Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Help when in need: Calling Microsoft PSS

*Taken from Chapter 5 of Exchange Server 2003 24seven by Jim McBee
Microsoft Product Support Services (PSS) is Microsoft’s technical support organization. Their
home page is Professional support options range from peer-to-peer support to telephone support. Telephone support is currently US$245 per incident; while this may seem expensive, believe me, when an Exchange server is down and the users are burning you in effigy in the company parking lot, $245 is cheap.
When you call and get a support technician on the phone, don’t be surprised or offended if they start at the beginning and ask you a lot of elementary questions. They have to double-check everything you have done before they can look into more advanced problems. Once or twice, one of these basic questions has helped me locate a problem that I was convinced was more complicated than it really was.

I always encourage people to call PSS if they truly need assistance. PSS engineers are not mind-readers, nor do they know every bit of Exchange code. You will do both yourself and the PSS engineer a big favor if you have all of your ducks in a row before you call. The following is a list of things that you should have or should have done before you call:
  • Attempt a graceful shutdown and restart of the server in question, if applicable.
  • Perform a complete online backup if possible; if not, do a complete offline backup.
  • Have a complete, documented history of everything you have done to solve the problem. At the first sign of trouble, you should start keeping a chronological log of the things you did to fix the problem.
  • Be at a telephone physically at the server’s console or be in a place where you can access the server remotely via the Remote Desktop Client. Your support call will be very brief if you cannot immediately begin checking things for the PSS engineer.
  • Have the usernames and passwords that will provide you the right level of administrative access. If you don’t have those, have someone nearby who can log you in.
  • Save copies of the System and Application event logs. Be prepared to send these to PSS if requested. Don't ever purge your event logs when you are having a problem. If you need to, save copies first.
  • Know the location of your most recent backup and how to access it when needed.
  • Keep copies of all error messages. Don’t paraphrase the message. Screen captures work great in this case. Pressing Alt+Print Scrn and pasting into a WordPad document works great, too. I usually create a document with screen captures along with notes of what I was doing when I saw each message.
  • Be patient; telephone support is a terribly difficult job. A little kindness and patience on your part will most certainly be returned by the PSS engineer.

You may also be asked to run Microsoft's Configuration Capture Utility reports. Depending on the report, it will take a snapshot of your system's configuration and zip the files up in to a ZIP file. These files will help your PSS support engineer learn more about your configuration without having to ask a lot of questions. See Microsoft KB article 818742 Overview of the Microsoft Configuration Capture Utility (MPS_REPORTS)


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