No Free Lunches – ISP edition
While it may not be true that there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, it has been my experience that there are extremely few free lunches to be had. In the tech world this is especially so – everything is tradeoffs, I’ve never seen a silver bullet that didn’t come with it’s own set of problems. Recently I’ve had cause to compare and contrast several ISP’s, even more recently I’ve had some more experiences that just reinforce this notion.
In general I’ve been really enjoying the servers that have been hosted at Rackspace, they cost more than the competition but it seemed very silver bullety to me. The technical support there is really good – you call someone up and they answer. You can set up monitoring and emergency procedures with a nice escalation process that ends with them calling you only if the previous instructions don’t work. The network itself has been extremely reliable. I’ve had some issues with the non-technical support staff, for some reason it can be very frustrating trying to get information and proposals from the business development team – despite repeated emails I’ve had to wait upwards of a month on one occasion. I find this frustrating because it just represents that the costs are not fixed – there’s no web order form for this equipment because costs are negotiable – although I suspect that if you are not a big client they are not that negotiable.
The thing about Rackspace, though, is that it is a huge hosting company. So they have a lot of bureaucracy and procedures on what they can do. If you need them to do something that falls outside these procedures their “fanatical support” comes to a very sudden stop. That is the tradeoff you get when you use Rackspace instead of a smaller ISP. I’ve used several smaller ISP’s now and they may not offer the redundancy and heavy duty support that Rackspace gives you, but they do treat you more like a real person or maybe it’s that they behave more like a real person. They are much more likely to figure out a way to work with you to get you what you need because they are not constrained by so many rules and regulation passed down from on high.
In this case it was the colocation of a google mini search appliance. Despite it being dead simple to do initial configuration to simply give it the correct ip address (all you need do is connect a laptop to the mini with the provided orange colored cable and fill out some nice labeled web forms) they simply will not do it. Despite my questions about the mini prior to signing the contract in which I was told it was no problem, do it for several other customers, but never told that they would only attach wires and push the power button. Instead google has to ship the device to the client (me), I need to do initial configuration (in the absence of the real network to make sure it works) and then ship it to Rackspace. Presumably if I get something wrong in the config (possible since you can’t test it) they’ll need to ship it back to me, etc.. etc.. The woman on the phone, well women, I tried escalating – very nicely and calmly dealt with me, a truly furious customer, but very firmly let it be known that I was completely out of luck on this. There was nothing I could do, call, pay or sign that would cause Rackspace to budge on this issue even one iota. The fanaticism did not extend to this.
They suggested it was a liability issue and they had a bad experience prior to this. I suggested that we would sign something that waived their liability, I suggested that I could be on the phone with the technician while he was doing the configuration, I suggested that we would pay for said technician’s time. Although I tried to address their concerns with this, they simply had no choice but to doggedly follow the rules set down from on high. And that’s the tradeoff – where you get better reliability and technical guarantees from Rackspace there are places that they simply will not go for you, no matter how simple, how much more convenient or how urgent it would be for you, their customer.
With that said, I’m not making a value judgement here on what is better or really making any sort of review of the isp. I’m just saying that with Rackspace it’s not all honeydew and cantaloupe. You’ve given up something (in addition to money) to get their vaunted reliability.