SQLServerCentral Article

Should you call Microsoft for support?


Microsoft Product Support

Microsoft has great product support, especially for SQL Server. I haven't had to call them many times over the years, at least not relative to many vendors' products, but I have made a dozen or so calls and it has always been informative. I know that people complain that support should be included in the product, and that many of the problems are those that could be avoided with better documentation, but that is the nature of the software industry. Support costs the vendor money (people, training, resources, etc), and they need to charge you after some period of time.

So how do you know when to call PSS? When is it worth the $$? It's hard to say, but here are a few things to think about.

We at SQL Server Central, hope that we are providing a good resource. And that you check with us before calling Product Support Services (PSS). We try to answer questions in a timely manner and, hopefully, accurately enough to aid in solving problems. The articles we write and resources available here are also good first starting points.

There are also a number of other great resources on the web. SQL Server Performance, the print magazines, the Microsoft Newsgroups ( I usually start in sqlserver.server), are all places that you might want to check before calling to be sure that someone hasn't already found an answer. Most places have quick searches and Google has indexed them. I know I often turn to Google first when researching an issue.

So I've given some alternatives, but when should you call?

The main guidelines I use are as follows: If I have a server crashing, hanging, blue screening, etc. and I don't know why, I call. Check the obvious stuff (disk space, etc.), but then call. If I have any type of exception that interrupts a production system (stack dumps, access violations, exceptions) in the log, then I call. This stuff is very difficult to track down without tools and without an understanding of the code and only PSS can help here.

I also immediately call if I have data corruption. If for some reason a "select * from xxx" doesn't give me all data (test from a couple workstations), I call. Don't mess around with data loss.

Other than that, I have to weigh a couple factors. A call to PSS currently costs US$245. You can get started at the Professional Support page. You can also get discounted packs of 5 or larger. Online requests are US$99.

Now I don't know what your bill rate is or your salary, but figure out how much of your time is $250 worth. For me, it's not much. I can burn this much very quickly in searching the web. So if the situation has people not working, or business is slowed, then don't burn much more than $250 of your time before calling. It's not worth it.

I've called PSS 3 times this year and I have to say that the time to get an engineer on the phone (I blow by Level 1 and usually Level II, so I'm talking a LII or LIII engineer), is less than 30 minutes and they have been very good about getting me answers.

There are also support centers in multiple places, North Carolina, Dallas, Redmond, etc., and they work well together. I've even had critical situations handed off from the East Coast to the West Coast and back again as I've worked through the night. Fortunately not often, but of all the vendors that I've dealt with for support, only Cisco was better than Microsoft and I honestly couldn't think of a single thing Cisco could do better. And MS was pretty close to them.

Also keep in mind that if you suspect a bug and can reproduce this to PSS, they will not charge you for the call.

My point is that while I hate to find bugs and hate to have downtime because of some documentation issue (and that's happened to me), I cannot really complain about MS PSS. I've seen some posts in our forums about exception errors and people seem reluctant to call MS. $250 isn't much compared with your time and the value of your data. Don't waste money by calling too often (or your employer may wonder why he's paying you), but don't hesitate to call if you need to. I've been working with SQL Server for 11 years and I still call.

I'm sure you won't be disappointed.

Got any PSS stories, let us know below.

Steve Jones

©dkRanch.net January 2003

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