Open Source vs Vendor Support

This is a gripe I had written back in July 2007, but a recent case in 2014 has reminded me of this, and it’s interesting to see things haven’t really changed in 7 years.

At work we have a very expensive contract with a vendor, to support their product. Every incident I have opened with them has taken a long time (weeks) to solve. Going back and fourth with their support is usually pretty fast, however they seem to ask questions for the sake of asking questions, not solving the problem at hand. The current problem I am dealing with is a fairly basic problem of connectivity between their server packages. I opened the call on July 23 — it has been going for almost two weeks now, with about a new message every two days asking for more information or log files. Examining the log files I’m sending to them, they don’t seem to say much more than a success or failure message: No debugging information aside from “It didn’t work!” I feel we are nowhere closer to a solution than we were on the 23rd when I reported the problem.

Another part of the same project involves Samba, the open source SMB/CIFS client. We do pay RedHat for support of the OS, however the version of Samba that we currently run (3.0.23d) is unsupported by RedHat (who use 3.0.10). One day, a user reported a very strange bug while doing a particular procedure. Once we had the conditions to re-create the bug narrowed down, I went on the search for answers. Seeing as this is “unsupported” by RedHat, the onus was on me to find and fix the problem. Within a few google searches, I had found #4308 in the Samba Bugzilla, which is exactly the problem we are having. If this had been a mission critical bug, we could have been up and running the same day, with the new version of Samba in place (it’s not a huge bug, so we are testing to ensure there are no new bugs in the version upgrade. Doing the proper testing and change control management takes extra time when it’s not a critical problem).

I followed up with the user who initially reported the Samba bug, to inform them of my progress in finding a solution. Their response was “Gee, googling around doesn’t sound like enterprise support to me.”  They are 100% correct that this is not enterprise support, and boy am I glad it isn’t!  Otherwise I may be still sitting here wondering what is wrong, and waiting on an email from the vendor. With Open Source, I can dig in the source code, turn up the logging and find 1000s of resources online for solving problems. With the closed vendor, almost none of their debugging procedures are published, and their (poor) logging is all over the system in various files & impossible to find and once found not particularly useful.