Friday, February 13, 2009

How to fail at technical support

Today I need support on an HP ProCurve Wireless Access Point 420 which seems to be having trouble forwarding multicast DNS packets. Multicast DNS matters if you have lots of Apple machines on your network because it's the technology behind Bonjour.

Luckily, the access point is capable of doing multicast IP over a WPA/WPA2 encrypted network and so it should have been fine. But... it would work for a few hours and then stop working.

The current work around is to reboot the access point which I do using an expect script executed by a cron job:
#!/usr/bin/expect -f
# This script is called via a cron job to
# reboot the HP Wireless 420 access
# point. The current firmware in the access
# point has a bug (reported to HP) which causes
# it to stop forwarding multicast DNS packets.
# These packets are used by Apple Bonjour for
# service discovery. The upshot is that
# wireless connected users can no longer see
# shared servers.
# This is a horrible hack.
# Written by John Graham-Cumming

# This works by TELNETing into the access point
# using the admin user account 'admin' and issuing
# the obscurely named 'reset board' command which
# performs the reboot.

set wireless_ip_address a.b.c.d
set username "admin"
set password ""

spawn telnet $wireless_ip_address
expect "Username:"
send "$username\n"
expect "Password:"
send "$password\n"
expect "HP ProCurve Access Point 420>"
send "reset board\n"
expect "Reboot system now? :"
send "y\n"
send "exit\n"

But that's truly an ugly, ugly hack.

So, I emailed HP ProCurve technical support and within a couple of hours I had this response:

Dear John Graham-Cumming,

You recently submitted an email to ProCurve with the following description:

We have a HP ProCurve Wireless AP 420 which is used to provide access to our internal IP network. This works well except that I have to reboot the AP once per day to restore access to Apple Bonjour services (which are provided by multicast DNS). Is this a known issue? We have the latest firmware. John.

Your email Case Number is: CAS-11111-4X6563
Please always provide your case-id when you contact ProCurve Support Direct.

It is not a known issue. Which software revision do you have ?, Did you try reset to factory default ?, if you didn't. I advised you to do but previously make a copy of the configuration.

If you still have issues, you have to call to our Technical Support of Procurve Networking in UK 0870 0130 778

Thank you for contacting ProCurve Networking Support. Please let us know if we may be of any further assistance to you.

Now this starts badly because having told them that I have the latest firmware their first question is what software revision I have. Great. These standard scripts drive me insane. I've already told you I have the latest.

They also ask me to do a factory reset. Yep, I already tried that.

So I follow their advice and call the number in the UK. I tell the operator that I have a case number (which is in the email) and I then go through a bizarre conversation where he tells me that the case number isn't a case number. All case numbers must begin with 160 and mine starts CAS. According to him the C stands for China and he insists that I am not giving him a case number, I'm giving him the serial number of my product.


The email from HP reads: "Your email Case Number is: CAS-11111-4X6563. Please always provide your case-id when you contact ProCurve Support Direct."

I read these exact words to him. He insists that this is a serial number. He then claims it is not a serial number, but is a case number for something other than ProCurve support. So I read him the Subject line of the email: "Procurve Support EMEA"

Finally, I give up. I ask to start a new case and get on with it.

I describe the problem and he disappears to talk to second level support. I don't have the energy to go into the whole 'we might not support Apple', and 'multicast DNS isn't the same thing as multicast IP' (despite the fact that DNS is layered on UDP which is layered on IP).

Finally, we get to setting up the case number. But I'm not in the system because I've never called before. So I have to set up a case.

And the only way to do that is via email...


Wojtek Swiatek said...

This case is sad as it shows the average level of support accross large corporations.
I also agree that when someone provides information showing that he understands his problem he should be labelled with a "non-FAQ" tag and get assigned to a more knowledgable staff.
Been there, seen that.

The part I do not agree with is the "latest firmware" one.
I assume that this means "latest firmware at the time I sent this email" (so it is just a matter of checking the email timestamp, then browse though the release notes of the firmware, compare this with all possible localized firmwares (which are not always released at the same second)).
This can also be "the latest firmware at the time I last checked for the issue (that's a tricker one to diagnose).

It would have been easier to just say firmware 3.23.45Ewhatever

DaveG said...

Hello John,
I came across your comment on HP's ProCurve support, and as the European Manager of the customer care organisation for ProCurve, I would like to comment. First of all, we did drop the ball on your call. When a call is logged via a specific system is DOES indeed start with a CAS prefix, our agent should have known this - I could not find reference to your specific number, but I did find your case - the actual case number is :1604005097

I believe that the above case is still open, and hopefully you are satisfied with the support being given, if not please let me know, I apologise on behalf of ProCurve and hope we can meet your support needs in the future:-
[email protected]


Dave Gough