I swear... sometimes I despair...

I'm trying to find a new IT support provider for my place of work, and its proving to be a challenge.  My current employer seem to have drawn the short straw with their last two choices, and this time we have to get things right.

As noted in my previous blog, when [company name removed to protect the less than innocent] built our SBS server last year they made every employee Domain Admin which is a massive security risk, but that's only one of the problems.

Applications disappear from *within* a terminal session.  The Citrix session itself keeps running; remote desktop continues to run but the programs being run via remote desktop simply drop out (quite a mystery.... network issues? apps themselves crashing as distinct to be being a Citrix issue per se?)

User profiles are all over the place... some are roaming, some are local, and there is no consistency in their setups.  Various INI files are required for applications to work, but different users have different ini files, in different places.. its like trying to untangle spaghetti  (groan... where would *you* start)

Some profiles are broken - user specific settings disappear.. printer settings change without warning, everybody's default printer will suddenly change to the photocopier or Adobe PDF Distiller.  Default paper size will change from A4 to Letter. (Mostly fixed, but for a few users still comes back to bite me in the butt - AND, if I reboot my SBS box and Windows 2000 Server hosted terminal servers, nearly everybody gets hit :o(  )

Word toolbars disappear, macros suddenly stop working, integration between various apps suddenly breaks then the next day start working again with no intervention from me (can't work out what's wrong here...)

Application integrations work on one server, but not on the other, but different things are broken depending on the user (or here)

Lots of little workarounds have been set up for individual users but there is no documentation about what was done or why. 

Am I tearing my hair out trying to work out WTF is going on?  Hell yes.

VPN was implemented, but in such as way that ADSL was broken... Instead of the ADSL modem controlling the connection they made the modem a bridge, and handed control over to ISA (which left me with an "ADSL has limited or no connectivity" alert in my System Tray).  Also, right from the minute the change was made it was noted that if ADSL dropped out for any reason, more often than not it would not automatically reconnect (which, of course, is a bad thing over the Christmas break when people want to work remotely) but things were left as they were.  By rights the changes should have been rolled back.  VPN wasn't a critical requirement - maintaining an always-on connection was. (Now fixed...took 30 minutes to do...)

The internal tape drive in the new SBS server was plugged into the RAID controller instead of a SCSI card, leading to inevitable write errors that remained unresolved for FOUR MONTHS.  Imagine, four months with no backups.  (Also fixed... cause of error took 5 minutes of googling to find ... the previous IT company was not able to work out what the problem was because????)

The IT support guy for one particular piece of software that we use expressed his frustration to me when he complained that the problem I had come to him for assistance with had been a regularly recurring one caused by a basic misconfiguration.  His exact words? "I have told your last two IT providers not to do ********* but it keeps on happening anyway"... (that just says it all, doesn't it).  He wasn't reassured by my promise that everything is now being documented, and that the problem won't recur, and I can't blame him for his cynicism.

How I'd love to flatten the SBS server (and everything else) and start from scratch, but the reality is a major financial investment was made to build it less than a year ago, and despite the fact that a terribly bad job was done, asking a business to shell out *twice* in less than 12 months for the same thing ain't gonna win any friends.  With no documentation about how things were done, or why, or about problems encountered, or the reasons behind various tweaks, or what *shouldn't* be done, we'd truly be starting from scratch.

My tale of woe about badly built servers, sloppy implementation of software and hardware, and a lack of documentation is not an isolated incident.  I was at a BBQ last week and got into an interesting conversation with an accountant.  He tells me that a big topic of conversation at any get-together he attends is IT providers because, as he said, everybody is having problems with "bad" support.  Invariably the bad experiences recur when they change providers.

From what I've seen of what's available in my town, there is a real problem with the quality of IT support.  There's book learning, and an understanding of theory, but the ability to properly apply said knowledge is often lacking.  Too often technicians address individual symptoms without going after the source of a problem - they're reactive instead of proactive.  There is an awareness of the various features and abilities available with various software products, but too often technicians don't seem to think things through or ask themselves if their ideas are what is best for the business.  I mean, why overcomplicate things and mess around with Citrix ICA, VPN, published applications, remote desktop and Nfuse simply so that somebody can read their email from home, when you have a brand new, well specced SBS server with OWA already built in?  Is it a lack of experience? Is the standard of education and training lacking?  Are we missing experienced mentors who are willing to take trainees under their wing and teach them how to do things well, to see the big picture, and be proactive instead of reactive? 

Another guest at the BBQ said to me that he'd never been able to understand why I didn't go into business for myself to try to improve the standard of technical support.  I'll be honest.. my area of expertise is very specialised and I don't have the skill-set required to go into business for myself.  I bring value to my employers because I am lucky enough to know, and am honored to be able to claim as my friends, the best in the business when it comes to supporting various Microsoft products - I can call them in to help me get things sorted - I'm more cat-herder than fixer.   

Sadly those I consider to be the best of the best are all based thousands of miles away.  Now if *they* came to town I'd go into business with them in a heartbeat - we'd really shake things up.  In the interim, though, the search continues for a local IT support provider that I can trust to do a good job.

Published Sun, Feb 19 2006 9:14 by sandi