Friday, April 29, 2011

Adventures with at&t

Here's a story about how a company can have horrible customer service, yet have some wonderful customer service employees all at the same time.  It started over 2 years ago when some at&t representative showed up at our office to review our accounts and help us with our contracts.  Now, I'm no at&t contract expert.  That's why you have an account rep who does these things for you.  Seriously, telecom contracts are worse that Microsoft licensing. 

Anyway, over 2 years ago, it was suggested that we have an ABN account set up so we can get the most discounts, etc, based on our usage.  As I understood it, this ABN was like an umbrella account over all our other accounts (PRI, Long Distance, Internet) and we got credit for how much we spend or use.  There's a penalty charge if you don't use the amount of service you agree on in the contract.  We sign all the necessary paperwork and the representative heads off to get all these goodies set up.  We do our job by continuing to pay our at&t bills as usual.

A year later, I get a mysterious bill for $15,000.  A phone call brings to light that we didn't meet our "commitment" with the ABN contract, thus the penalty.  I thought this was odd and more digging brought to light that our pre-existing accounts were never brought under that ABN account we signed up for the year before.

I called our representative and found out they were no longer assigned to us.  A new representative, "Daniel", showed up to our office, reviewed everything and promised to resolve the issue, since it clearly wasn't our fault the accounts weren't put under this umbrella.  We were told not to pay the bill and we'd get credited as soon as it was sorted out.  That was almost a year ago.  Every few weeks, I attempt to follow up, only to be told "it's being worked on."  I've been trusting in at&t to resolve this. 

Moving on, last September we upgraded our Internet service, cancelling our old Frame Relay connection and putting in some nice fresh fiber.  Little did I know, this new account was properly linked to the ABN account.  An account that had a $15,000+ unpaid balance attached to it.  (Can you see where this is going?)

I still haven't heard anything definitive about our billing dispute and haven't had a real interaction with our "official" account representative, Daniel, in a long while.  All my contact was with a technical consultant, "Beth", that was working with my rep, but I digress.

Then in early March, our Internet connection mysteriously dies - at&t cut our service due to the non-payment of the ABN account.  Now, mind you, the account for the Internet service specifically has been paid for every month.  A few calls later to Beth and our Internet was back up.  Beth tells me not to worry, she'll contact billing and we'll get this resolved.  It won't happen again.

Then yesterday, it happens again.  I called Beth and got voice mail.  I left a message.  I called Daniel, got voice mail and left a message.  I called Daniel's boss and got voice mail.  Left a message.  I called the 800 number for at&t customer service and got "Patrick".  Patrick rocked.  He pulled up my account, looked at the ridiculous number of notes on it, muttered something under his breath about how crazy it was that I still had a ticket from June of 2010 and went to find a manager.  About a half hour later, I got a call from "Laverne", who managed to sort enough of it out to get our Internet turned back on. Laverne also rocks.

She couldn't fix the whole billing issue, but told me that it really needed to be handled by our account team.
I told her I knew that.  And that I've left several messages.  Clearly the phone company loves their voice mail features.

I tweeted about this fine event yesterday. I got a response (and a nice phone call) from "Troy" on at&t's team who's monitoring people who vent about at&t on social media venues.  Troy lso told me that he'd work on it and I'd have some more information by Monday.  Troy also appears to rock, but that remains to be seen.

So while I appreaciate some of the great service and response I get from some at&t employees, I'm overall really annoyed with at&t in general.  They have too many departments doing too many different things and no one appears to read any notes before they go throwing switches. 

I guess I'll go leave a few more voice mail messages now.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Random Bits - Q1 Tweets and Links of Note

Gosh, time flies when the to-do list is stacked full.  Right now, I'm gearing up head to TechEd in Atlanta in a few weeks (more on that later), but meanwhile, here are some fun and informative tweets and links from the last quarter that you might have missed!

Upgrading from Windows 1 to Windows 7 - (Mar 7)
@dondonais - RT @buckleyplanet: A new video on how to become a SharePoint site admin (a warning to all) (Dec 29)

Social Media
@BAoki - Good social media reminders for newbies and veterans alike from @chrisbrogan (Feb 25)
@amndw2 - Via @tcarmody, "Five Emotions Invented by the Internet" All hauntingly familiar. (Jan 15)

All About IPv6
@spamvikktim - A politically incorrect guide to IPv6, Part I - (Feb 19)
@joeklein - List of websites supporting #IPv6 of the 990476 tested websites only 2903 have one or more IPv6 addresses. (Feb 9)
@sambowne - ty @frankbaitman Brilliant USC video explains the 4 billion Internet addresses and the limits of #IPv4 (Feb 3)

Other Tweets
@rhalbheer - Something to be proud of: Ethisphere Institute: Microsoft amongst the world’s most ethical companies (Mar 23)
@briankrebs - If you've been scratching your head over RSA's "statement", read Steve Gibson's take. You'll probably learn a lot. (Mar 19)
@garthobrien -25 Things I Hate About Google, Revisited 5 Years Later (Mar 19)
@Nonapeptide - New blog post: The Failure of a SysAdmin – A Tale of Laziness, Good Fortune and Self Loathing (Mar 17)
@MSSolutionAccel - Plan your response to malicious software BEFORE it happens! - Solution Accelerators IPD guide for Malware Response (Feb 17)

Happy Surfing!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Surviving TechEd

TechEd 2011 is drawing near, so I thought I'd share my personal list of “Rules to Survive TechEd”. Perhaps they will help you this year in Atlanta or at another multi-day conference you might have coming up.

