Cisco’s soft side

After investing more money in a core routing infrastructure than I paid for my flat, we thought it was quite important that, if the equipment went wrong, we could lean on our vendor to help us with immediate delivery of spare parts, 24/7 technical support and all the other stuff that goes with a proprietary piece of kit that is business-critical.  Cisco do this kind of service, it’s called SMARTnet, and you renew the contract annually for a small % of your equipment cost.

Now the contract on one of our £20k core routers got renewed a couple of months back, but our dealer with whom we renewed the contract (who shall remain nameless) decided that we didn’t need SMARTnet direct from Cisco, but we would do just as well with a cheaper alternative contract called Shared Support, a contract where you lean mostly on your dealer for assistance.  They act as a middleman to Cisco and raise tech support cases on your behalf.  My cynical side suspects they make more of a margin on it.  Thanks but no thanks guys, our core routers are the four beating hearts of our network.  If they need surgery, we don’t want a single junior doctor, we want Cisco’s crack surgeons on the case.

So we said please give us the SMARTnet contracts that we paid for.  And the dealer said, well shared support is practically the same, we can help you out with any problems!  We said no really, you quoted us for SMARTnet and then gave us something else, stop messing us about and give us the contract we paid for.  They said please, look, we’ve already paid for the Shared Support contract and can’t get our money back, please go with the Shared Support.  And we said, that’s not our problem – how about giving us a refund instead, and we’ll buy from someone else next time?  They went away, they fixed their mistake, eventually, three weeks after our router had started crashing, and one week after the old contract was up.

Here was the point where we were expecting Cisco to blow us off – our dealer had ordered us the wrong contract and was wasting our time trying to persuade us to keep it.  One of our core routers was crashing every week and it left us exposed.   (Of course!) we have a second router for backup on each site, but running without two, and worrying about crashes makes for a lot of wide-eyed ceiling staring at night.  Tentatively Pete asked to raise a tech support case with Cisco, without a valid contract, explaining the situation, and they said… Sure, so what’s the problem?

Within a couple of days they had escalated the case to their BGP experts – we’d found a new bug – and within a couple of days, they had suggested a workaround which stopped the router from crashing any more.  We (heart) Cisco for because they bypassed their big company bureaucracy to get our little company network back on its feet, and we knew that our bug got the attention it needed to get fixed in the next software release.

While I was writing this I remembered a case a few years ago when we weren’t even an even smaller firm, we had spent a few thousand pounds on a Cisco supervisor card off eBay – a colossal amount of money back then.  Cisco’s policy is (still) that if you buy second-hand gear, you don’t even have the right to use it without ‘relicensing’ at a price that was usually 70-100% of the original purchase cost.  We’d configured this card in such a way that it had fallen foul of a documented, obscure, hardware bug.  It was causing us problems.  But we asked Cisco about it; since they had acknowledged it was a faulty card, could we (pretty) please send it back for repair?  And they said… sure, though we don’t have any of the old ones left, so we’ve sent you this brand new, faster upgraded one, is that OK?  I think back then we had only been a Cisco ‘customer’ through second hand goods, so they’d not seen a penny from us (directly).  Blown away.

When we’ve had to make big purchasing decisions about networking kit, we decided they had very little in the way of technical competition, so that kind of corner-shop, take-the-next-one-off-the-shelf repair service is even more impressive.  We’ll remember to stay as nice to all our customers when we’re Cisco’s size :)

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