Backups, VSS, VShadow, Finger Pointing at Microsoft, and Dazzling Customer Support

Most backup vendors have a love/hate relationship with Microsoft.  Microsoft, despite what a lot of people say, has some amazing technology under the hood of Windows Server and Windows.  I’m including in that list Windows 2003, Windows 2008, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows Exchange Server 2010, Windows Exchange Server 2007, Windows SQL Server 2008, and so on, and so on.  The entire VSS  architecture, while complex, is powerful.

However, Microsoft can create a lot of pain given that their customer service doesn’t always fully grasp what’s going on in the underpinnings of VSS.  I ran into that problem today with one of our customers.  The customer was the victim of Microsoft continually pointing fingers at a backup vendor (in this case, Unitrends) saying that our software was the problem in some Exchange Server 2007 (on Windows Server 2008) not working.  Now – we had a ready fix for that – we have an agent that uses the streaming service – but it’s not our latest agent and the customer really wanted their backup to use the latest VSS-based agent.

Despite Microsoft contrary evidence in its own error logs, Microsoft’s customer support repeatedly said that their software was fine and “proved” this by using the Windows Server 2008 built-in backup utility to “prove” that VSS was working perfectly.  Of course, this utility doesn’t backup Exchange Server – and this utility itself was showing log errors when executed.

At the end of the day, Microsoft’s technical group saved the day because a long time ago they released a tool called VShadow which takes VSS snapshots.  We had the customer download VShadow and we showed them that the VSS errors in the backup of Microsoft Windows Exchange 2007 was occurring even when only Microsoft software was working.

At the end of the day, there’s a lesson here.  There’s no substitute for over-investing in customer support.  A company is only as good as its customers say it is – and Microsoft (and other large global 1000 companies) continually scrimp on insanely great customer support when the investment in customer support returns big dividends.

I think this is particularly true for backup vendors – because we’re not in the backup business, we’re in the recovery business.  There’s just no replacement for having great people guide you in a hairy recovery.


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