Sunday, December 09, 2007

Zenith vs. Microsoft

Disclaimer: As always, this is just my very biased opinion. Take what you like and leave the rest.

When I say "Tech support from India" most partners have an actual physical reaction. Their ears turn red. Their jaws clench. You can see that their blood pressure is going up. And immediately they start ranting about how horrible Microsoft's tech support is in India.

Now, truth be told, the support on the server 2003 and SQL lines is excellent. But since most SMB consultants get funneled to the SBS support line, they only get to talk to incompetent technicians. Once in awhile they find someone good. But unless their call is escalated, support pretty much sucks. As a result, the majority of their only experience with Indian tech support is with terrible tech support.

But we don't call Microsoft any more. We call Zenith Infotech.

[Please see This Post and This Post.]

Today's topic: How does Zenith compare to Microsoft?

First, Why are we comparing Zenith and Microsoft?

Zenith provides managed service delivery tools, remote monitoring, patch management, scripting, and live human back office support.

The only real overlap with Microsoft is when we call for higher-level support for a server.

Microsoft has patch management systems with SCE and MOM and WSUS, but we only rarely use these. For the SMB space, these add more labor than they remove. So that's why we don't discuss it in this comparison. Too labor intensive compared to the other tools.]

Second, Competence.

I know I sound like an old song here, but our experience is that we have plenty of high-level support in-house. We only call for additional support when we've had more than one over-certified, over-qualified technician come to a dead end. It happens.

So, when we call any tech support, we expect to talk to someone who knows more than we do about a product. That's true for firewalls, spam filters, accounting systems, servers, operating systems, etc. Everything. And when we get an intro-level tech whose only real job is to answer the phone and ask us to hold while he gets someone at the next level, we're very patient with that.

Our experience with Microsoft is that the first people who answer the phone on the SBS line are untrained, unprofessional, and incompetent. They are unwilling to escalate unless you raise a stink. They break things. They don't follow their own rules.

There are plenty of good technicians on the SBS support line, including the guys in India. But Microsoft has no effective triage system, and no effective escalation system. So you waste hours talking to someone what can't help and wants to go through the Internet Connection Wizard again and again.

Zenith is exactly the opposite. It didn't take very long at all before we realized that every single job we assigned to them got done quickly and competently. They don't just fix a problem and close a ticket: They give us details about how they did it, and they include KB article references.

Sometimes, we don't ask them to fix the problem, but just do the research so we can fix it. Again, always competent. Always professional.

One of the amazing things that we've experienced with Zenith is that we absolutely trust that they can just fix the problem.

Third, Price.

As a certified partner, we get a package of "free" incidents with Microsoft. In addition, "Server Down" calls are free. The result is that Microsoft has created their own nightmare. People who shouldn't be in this business, people who haven't done any research, and generally incompetent people call for help. They haven't read a book or even done one search on technet.

Those people are clogging the line when you (the competent technician) call Microsoft. So 90% of the calls can be solved with a recommendation to buy CALs or run the internet connection wizard.

It's "free" only in the sense that you pay with endless hours of your time.

Think of it this way: Whatever you charge by the hour, that's what you're really paying to sit on the phone with Microsoft. You're explaining SBS to someone who was trained on Server2003 instead of billing another client at $120/hr.

Zenith has a pretty basic free structure. It's about $37 per month to manage a server, and $37 per hour to provide labor. The monthly fee is a great bargain. The hourly rate is a bit high. But it's not horrible. Remember, your in-house tech collects a paycheck and doesn't provide income while she's in training, in meetings, at the water cooler, etc. So a $20/hr technician costs more like $30 with insurance, taxes, benefits, etc. and is not 100% billable. So maybe $37 as a contract rate is very reasonable.

Zenith asks you to put down a deposit and then chip away at it. This has worked very smoothly for us.

Microsoft does offer a high-end support option. It is about $6,500 and covers calls regarding one product. So you can get right through to the excellent tech support in Texas. It's a bit pricey

For $6,500 at Zenith I can get total support for ten servers for a year AND buy more than 50 hours of top-notch service.

Fourth, Privacy and Confidentiality.

This is very simple. Microsoft has no privacy policy regarding calls to PSS (CSS).

Zenith has a written privacy and non-disclosure policy regarding their access to your operations and procedures, and to your clients' data.

I asked my contact at PSS for their privacy policy and he sent me one related to using the Microsoft web site. When I pointed this out and asked what our privacy rights are regarding calls to PSS, his only response was

"I'd have to defer you to our legal department as I do not have that information."

