Dell support

Filed under: opinion,review — jaydublu @ 6:50 pm

I couldn’t go a whole month without posting something …

My run of technology troubles has continued, and I’m no greater fan of silicon based lifeforms than before.

But I have come to appreciate good support when I get it even more , and I would like to take this opportunity to praise Dell, who are obviously one of these companies who know how much value they can get by looking after their punters once they’ve taken their money.

I turned into a right twonk a few days ago and panicked that I’d screwed my laptop up – terrified that by fiddling I’d make life worse I resorted to contacting Dell support. I won’t embarrass myself by saying what the fix was, but suffice it to say that the very helpful scot on the other end quickly and efficiently put me back on the right track. I’ve rated Dell for years, and this experience has made me even more of a fan.

I can’t write about support without mentioning the other company that I have nothing but praise for and that’s Rackspace – I’ve been at the sharp end of servers playing around previously (with another hosting company), and I have to say that when I’ve been shopping for managed hosting since the first thing I do is check out the support, and the Rackspace claim that their support is fanatical is no understatement – I can vouch for it.

Acer Altos easyStore and Vista

Filed under: rants — jaydublu @ 5:14 pm

I’m sorry that my first post in so long has to be a rant, but having spent hours on the phone to various technical support lines I have to vent…

Acer Altos easyStoreWorrying about the vulnerability of work on my new Dell laptop, and wanting a bit of resilient storage to boot, I bought an Acer Altos easyStore NAS device which comes bundled with a bit of software called DiskSafe Express. I know there are many ways of doing this, but I thought this was a ‘proper’ one (should be for the money) but what I wanted was a setup that automatically keeps a current image of my entire drive somewhere safe, without me having to think about it.

What the easyStore appears to be is a funky little box running linux, with 4x250GB SATA drives in hot swap carriers, a gigabit ethernet connection and 2 USB ports for additional drives. The web interface allows various configurations of drives, but mine out of the box had the drives arranged in a RAID5 array giving just under 700GB storage.

Reading the instructions, most of this is left free to be used to maintain ‘backups’ – you have to specifically allocate space for network shares, and it chonks away when you assign more – advising you don’t increase any share by more than 20GB at a time. So this ‘backup’ thing is quite integral to the device it would appear, and I’m happy so far.

When I come to install the bundled software on my Vista Business laptop is when the trouble starts – it complains ‘Microsoft iSCSI Initiator v2.00 or later is not currently installed’ and sends you to the Microsoft site to download it – but on that site amongst the list of supported operated systems Vista is missing – it appears iSCSI Initiator is included in the Vista distribution. Downloading it anyway doesn’t do any good because if you try and run that installer you get ‘Setup could not find the update.inf file needed to update your system’.

SO Googling etc. around iSCSI and Vista doesn’t shed much light, so as a desperate last resort I try and get some technical support from Acer. I hope I heard a sympathetic groan there – because my forehead has brick shaped imprints – I was directed to a premium rate phone number for technical support so I created a ticket online. Two days later a reply comes back saying I was probably downloading an upgrade from Microsoft, try the full software or failing that ‘discuss the problem further with Microsoft’.

Microsoft quickly determine that Vista was ready installed on my new machine when I got it so I should contact the manufacturer for support, or they were happy to help, for something like £46. Dell were very friendly, but were unable to offer any meaningful advice on an obscure aspect of Vista – the most useful thing they suggested was I get an external hard drive which could back up my entire computer ‘at the push of a button’.

What I’ve read about iSCSI sounds very good – if it can be got to work, because it’s supposed to enable direct communication to a physical device on a IP remote network device (block level I/O). These network devices are typically SAN (Storage Area Networks) or NAS (Network Attached Storage).

I’m going to see how much further I can get as I’m sure I can’t be the first person to try and use this kit on Vista, but I’m already dreaming up an alternate strategy – so much for thinking this would be easy.

Postscript: Although top marks go to Dell for ringing me back this morning to see how I was doing, taking details and promising to find out what they could for me, duffers award goes to Acer support. Fiddling with the box management pages I found an obscure link to Acer support. There was an FAQ section which offered no help whatsoever, but then I spotted a ‘Windows Vista’ link on the left taking me to a secret world of downloads to make Acer products work with Vista including … an updated DiskSafe Express – it looks like it’s installing … to be continued (no doubt)