[Beowulf] A bit OT - scientific workstations - recommendations

Joe Landman landman at scalableinformatics.com
Thu Mar 9 08:00:04 PST 2006

Hi Roland:

Roland Krause wrote:

> This is not how things have worked in my experience. My experience so
> far is: First you call the vendor, you spend an hour on the phone
> rebooting the machine, checking the BIOS, explaining your problems, bla
> bla... Then, maybe, you get a RMA. Most of the time though the vendor
> will want to send you a replacement part that you are supposed to put
> in by yourself. Btw., DELL is one of the worst offenders I have ever
> dealt with in this respect. 

In most cases, without an on-site support person, this is close to the 
minimum service you can expect without paying for a service contract. 
If you have a service contract, they want you to read back the serial 
number, and some other things (5-10 minutes on the phone or on the web) 
before they dispatch a person with parts (up to and including the entire 
unit).  With an onsite staff person, and we recommend this option in 
specific cases when down time is expensive*, you can usually point them 
to a failed machine, and say "go".

Another direction we usually use when our customers have limited support 
staff's and are not interested in dealing with the support 
questionaire's** is to have several cold spares sitting onsite.  Or warm 
spares.  That is, since we argue that the units are sufficiently 
inexpensive, you have several additional boxes that at a moments notice, 
you can break into and setup (this part should be automatic), in order 
to "fix" a problem, and you ship the failed box back to the vendor.  If 
you are really worried about down time, you pay extra for the cross ship 
of the other box.  You do not, and I cannot emphasize this enough, use 
those boxes for anything other than support swap outs.  In fact, if you 
like, when you get them, load them, and then let them sit in a corner 
*unused* with power.  That way, when they are needed, the time to a 
swapout and resumption of work is just a few minutes.  This assumes BTW 
that you store all your data/home directories on a server and not on the 
box itself.

There are many ways to skin this cat, but all of them cost real money. 
You will not get good support unless you are willing to pay for it.  The 
better support you want, the higher the cost will be.  At the end of the 
day, a simple CBA may be needed to help define which level of support 
you can convince management to pay for.  The name brand folks have 
fairly rigid support programs at the lower levels.  If you are not 
buying 10000 units from them a year, you shouldn't expect flexible 
support.  You will get the 1st level person who doesn't quite grok what 
they are reading and asking you.  You will get the 2nd level person (if 
you are lucky) who will ask you to do more things and think about your 
problem.  Then you will get the RMA.  This is what the big providers 
will do unless you are buying them by the thousands.

While I usually agree with RGB, my experience (from both the consumer 
and vendor sides) are that the smaller reputable shops will be willing 
to work with you to design the support program you require.  Just like 
the large vendors, this will cost you money.


* good support contracts will run you 10-20% of the purchase price of 
the system, per year.  An onsite support person will run at a fixed cost 
per year, and they won't be cheap.  But this is the fastest method of 
getting the best service.  This should only be done when you start 
losing lots of money per hour down.  Financial houses are like this. 
Transaction houses as well.

** which all vendors need to go through to get an idea of whats wrong, 
its exactly like a triage ward at hospital, you don't admit the person 
if they don't need to be admitted, though these days you rarely have a 
knowledgable person on the other end, just someone reading a script 
without much in the way of comprehension ... and it takes some learning 
and finesse to get past them to the L2 folks who usually have some clue).

Joseph Landman, Ph.D
Founder and CEO
Scalable Informatics LLC,
email: landman at scalableinformatics.com
web  : http://www.scalableinformatics.com
phone: +1 734 786 8423
fax  : +1 734 786 8452
cell : +1 734 612 4615

More information about the Beowulf mailing list