More Parallels Plesk ranting

I just spent four days of my life trying to restore a lost domain from the external backups stored on another server. I figured out most of it but just couldn’t get it completely right. So I bit the bullet and plopped down $75 to open a support ticket. Eventually I figured it out but it was only marginally due to their help. Parallels wrote to me asking if they could close my ticket. Here’s my response:

“Okay, here’s the thing. I purchased a support ticket a few days ago because I couldn’t figure out how to restore a domain from a backup. The original server that it was created on was gone, so all I had to go with was the “personal FTP repository” tar file to go with. After looking at all the documentation, the forums and Google searches, I was still stuck. So, as a last resort, I purchased a ticket request in the hope that I could talk with somebody who knew something at the support desk that might get me the last ten yards.

What I got instead was a person on the phone who I couldn’t understand. Thick accent.) Actually, that two hours after I purchased the support ticket. And that was a long two hours as, at that point, I was at my wit’s end with the issue. Anyway, the best that the support person could offer was to log into my server and restore the backup for me. Whenever that might be.

Well, that turned out to be 4:30am (my time) the next day. And then they didn’t actually restore anything. They couldn’t because of a simple issue (which I didn’t know because there’s nothing in the documentation saying that). So I used the support person’s suggestions and actually got the domain restored myself.

So, is the support issue resolved? Technically, I suppose it is even though the support person did nothing other than offer me advice which I would have happily accepted the day before. Do I feel like I just poured $75 down the drain? You bet I do. Here’s why:

The whole reason why I had such an issue with restoring the domain is that there is *zero* documentation on what to do with tar files saved in external directories. This makes absolutely no sense to me. You have at least *some* documentation on restoring data from the “server repository.” While that’s nice, it completely ignores the possibility that hardware could fail. Well guess what: it does. Servers crap out and hard drives crash all the time. That’s a very compelling reason to store your backups on another server if not also offsite. This is the reason why I do that at my company and why 99.99% of the rest of the world does the same thing.

So, getting to the bottom line: fix the documentation! The online help and the HTML documentation from your resources page is very weak. I’ve read the letter from your company’s president that promised to improve the quality and the customer support experience of Plesk. Here’s another area that badly needs attention. If I could have found the answers that I needed in the first place, I would have a lot fewer bad feelings about Parallels and Plesk and wouldn’t be out $75 for nothing.

— David Spencer, PageWeavers”

My recent experience with Parallels Plesk Server software

I’ve recently been having a lot of trouble with email since the “upgrade” from version 8.6 to 9.0 of the Plesk Server Administrator control panel. I’m very angry about this situation and I feel the need to explain why.

First of all, the reason I’m angry is not because qmail failed to work properly with the new update. Software has bugs. Engineering can’t always simulate every possibility during testing. I’ve been a programmer for 30 years and I get that.

Here’s why I’m pissed.

First of all, the new version of the software was delivered without features that were present in the previous version. Backups and the client/domain migrator were glaringly missing. In my mind, the first rule of software engineering is never deliver an update to anything that removes important and needed features. And in the case of this update, there was no warning given prior to application of the update that I would be losing that. No hint whatsoever.

So what is the result of this decision? I’m now on an island with no exit strategy. My automated backups aren’t working so if there’s a system failure, my customers (and I) are screwed. The migrator doesn’t work, so I can’t evacuate critical websites to alternate servers. So now that I have an issue with a component not working, what recourse do I have? Very little. Either I try to document the problem and pay for Parallels technical support to try and solve the problem or I find a way to manually move my critical customers off that server. Neither is very acceptable because A) I don’t like having to pay to fix something that I didn’t break, and B) I don’t like having to spend for a lot of overtime for workers to manually migrate sites in the dead of night.

Here’s the second reason why I’m mad.

Seeing how I was stuck with a server that won’t reliably deliver email, I figured that my first and best option was to have technical support look at the problem. I made this decision after combing the forums. Some people had some good ideas but no working solutions. So I purchased a support ticket. (I won’t go into it here; but that process in of itself was a disaster. The forms were very difficult to find and didn’t work properly.)

For the next week and a half I swapped emails with the support team. I tried as best I could to create conditions that would reproduce the problem and provide whatever assistance I could. What I found was particularly irritating, though, was that half the time I wrote back with an answer to a request or question it was as if the tech support person had never bothered to familiarize themselves with the thread of what had come previously. I could log into the support site and look at my ticket and see every question and response that each party had sent to the other. Why couldn’t the techs do that as well before responding to me? I’ll quickly grant that the problem with email was intermittent and difficult to reproduce. However, I was left with the feeling that no forward progress was being made and rather that I was just being kept preoccupied until either the problem went away or I got tired and just gave up out of frustration.

So that leaves us with the aftermath.

I still have a broken server. After much pleading from one of my largest customers, I was up until past midnight directing a manual transfer of 775 email accounts from the primary server to a secondary one still running 8.6 . I’m not happy but the customer will be. And that’s the whole point of this, isn’t it? Keeping the customer happy. Well I’m certainly not and it’s not because I’m irrational. Being an engineer that has been delivering software and services for thirty years, I know shoddy decision-making when I see it. Shame on you Parallels for putting all your customers at risk for no apparent reason. Have you guys never heard of the hippocratic oath? Let me repeat it: First Do No Harm. You need to institute and live by this simple rule:  whenever you deliver a software update, provide a way to get out of it if there’s a failure. You provided none in this case. That is the equivalent of software malpractice.

And the third and final reason I’m upset.

