Instead of the usual software development work I have spent last few weeks doing some hard-core hardware stuff: integrating a new LAN server, and finalizing my employer’s data center hardware setup. In doing so, I have encountered two items that should not have been as frustrating as what they turned out to be. In both cases, I think the equipment manufacturer could have averted the resulting problem with more careful design to begin with. Or, at least, the problematic hardware designs could have been ameliorated with better documentation and/or product packaging.
Item 1: Dataprobe iBootBar
This is basically a rack-mountable iBoot (remote reboot unit) with eight outlets. The product shipped couple of months behind the schedule, which is probably why the firmware shipped with the first batch didn’t include a feature to allow hardware-reset of the device. The manual, of course, omitted this fact, and also failed to mention that serial port connection to the device (which was in the initial firmware release the only means of resetting the device to the factory defaults) would also require the admin password. You might guess what happened. I changed the admin password, logged out, logged back in, and then decided to rename the “admin” user to something less obvious. The user rename process is all cleartext, so I saw what the new user name was when I typed it. I much doubt I would’ve mistyped it, but I suppose it is possible. Whatever happened, once I renamed the admin user, locked out I was. No problem, I thought, I just connect to the serial port and reset the device. Once I figured I needed a standard serial cable (like for a modem) and not a null-modem cable (this was my bad; I’d forgotten that “DCE” as mentioned in the manual, is not the same as “DTE” 😉 ), I got to the prompt at the serial port. It said “username:”. And then it wanted a password! I was just as locked out as I had been before. Dataprobe’s tech support was glad to help â€” only I had to FedEx the device to them in New Jersey for resetting (plus they’ll upload the more recent firmware which will allow firmware reset). Just time and FedEx shipping fees lost.
If the manual had included a line: “Be careful not to lose the admin user name and/or password! If you lose them, the only way to regain access to the device is to send it back to us.”, I would first have created the new admin user and made sure I can log in with it before proceeding to rename or delete the original one.
Item 2: Adaptec AAR-2410SA SATA-RAID
Over the years I’ve learned not to use no-name or not-well-known name components for system integration. Just as the motherboard needs to have ASUS, Tyan, or Supermicro label on it, the hard drive controller must be AMCC/3Ware or Adaptec. This time I opted for Adaptec’s four-disk PCI-X SATA-RAID controller, 2410SA. I don’t normally order “kits” because they usually contain junk I don’t need (SATA cables which I already have, miscellaneous unnecessary software, etc.). This time, however, in order to connect the drive activity LED to the system front panel, a proprietary cable was needed… and of course it only ships in the kit! So I called Adaptec to find out that the cable is not for sale/available separately (tech support people are currently looking to see if they could locate one for me from some scrap), and the only suggestion the customer service rep had was to return the bare card and acquire the kit instead. Oh-uh! Why to make the LED connector proprietary in the first place? I’m sure there would’ve been space at the edge of the card for some PCB jumper pins. Or, if a proprietary connector was necessary to use for some design reason, why not bundle a cord with the bare cardâ€”it already comes bundled with the low profile PCI bracket (rarely needed), a useless installation manual, and a driver CD which is not necessary as the drivers are available from the website. And if it’s totally not possible to bundle the cord for some unknown reason, why not at least make it purchaseable? I would’ve paid $15.00 for it for “not having realized” to buy the kit.
One last word.. Both products are good products. Their overall design is solid and they work well. Just if the companies paid some attention to detail, or at least patched the deficiencies in the documentation, or in customer service (there shouldn’t be a spare part that is “not available” for a current product), there would not be a reason to complain as I’m sure it’s very difficult to design and manufacture a completely flawless product.