Software

First Person: Five hours and $500 later, the Exchange server's back online

Sometimes you just can't find the answer you need on the Web or in the manual. When that happens, you might find that paying for tech support is your best solution.

Sooner or later, you’ll be faced with a problem that all of your abilities and resources won’t be able to resolve. You'll do all that you can, the manuals won't help, and the situation will be well beyond the scope of a single Microsoft Knowledge Base article. And you’ll still need to have had the answers five minutes ago.

If you don’t have the luxury of being able to pick up the phone and call a friend who happens to be an experienced Microsoft systems engineer, what will you do? Sometimes, your best recourse is to pay for help.

When all else fails
When you're facing a serious problem that defies your efforts to solve it on your own, everything boils down to one hard truth. If you don't fix it now, it's going to cost your company far more than the cost of a call to tech support. So, you bite the bullet and make the call. Will you be glad you did?

I found myself in such a scenario when I walked into the office one morning and discovered that ourMicrosoftExchangeserverwasonthefritz. Nothing I tried worked, and neither did anything attempted by the other network admin in my department.

We had services that weren't running and wouldn't start and clients that couldn't access critical data. Forallintentsandpurposes,ourlifelinewascutoff. Oh sure, we had a good backup, but that was the least of our concerns. We had a problem on our hands that was beyond either of us.

Before I tell you how it turned out, let me provide a little history. As a third generation network administrator, I've had to clean up quite a bit after previous admins. (Read my article "Cleaning house after previous network landlords" to see what I mean.) This particular mess was yet another inherited one—it was the result of little to no maintenance by previous admins. To make it right, I had to call in reinforcements.

A Microsoft support story with a happy ending
My experience with Microsoft's tech support during this crisis was one that's worth sharing. I've heard enough tech support horror stories to last me for a while. I'm sure most of us could tell a good tale or two.

In this case, however, the tech support representative was very knowledgeable, resourceful, and personable. He helped me get our Exchange server back online quickly. He took the time to talk me through several system checks to determine the real cause of the problem. He didn't just "take the money and run." The tests revealed that data corruption was the underlying problem.

While it required opening a separate issue, he took the next fourandahalfhours to help me rebuild my database, fix many other minor problems, and make sure that everything was working properly before ending our session. Heevenmadeanunexpectedreturncall a couple of hours later to make sure that all was well.

My hat is off to BryanS., Microsoft’s tech support representative. Thanks to his help, our downtime was minimal and our system is working better and more efficiently than ever. And to my department, I look like the hero—although, all things considered, I must defer that honor. That $500 was the best money that I've spent in a long time.
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