Hello, everybody! This is Alex and in the spirit of our last interview with Alexei Vladishev, this time I decided to take a look behind the scene of our support team. Today we are going to discuss how our support team actually operates, how they are feeling in these trying times, how excited they are about Zabbix 5.0 coming out, and just get a general feel of their philosophy.
Today, I have here the one and only Dmitry Lambert, one of our senior supporting engineers, consultants and trainers, and just a generally nice guy.
Dmitry, welcome! Tell me how are you doing? How’s the family? How are things going for you?
Hello, Alex! First of all, glad to hear from you. It is going pretty interesting. These are crazy times, but we don’t stop our work and our lives. It was a little bit challenging in the beginning because working from home is something absolutely new. But I think we’re doing just great.
Nice to hear! So, Dmitry, at Zabbix we take pride in being a part of one team and one family. Obviously, support is no exception. We don’t always play by the same rules, this is why I wanted you to talk me through the support team operations. If we were to take a look behind the scenes, what would we see? Sure we use Zabbix ourselves, but that’s not just it, is it?
Of course. The daily life of our support team is simple and complicated at the same time. We tend to keep things simple to make sure that everything is understandable for everybody and functions fine.
Of course, we use Zabbix ourselves, and we also have a place for our customer request tickets. In our case it’s Jira Service Desk, monitored 24/7 by our internal Zabbix system to make sure that we are notified as soon as one of our customers creates a new ticket in the ticketing system.
Before these crazy times, when we were working in the office, we had big screens on the walls showing currently active and ongoing tickets, so all the engineers could see right away if they have some tickets to answer to. If they are out, they get notifications by email, in the communication platform, we use Push for that, and for higher severity issues there are also calls on mobile phones.
Alright, so in order to continuously deliver support on a very consistent level and with integrity, what additional measures have you guys introduced? I’m not talking just about the SLA and acknowledging tickets. You try to deep dive into the actual issue, isn’t that it?
Of course, into every new ticket, no matter how complex it is. Some users and customers just want to get a quick tip on how to do something. Other cases might be extremely complicated when we dive into real-life scenarios, production instances that might be configured with some clusters, high availability, etc. In our daily life, we don’t simply throw the links to the documentation. It is always a deep dive to understand what exactly is happening, what the root cause of the problem is.
We don’t limit ourselves only to Zabbix. We understand that Zabbix is a monitoring platform, but there are a lot of other tools and software applications that are fully reliant on the process of monitoring. We tend to help to troubleshoot some applications or some other services that might be related to the existing problem.
At the same time if we talk about SLA, sure we have it, but I believe what’s important is not just regular support where you post some question and then you might wait for a day or two or even a week to get an initial response to just start moving forward with your problem. In our daily job, we definitely don’t leave any ongoing issues overnight, everything is answered as fast as possible. We don’t leave any tickets open.
There might be really hard and problematic issues, which might be going for weeks. But as soon as a customer updates us on his issue he will hear from us in the next minutes or in an hour if we are really busy.
Excellent! I assume not every case is the same as you mentioned. Let’s take an ideal situation. So, if a client decides to sign up with Zabbix, what can they actually anticipate, what sort of assistance? And again, not just focusing on the tickets per se as there’s a lot more to it.
Absolutely! I think for the client we are just the greatest thing they could have. You need to understand that Zabbix support engineers are not responsible only for the support tickets (for the Jira). They are also the consultants and trainers who do the turn-key solutions for our customers, which in some cases might be simple or very complicated. Everyone from our team has huge experience in monitoring and not only with Zabbix.
When a potential customer comes to Zabbix with a request that they decided to monitor their infrastructure it is fully OK that they only know that they want to do that, but they don’t know how. They don’t know what they need to monitor, how frequently, what the triggers should be, or how they should be notified about the problems.
We are experts in monitoring and we help them to solve their problems. We suggest the architecture, explain how to install Zabbix, what kind of data to collect from devices, how to configure actions, whether to get notifications only via email or maybe to integrate Zabbix with some ticketing system to automatically report problems so that the company’s NOC team could react as fast as possible.
On the other hand, there are some cases when a potential customer is not new to monitoring and might be migrating from some other monitoring application to Zabbix. So it’s fully understandable that they don’t know how Zabbix actually functions. They can only say that they have some tools, they collect some data, and want to have everything just like they have now, but in Zabbix.
It’s a big process for our engineers to deep dive into the installation and to check out how everything works, and what we can migrate ‘as is’. We can perform the migration without any changes, but if we can do something a lot better in Zabbix, we will suggest these changes to the customer.