I checked the support forum this afternoon to find that there’s an announcement dated today. And it looks like the update addresses my issues. Against my better judgement I’m applying it now and crossing my fingers. After all, I still have other customers that are still having email issues. But this begs the question: didn’t anybody in Parallels know that this update was about to be posted? If it indeed addresses my issue, couldn’t they have contacted me? Given the choice, I would have gladly been a test site for the patch. Had I known, I could have possibly avoided spending half the night at the office moving resources to other servers. I would like to think that this isn’t the case; but on the face of it, this sure looks like incompetence to me.

And that’s why I’m angry.

These guys deserve biopics

Two of the funniest men who ever lived, Jack Benny and Bob Hope, are unknowns to the current generation. In their primes, they were at the top of the entertainment industry. Isn’t it about time they were reintroduced to America? I’ve already figured out who should star in these pictures.

For Benny, I can’t imagine a better actor than Kelsey Grammer. He looks like Benny and often acts like Benny. He’d be perfect. And in doing a brief Google search for the two men, I see that Grammer even hosted a one-hour special in 1995 about Jack and his bio lists Benny as an influence on his career. Who could possibly be better?

And for Hope, I’m thinking Tom Hanks. Hanks has the same nose as Hope. He and Hope have been strong supporters of our troops. Hanks rose to fame for his comedic roles so he could easily pull it off. Hope had a very long and admired career as had Hanks. In my mind, he’s the natural candidate.

So come on guys – whomever owns the film rights to these famous comedians careers needs to get this deal going. America needs a good laugh and these men were some of the funniest who ever lived. They deserve another look.

09/04/2007: How to “fix” the WNBA – a modest proposal

(This isn’t the first time that I’ve made the case that the WBNA will ultimately fail unless they make some fundimental changes. However, this is my first “public” attempt at making my case outside of letters to the WNBA and ESPN. I originally wrote this in 2007 and am finally now posting this as a Blog entry now that I have a blog. Since then events have overtaken my opinion with Candace Parker twice dunking in games. Fans have been predictably enthusiastic…)

This year (Fall, 2007), the WNBA finals was marred by the embarassing fact that the championship series was played in front of small crowds. Overall growth in attendance (and therefore interest) in the women’s league has stalled. This puts the league itself in danger of disappearing. The reason is simple and the reason is crass: there are no dunks in the WNBA.

I assure that I’m a big fan of the sport: I held Kings tickets for ten years and now, thanks to satellite TV, purchase an NBA league pass each season. Yet, it’s my opinion that the WNBA will never grow beyond the current base of fans because basketball, both college and pro, has been relentlessly marketed for years in a way that emphases the dunk. People just expect to see it and for good reason: it’s an exciting play. And though the WBNA is a fundamentally sound version of the game – in fact, more sound than the men’s game in a number of ways – the potential for that devastating power-jam just isn’t there so there’s little anticipation brought to the game. Frankly, for the common, casual fan, the WNBA is boring.

So how can we fix it? The answer is easy, really. Just lower the rims. Wait, you say, that would tarnish the game somehow, or otherwise lessen it by destroying it’s “purity.” But that’s an argument with merit, as it’s already a modified game from the men’s sport:

  • The WNBA ball is smaller
  • The WNBA 3-point line is closer
  • The WNBA games are shorter

Those are fairly major tweaks to the sport. Yet it continues to work fine. Lowering the rims would simply complete the conversion to parity with the men’s game.

Let’s examine another team sport that’s played by both men’s and women’s teams: volleyball. Both games are played with identical equipment and rules on the same court. The only difference is that the women’s net has been lowered to accomodate the fact that women are overall shorter than men. The lowering of the net in volleyball brings parity of the two games. And if you’re a fan of volleyball, you’d know that the women’s game is just as exciting as the men’s.

I did a quick search on Google and it told me that the average height for an NBA player was 6’6″. It appears that the average height of WNBA players is about 6′. I believe that I read that NBA players have an average vertical leap of 24″. My educated guess is that average WNBA player jumps 18″.

As a rule, it seems today that 95% of the players in the NBA can dunk a ball. Lowering the rim from ten feet to nine feet would make it possible for all the WNBA centers and forwards to certainly be able to dunk balls and probably a lot of the guards. That might not get you 95% but certainly a high number. Don’t you think that the possibility of a WBNA player flying down the lane and slamming the ball through the hoop in somebody’s face would generate some excitement? I certainly do. Would that make SportsCenter? You bet it would!

One final word to the purists. I bet you’re concerned that somehow players won’t be able to make jumpshots. Not a problem really. I’ve taken shots at lower baskets at schoolyards many times and quickly adjusted to the difference. To stick with the ten-foot baskets any longer is just being stubborn. WBNA, if you want to stay in business, listen to the people and bring the dunk into your game.

Welcome to the 20th Century

Well, I finally did it. After 12 years of having a personal website, I finally got around to starting to use it. I imagine I’ll be hearing from the media any moment now…

Meanwhile, now that I have a blog, it causes me to reflect on why I registered a personal domain in the first place. Yes, it’s very handy for email. No ISP can ever pull the rug from under me. (Over the years I’ve seen that happen to far too many people.) But I’ve always thought that thought that all bloggers seem to enjoy once in a while, if not often. What if I wrote things down that mattered to me and other people read those thoughts and they had some sort of positive impact. Wouldn’t that be cool? Sure it would – and now that there are a bazillion other bloggers out there I’ve guaranteed that nobody is likely to know or care! Such is life. 😉

Anyway, if you, unknown reader, have made it this far, then good. Thanks for visiting. I hope you enjoy. Because in the end, all writing that matters is really a labor of love. It made me feel good doing it. And if it had an impact on you, then that’s all the better.

 

– Dave