I knew I'd get the best support by talking to someone in the Setup team, I could not bring myself to outright lie about the OS, and agreed to the callback plan for SBS support. We went through the severity assessment at length and she eventually agreed that this was a business down case. I provided my partner ID for the case, and even though I renewed my partner status on 8/21, that update did not reflect in their system. I spent 5 minutes on hold while she tracked down my partner status, and eventually came back indicating that she had updated my partner status in their system (even though my expiration date of 2009 shows on the partner web site), and she gave me the case number at 12:36pm. Longer than I would have liked to get to that point, but I can't really complain. She then advised that I could expect a callback in the next one to two hours, and I got ready to work on issues while waiting on the callback.
To my surprise, an SBS engineer called at 12:40pm, just 4 minutes later. I hadn't even had time to get my client through the next part of the Recovery Console troubleshooting. I was fairly impressed, no, let me be honest, I was completely surprised at how quickly I received the call back. I have to say that the call router did a good job of setting expectations, but I never expected to get the call back so quickly. I was very, very impressed at that point.
And that's where the good impression stopped. Over the next few hours, I got pretty much what I expected from first level support. Without going into detail on the problem or the troubleshooting or the resolution, I can only say that the MS tech provided exactly one valid suggestion towards an identification of the problem. He offered several red herrings that I refused to follow, because I knew they would go nowhere. I have to acknowledge that he did at least consult with someone on the Setup team (which is where I really wanted to go in the first place) to make some recommendations that I already had documented on my own to-do list.
As it turned out, I ended up not really needing the support from MS after all, as the problem didn't end up outside of my area of expertise, but when dealing with a non-booting system, especially one that I cannot get my hands on, I know what my limits are and when I will need the assistance of someone from MS. I don't know if I would have had trouble escalating that call to a higher level or how long it would have taken to do so, and fortunately I did not have to find out.
So my first foray into SBS callback support was a mixed bag. I ended up not having to call in as early as I did, because I got a callback immediately. But I still ended up with the same caliber of front-line support that I've unfortunately come to expect from Microsoft. I'm quite glad I didn't just turn my customer over to the MS support tech and walk away, which was an option, because the MS tech would have had him perform tasks that would have put the server in more jeopardy, not less.
Anyway, for those of you who have been complaining about the length of time it can take to get a callback from MS for SBS support, here's an example of when it can take very little time at all to get a callback. I'm not expecting that should I have to call in again any time soon that I'll get anything resembling that kind of turnaround, but it is nice to know that it's at least possible.