Nicely done! Dmitry, I’m proud to say that you’ve been with the team for quite a while now. So, with your previous experience and new requests coming in constantly, were there any cases that were more interesting than the others or challenged you to the core, so that you actually had to sit down and think not just for a minute, but to actually review your entire approach towards problem-solving?
Of course. The more complicated requests are those with the bigger scale. Zabbix can monitor a couple of hosts at your house or hundreds of thousands of production instances without a chance to restart the system or do some maintenance operations on the fly. It is always challenging.
Especially, if you have some customers with high-availability setups, cross data center high-availability setups, master/master or master/slave replications, integrations with, for instance, ticketing systems, inventory tools, API integrations with external scripts to collect data. All of this is always quite complicated, and it takes some time to really understand what is happening and what the environment looks like.
At the same time, when we have simple requests from Zabbix beginners asking for simple things about how they could monitor something in their system, it’s very important for us to understand that the request may be quite simple for us, it is very important for the customer and they want to receive a full explanation of how they can achieve their expectations or to fix their problems. We cannot simply throw them a documentation link describing what the item is and how you can use it.
Very well put. Let’s talk about the community. In your experience, and you’ve been to customer sites, you met our users at all the events that we host and join be that face-to-face or remotely, what were the coolest use cases you’ve seen that perhaps you would not initially even associate with Zabbix?
Well, all cases are very interesting. We all know that Zabbix is super powerful and we can really monitor whatever we want. At the same time, when we work with the customers in most cases we are talking about those regular IT devices like servers, network switches, services applications, databases, etc.
I have a perfect and interesting example. In one office in Denmark, if I’m not wrong, the company had smart windows in the office. So, they were opened and closed via computers and monitored by Zabbix for a simple purpose: during non-working hours when nobody should be in the office, if windows were still open, Zabbix should automatically close the windows without notifying security.
There was also a web monitoring case. Zabbix can monitor web pages and web applications out of the box. But that particular case was about monitoring not only the availability of the web page as a web server. It was a service similar to Netflix: you pay money for a subscription or one-time use and then you can go to the web browser and watch the movies.
So, they did not care if the web browser opened or the web pages were running and returned HTTP 200 code. They needed to know that the movie was actually playing. It’s not that uncommon when we open some page, on YouTube or somewhere else, that the video doesn’t play. That’s the problem they needed to solve.
They used Zabbix with third-party tools integrated together basically to take a lot of screenshots of the area where the video should be. And then with the logic of the scripts they checked if these screenshots were changing, was the color changing, and that’s how they could tell if the video was actually playing.
These two cases are quite interesting and not the most common things done with Zabbix.
The creativity of our users really never ceases to amaze me! Let’s take a very quick stroll down the memory lane. I mentioned that you’ve been with Zabbix for quite a while. But when you first joined the team you weren’t instantly a master, which is quite OK. Over time you’ve obviously learned quite a lot, so, looking back at yourself right now what advice would you give yourself and also to any potential users of Zabbix?
When I started working in Zabbix, it was surely very challenging because I really didn’t have any experience with Zabbix software. I did have some experience with the related software like Windows, Linux, and some network applications though. What it took me to understand — it’s a lot of work, following through all support cases, cases with the customers is a huge experience. You can read a lot of the Zabbix books on the Internet, watch videos, or read documentation, but none of that will give you experience from real-life cases, from different customers, different solutions and needs.
Of course, I had Zabbix training. When I just started working with Zabbix, after a couple of weeks I was sent to internal training, Specialist and Professional course, which was actually very challenging simply because I did not have any experience. But it was an awesome course with tons of information and knowledge. It was quite challenging to go through all that stuff, to prepare for the exams, and thankfully to pass them successfully.
What I could suggest for somebody who is just starting with Zabbix? Don’t be afraid of doing unfamiliar stuff, install a Q&A development platform with Zabbix, and try it on your own. If something doesn’t work, try to fix it and to create some ways to collect the data. If you want to monitor some service or a database and you cannot find a ready-to-apply solution, try to create your own. Even if you do not succeed by 100%, you will definitely learn a lot that will help you further on.
And, of course, training! Zabbix 5.0 was released a week ago. It has a new training program with new features, a lot of extensive materials that you definitely have to take a look through at zabbix.com. If there is a scheduled training nearby, you should definitely attend.
Well there you have it folks, that’s advice from one of our senior engineers, Dmitry Lambert. Dmitry, thank you very much for joining me. It’s been a blast having you. I hope you have a great day and the family is doing well.
As for the rest of you, feel free to check out Zabbix 5.0 while it’s still fresh and awesome! Feel free to register for webinars to get more technical insight into what the actual product brings. I hope you’ll enjoy it!
Trust me you will not be disappointed!