Thursday, August 20, 2015

Never Try To Order Anything From IBM. Ever.

IBM has been around for a really long time and has so many different products and business units, it should come as no surprise that two people could work at IBM for 20 years and never meet or even know what they work on.  This is common in many large companies.  Sometimes it gets a little out of hand.

I am used to dealing with large companies.  Navigating the maze trying to get what you need.  My most frequent one to deal with is Motorola Solutions, makers of various two-way radios and related equipment.  I have an account and order parts from them on occasion.  Placing an order really relies on you know the Motorola part number and obtaining that is a challenge.  The same people that place your order are not the same people that can look up parts.  To make matters more difficult, the people who can look up parts do not know what to do if a part is discontinued.  Motorola thought it would be ok to just not indicate replacement part numbers when a particular part was discontinued.

OK, so that's sort of what it's like dealing with a big company when ordering parts.  My IBM story has to do with a system at work.  A POWER8 server of some variety.  Let's call it an 8247-21L just so we have a name for it.

Now, my company is an IBM partner and we have a process in place to order hardware, open warranty tickets, and generally deal with IBM.  It works well, except when you have an odd request.  Since we are developing operating system software, we tend to need specific addons for the hardware...not things that typical end customers would order.  IBM is not set up for this.  But, our awesome team in engineering operations is prepared for this and knows how to navigate the system.  Sadly, I gave them what amounted to an impossible request.  They really did try and I have to give them props for that.

The request?  I needed to order carriers (sleds, caddies, cages, brackets, whatever you want to call them) to add additional hard disks to this 8247-21L.

NOT POSSIBLE!

First off, when you start talking to IBM about hard disks, they want you to buy a storage solution.  A big enterprise disk array.  Nope, back up.  Try again.  I'm just talking about local disk.  Or DASD.  OK, IBM gets that.  But they want to sell you the hard disk in a carrier.  Not just a naked carrier.  I mean, you might want to install a non-IBM approved part in the server.  Say, an engineering sample for something not yet released to the general public.  Believe it or not, this is quite common when working on operating systems.

Our eng-ops teams tried really hard and came close.  We almost managed to order very small disks just to get the carriers, but IBM wouldn't go for it.  They even tried CDW, but they couldn't do it either.  CDW suggested I call 1-800-388-7080 which is the number to order parts and addons from IBM.

This is where the fun began.

I called that number and began a 1 hour and nearly 5 second transfer chain across different continents, offices, and divisions at IBM all trying to order this mysterious carrier.  The number above was prepared to sell me the part if I had the part number.  They could not look it up.  OK, I know this game!  I have a Motorola account!  Transfer me to someone who can look up parts.

They transferred me to Lenovo technical support, who kindly asked me for the something something something number of the failing system.  No no, just need parts research.  OK, do you have a ThinkPad or ThinkCentre?  Neither, it's an IBM POWER system.  Ah, ok, you need to be transferred over to enterprise support.  Do it, let's go.

Enterprise support, like all previous operators started by asking for my name, company, address, city, state, county, ZIP code, country, area code, work number, mobile number, time zone, preferred language, character set encoding, Coke or Pepsi, window or aisle, and so on.  I get through all this and I give the system type and serial number.  It's not coming up.  Hmmm, that's odd.  Hold on a minute.  Type type type.  Hold more.  That's odd.  Repeat.  Eventually, "are you an IBM partner?"  Yes, I am.  "Oh, ok, well this needs to be handled by IBM Partner World, let me transfer you."

Hooray!  Repeat all of the above and get to what I want.  I want to order hard disk carriers for 8247-21L.  "Oh, for parts you need to contact technical support and they can place an order."  Really, even though I'm an IBM partner?  "Yes, they handle all parts orders."  OK, send me on over.

I'm back at Lenovo technical support in Atlanta, GA.  A woman who sounds like Paula Deen tells me to please pay close attention as the menu options have changed.  I ignore everything and just press zero.  Nothing happens.  I hit a bunch of random buttons.  I get someone.  We go through the personal history above and get to what I want.  But they can't help me.  What they can do is create a service ticket and dispatch a tech to our location so the system can be examined for what parts might be available for purchase.  Oh, and how would I like to be billed for that?  What?  The hell are you talking bout?  I ask if they can look up parts and they tell me know and suggest I go to www.ibm.com and type in the word "parts" in the search field (I'm dead serious, they suggested this).

I ask for an escalation.  I talk to the manager for this office or division or continent.  Can't remember.  I explain what I'm trying to do and how we are a partner and I normally go through eng-ops at my company, but they hit dead ends and they told me to call 800-388-7080 and that started this entire process of how I am now talking to him.  And all I want to do is order this part.

The guy is nice and explains that this isn't the normal process they are used to.  I don't know, something about how usually people in suits are involved and purchase orders and so on.  I don't care about any of that.  But he does mention one thing.  The whole problem started with me not having the part number.  And what seems to be the trend here is that IBM has ABSOLUTELY NO WAY to look up systems it has sold and determine what parts go with it.  Like, they know they need to do this, but their computers just don't have that information.  If I had a part number, they could place the order.  Even Dell has this figured out with their service tags.  And everything has a service tag.  They know what you have and what should go in it.

So he again offers to dispatch a tech (no thanks) to help get the part number.  I pass on that and decide to have someone on my team turn the damn system off and yank an existing drive.  Pop the drive out of the carrier and their should be a part number, right?

Turns out there is.

After all of that, we obtained part number 00E7600.  IBM calls part numbers an "FRU" which stands for field replaceable unit or something like that.  The FRU number is the key to the castle.  If you have that, you can order all you want.

I come in today prepared for another hour or two on the phone with IBM and decide to try a different route.  What happens if I just Google for it.

Bingo.  Dino DNA.

I was able to purchase 5 of these carriers from a vendor on eBay for $17.95 each.  Hopefully they fit and hold disks.  At this point I'm not sure I care.

Don't ever think you can order parts from IBM without knowing the part number.  What will be POWER's eventual downfall is not low market acceptance, but rather the impossible nature of dealing with IBM to actually buy anything.

Oh, and why was I wanting to add a special disk to this server?  Like most problems, we are solving bugs filed by customers and partner companies.  In this case, the bug that prompted this entire ordeal was filed by IBM.