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Serial Killing

So this is a rant, so apologies!

Sometimes vendors make me despair and I don’t know why I have never learnt my lesson but still they do. We have a mysterious problem with some Cisco MDS switches but as many of you probably know, you can’t easily buy MDS switches from Cisco; you generally go through another vendor. In this case it is IBM!

Anyway, one of my guys logs a call with IBM, first of all it gets bounced from the software call-centre to the hardware call-centre; which obviously necessitates a different PMR number? Why is beyond me but it’s always been that way with IBM.

So he logs the call against what he thinks is the correct serial number and what the switch displays as its serial number. We wait many hours and hear nothing; he prods them a few times and still we get nothing. Eventually, we escalate the call to the district support manager to have a rant and we find that there is a note on the call along the lines that the switches are not under maintenance. Funny that considering yesterday I had actually approved this quarter’s maintenance payment. That and they had actually managed to record the wrong contact number and misspell an email address.

But of course the switches are under maintenance; it’s just that IBM stick their own serial number on the back of the switch physically and to find it out, you need to have it recorded somewhere or go to have a look. Why, oh why do vendors do this; or at least, why don’t you have two fields in your maintenance database which ties the OEM and your serial numbers together?

And it’s not just Cisco kit with IBM; it’s their rebadged NetApp, rebadged LSI, rebadged DDN etc, etc. I don’t want to have my engineers to have to look up these sort of details when they are trying to fix problems; I want them to be able to read the serial number directly off the machine, they are rarely in the secure computer rooms and to gain access requires raising access requests etc.

[Of course, I would also have expected IBM to tell me at point of first contact that they didn’t recognise the serial number and they believed that there was no maintenance contract.]

I want to have a single serial number to work off; at the present, I need two for a single piece of kit and that is crap. And I do need the OEM serial number generally because all of the software licensing is tied to that and not to your made-up number.

Of course, don’t get me started on IBM part-numbers!

BTW, we don’t have this problem with EMC; we can give them an Cisco serial number and they can cope with it!

Still IBM are not the only problem who do stupid things like this but please can I suggest that a piece of kit should have a single serial number and it should be the one that the piece of kit reports as its serial number.


  1. tgs says:

    I love my IBM servers, but man some of their processes need a serious revamp, like calling in for support on a product and having to give machine type, which isn’t the system type ie, 3960×5 server is actually a 7148 to IBM, of course this is located on the front bezel in the smallest print imaginable, right next to the serial number.

  2. As single serial number? Won’t that require vendors to…. talk to each other?!?

    On a more serious note, I’ve seen some companies who try to get around this by having multiple fields or free text fields for hardware in their CMDB (Configuration Management DataBase for non-ITIL folks) where all of the identifying data for switches, servers etc is stored and maintained.

    As I’m sure you can imagine (and as you have touched on the post) this is not an ideal solution and from experience I can tell you it’s a logistical nightmare as these things have a habit of becoming out of date. Also, I had a situation in the recent past where a server had it’s system board changed and the serial number on the chassis no longer matched the one stored in the BIOS / BMC. Raising a subsequent support call for the server with someone whose primary language was not the same as mine left me in a rant frame of mind also.

    It would be nice if there were some sort of open and universally adopted standard for part numbers and serial numbers alike. A bit like ISBN. One day maybe?

    1. Martin Glassborow says:

      We have CMDBs (yes, we have more than one like most people) and the problem is that at two o’clock in the morning when you are tired and most likely stressed, you don’t want another fscking place to collect data from.

      And yes, I’ve come across serial numbers changing when system boards etc are changed. There must be a better way really.

  3. Martin Glassborow says:

    Indeed…we spend our life’s googling 4 digit machine types. But then again sadly I know a number of them off by heart.

    1. tgs says:

      7148, 2180, 7979, 7989, 8863 etc. yeah its sad.

  4. TimC says:

    Just out of curiosity, why would you buy through an OEM? Why not buy your switches from one of Cisco’s channel partners? It would save you a lot of headaches…

    1. Martin Glassborow says:

      We buy solutions generally, not just technology.

      We tend to deal direct with our major suppliers as opposed to going through resellers and historically it has been hard to buy Cisco SAN switches from anyone apart from the storage vendors.

  5. […] Very good blog from Storagebod (Thank you !) on the serial number topic (is this MDS from Cisco or from IBM ?). This is a long running issue and needs to be solved. Read on here […]

  6. Zyrober says:

    I hope we solved your mysterious problem at least. The serial number problem will be addressed internally and your blog rant put additional pressure on that topic. :o)

  7. Anthony V says:

    Hi Martin.

    I agree that there is an additional step here that is painful (the need to read the serials off the switch itself).
    We solved this issue with Brocade SAN switches by adding an extra step in manufacturing and having the IBM serial number ‘burnt’ onto the switch, which means you can find the serial number from the Web GUI without having to go into the computer room. This doesn’t help of course if the issue is that you cannot access the switch… then your documentation or physical access is still needed.

    1. Martin Glassborow says:

      I just think it would be good to have one serial number per box. Not multiple serial numbers; it makes life easier for everyone. There would never be confusion as to which number is required. And it makes sense that the serial number which is used for licensing etc be the one true serial number where-ever possible.

      But if a OEM vendor insists on having multiple serial numbers then the onus should be on them to have both recorded and not the customer. It’s about being customer focused and I am glad that IBM do appear to be taking the criticism on board and are actually planning to do something about it. Hopefully my little rant will make things better for everyone.

  8. KG says:

    same thing with Cisco MDS that HP sold us. If I run “show switch serial”, it indeed prints out the cisco s/n and HP s/n. Now the twist is that HP stripped initial “S” from the serial number before it got burnt inside #fail

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