When I asked how to get ahold of the legal department, all I got was the question

"Have you retained a lawyer?"

I've asked my PAM and the partner desk. No one (including PSS) can come up with a privacy policy for PSS calls.

Who cares? Well, we do, for one. Awhile back I irritated a few people with This Post. Someone, a contractor for Microsoft who actually helped identify himself, posted some very inappropriate things about my company and employees on the Internet, including specific notes from calls made to PSS.

Microsoft won't say whether they've done anything to address the issue.

But they have since made it very clear to me that they have no privacy policy regarding calls to PSS.

If you call Microsoft, you have no guarantees that the details of your call will not be used in any way that any Microsoft employee or contractor sees fit. This goes for your clients' data as well.

I did learn that employees and contractors need to sign non-disclosure agreements, but that didn't do us any good while the details of our PSS calls were posted on the Internet.

I sign non-disclosure agreements with all my clients. If Microsoft can post PSS call information on the Internet, then my client NDA is worthless. My NDA is only meaningful if I work with partners who have meaningful privacy policies in place.

With luck, the Microsoft Lawyers are banging away trying to produce a privacy policy for PSS calls. In the meantime . . .

Bottom Line

Our primary reason for signing up with Zenith was to solve the problem of dealing with the horrible tech support at Microsoft. We have put procedures in place that prevent them from breaking things, but these are imperfect. And we were will wasting hours and hours dealing with their "system" and not fixing problems.

Zenith has fixed our problems.

The most frustrating part about supporting SBS has simply gone away. We get excellent, competent, timely support. And we don't have to call the Microsoft SBS line in India.


  1. Anonymous2:30 PM

    The terms and conditions of this agreement are confidential, and any and all information identified by either party as “confidential” and/or “proprietary”, or which, under all of the circumstances, ought reasonably to be treated as confidential and/or proprietary ("confidential information"), will not be disclosed by the receiving party to any third person without the express consent of the other party except under the terms of this agreement for five (5) years following the date of its disclosure. These confidentiality obligations shall not apply to any information which,
    (i) became known to receiving party from a source other than disclosing party other than by the breach of an obligation of confidentiality owed to disclosing party,
    (ii) is, or becomes, available to the general public other than through a breach by the receiving party,
    or (iii) is developed through the independent efforts of the receiving party.
    We may use any technical information we derive from providing services related to our products for problem resolution, troubleshooting, product functionality enhancements and fixes, and for our knowledge base. We agree not to identify you or disclose any of your confidential information in any item in the knowledge base.

    Privacy policy for support.

    At the bottom of the support web site.

  2. Thanks for this. I'm not sure it's the privacy policy I'm looking for.

    How did you get from PSS to this policy? I don't see any links to it.

    Also, if it's the correct policy, how come the people in charge of PSS are not aware of it?

  3. Anonymous11:48 AM

    Karl. I keep seeing you rave about Zenith, but they must have you on a completely different support plan than me.

    I've given up completely on the NOC. They repeatedly connected during working hours to my clients computers to do activities. And taking a week to make simple changes made it useless to get the "boring" jobs done.

    Now I'm STILL trying to get either LogMeIn or ISL to work. I've NEVER had a working remote access solution in all the time I've been with Zenith! I call once or twice a week regarding the issues. My regular account manager, my TAM, and the NOC all say they are "working on it", but I've never got so much as a suggestion on what to do!

    I don't believe you. :)

  4. Sorry for the delay.


    Let me be clear: Zenith isn't perfect. I know our team (Manuel and Nicko) had a conference call with a couple of people there to hammer out some issues this week.

    It's a lot like an HMO: You have to learn how to use the system.

    Call your rep and keep calling until they call you back. You can make them give you excellent service.

  5. You should not have to force someone to give you good service. It should come as part of their whole solution package by default.

    If you want superior support from a backup/disaster recovery appliance vendor?


  6. My opinion of Zenith in it's current incarnation is getting to be rather poor. For example they provide automise for "free" but it's horribly out of date and doesn't work reliably on x64 systems. This is their reply when asked about updgrading to the current version to fix these problems:
    Until we release an updated version of Automise, I suggest you purchase this in the meantime. Most of our updates only occur quarterly. Keep in mind this is a tool we offer you for free, and it costs us a lot of money to get updated versions of the tool to provide to 2000+ partners. I cannot give you an ETA on when/if a new version of this will be provided from us.


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