Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Tale of Two Warranties: A Cisco Drama

In December I found that the SMARTnet contracts on our two firewalls were due to expire, so I set off on a mission to buy new ones. The goal was cheap, so whereas I could have gotten them from a known entity like CDW, it was important that I get the lowest price that I could. Ultimately it's like buying Microsoft software when you're not buying from Microsoft directly: you make sure to read the fine print very carefully so that you know what you're in for.

With SMARTnet contracts I entered a world of confusing codes and specifications. There was 8x5xNBD, 24x7x4, 24x7x2, and a new one that I had never heard of called SMB Smart Assistant. The codes for these differ depending on the exact serial number of your firewall. They were both ASA5505s, but because they had different licensing the product IDs for the warranties differed, so you had to make sure that you were getting the proper product ID. This website actually has a neat tool to help with that.

Ultimately, through much research and head-scratching, I settled with a company called ITHSC (http://www.ithsc.com/). I contacted them, got pricing information, and got the go-ahead to order the SMARTnets. Everything seemed on the up and up and I placed my order. The first surprise was when I was then contacted by a salesperson from a company called Network Dynamics asking for my current Cisco contract information and login. I assumed that this was related to my order but I emailed him back asking him who he was. Imagine, I receive an email from someone not affiliated in any obvious way with the company with which I'd been dealing, asking me for my Cisco contract number, and I was suspicious. I don't know why! (/sarcasm). After checking in with ITHSC I was told that they did their actual Cisco sales through NDI. Would have been nice if they'd let me know that, or if the salesperson that contacted me had put some context on his request.

After confirming his identity I received a PO. It was a PO for the wrong product. We currently had 8x5xNBD and we wanted to move up to 24x7x2. No problem; he came back with the correct PO. I wanted to pay by company credit card, and he sent me the payment form by email and advised me to send it back to him. He wanted me to send my credit card information over email, unencrypted. I sent it to him, encrypted.

After this, I wait. I get confirmation that the order was placed and that we have coverage shortly thereafter. I immediately notice that the coverage is for 8x5xNBD and not the 24x7x2 that we'd ordered. I email the salesperson back and he says he will get it fixed that day. I don't hear from him for two weeks. I email him again to say, "What's going on?" No response. Thus begins a game of hide and seek with NDI. I call their main line and try to speak to their product department. It consistently goes to voicemail, with my messages not being returned. I finally call the salesperson, who is very apologetic and tells me that he will walk right over to product and see what's going on and email me that day. It was a Friday, and it passed with no email from him. At this point it has been almost a month and we don't have the correct coverage for our product.

I go back to ITHSC and ask to speak with the person who originally put me in touch with NDI. He is surprised to hear that I've been having such difficulty getting the NDI salesperson to be responsive. He asks me to forward him whatever correspondence I have. He even pulled up the email between he and I where I specified that we wanted the 24x7x2 coverage. The next day I get an email from the NDI salesperson informing me that they had in fact put the change in with Cisco every so long ago, back when he'd originally said," We'll get this fixed today" and it was simply taking Cisco a long time to complete the transaction. In fact, he went so far as to forward me the email chain with the Cisco rep.

So, Cisco is the hold up at this point. Shocking, considering how easy Cisco's website is (oh yeah, some more sarcasm here). Even if Cisco is the culprit and everything is their fault, it doesn't excuse the lack of communication and follow-through from them, the VAR. If you tell someone that you are going to get back to them that day, you'd damn well better get back to them. I'm reminded of Stephen Covey's "emotional bank account". These companies have made a huge withdrawal and very little to get things back in balance.

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