  1. Register Early; Your Hotel is Key – Unless you have some special requirement or reason to stay at a particular hotel, you should register as early as possible so that you can pick a hotel within what you would consider walking distance to the conference center. I hate being at the mercy of the shuttles every morning.
  2. Prepare to Walk a Mile in Your Shoes – Most conference centers are large sprawling venues, last year TechEd spanned over a mile within the New Orleans Conference Center. Wear comfortable shoes and expect to get some exercise.
  3. Food and Beverage – Conference fare varies from year to year and location to location and it’s not always the highlight of the event. While some previous TechEds provided a hot breakfast and lunch, that’s not always the case. Also, depending on the contract of the venue, you may not find the soda brand of your choice provided. So you might have to make other arrangements or be flexible. The reality is that no matter what food is provided, not everyone is going to be happy.
  4. Know Where You’d Like To Be (but don’t expect to be everywhere) – Every year I as I work on building my schedule, I find that I want to be in several sessions at the same time or attend a session in every possible time slot. With over two dozen learning opportunities during the course of TechEd, my brain is simply on track to seize up and crash if I don’t pace myself. Take advantage of the content that will be posted online post-conference and skip a session or two. It's amazing what a little down-time can do for you.
  5. Don’t Jump Sessions – It’s annoying when you have multiple sessions to choose from in one time slot and the one you decide on is a dud. However, don’t try to run over to your next pick. By the time you walk to the session, you’ll have missed a good portion of it and will likely not get as much out of it as you’d hope. Either stick with your first pick (since you’ll likely find at least one “jewel” to take away from it) or bail and take that time to hit a TLC or community lounge area – you might find an answer to a burning question there instead.
  6. How Much Swag Do You REALLY Need? – Seriously, a dozen vendor T-shirts? That flying pig? Another plastic thingamabob that glows green? I managed to get to the conference with only carry-on bags and I like to save those checked baggage fees for something other than branded pens and blinking buttons. Until vendors start bringing a stash of shirts smaller than an XL, I’ll keep swag collection to a minimum.  I prefer taking away new ideas for implementing technologies in my work or making new contacts for future conversations.
I'm looking forward to another great conference full of networking and learning opportunities.  If you don't pass me tearing from end to end between sessions, look for me at the MDOP booth in the TLC.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Ed Horley and Stephen Rose on RunAs Radio

Have you checked out RunAs Radio lately? 

Since 2007, RunAs Radio has been producing podcasts for Microsoft-centric IT Professionals and over the last few weeks has produced episodes featuring some of my favorite industry collegues - Ed Horley and Stephen Rose.  On 3/30/11, Ed Horley discussed the current state of the transition from IPv4 to IPv6 and on 3/23/11, Stephen covers Windows vNext, IE9 and Intune.

Here are a few other older podcasts from some others I know in the Microsoft technology space that you might enjoy.
  • 11/24/10 - Episode #187 - Mark Minasi on Cloud Technologies
  • 9/22/10 - Episode #178 - Alan Burchill on Group Policy Preferences
  • 9/8/10 - Episide #176 - Chris Jackson on app comp issues with those old IE6 applications

Monday, April 4, 2011

Upcoming Tech Events

For those of you looking for some technology events in San Francisco over the next week, here is what's on my calendar:

Friday, April 1, 2011

All Tied Up with Cables!

This month, one of our data center projects was to clean up the mess of cabling that had gotten out of hand after years of adds, moves and changes to switches and other equipment.  I find it interesting that with so many wireless devices around and so much talk of using virtualization and the cloud, we still spend so much time tangled in cords and cables!  Cable management can often be a challenge and this had become downright embarrassing.  Here is a before picture:

We took on a pretty extensive list of tasks as part of this clean up, including replacing server older networking components with a single new Cisco ASA.  While it's usually not recommended to make several logical and physical changes at the same time so you can avoid troubleshooting nightmares later, we were taking advantage of a planned power outage and wanted to accomplish as much as we can while we had everything turned off - including rebalancing all our servers on our power circuits, updating our UPS firmware and recabling every server and workstation port in the data center. 

Here is shot of the same racks after the project was nearly complete.  It's like night and day!

Everything is labled and color coded for ease of use.  And we were lucky that all of our servers, appliances and services were powered on and returned to service without much trouble.  This project also forced me to update several out-of-date diagrams and charts that are used for managing the network. 

While it was a crazy weekend with our own version of a "spaghetti western", the end result was well worth it!