Danger: This tech support page contains marketing crap

Wading through piles of fluff to download critical patches and updates can lead to a very, very bad day at the data center

The scene: a NOC operations room, early evening on a Friday. A heretofore unknown bug crops up in a core network device. Catastrophe follows, with network administrators pulling their hair out trying to make sense of a nonsensical situation. There's chaos, mayhem, and blood in the data center aisles. Gravely assessing the situation, the head network guru states, "We must have hit an undocumented bug. We need to try a new firmware version, and fast!"

With the main Internet connections down, it's a good thing there's a laptop with a mobile data card at the ready. An admin sits down and pulls up the networking vendor's support site.

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Sweat pours from his face as he waits for the cutesy Flash-based splash page to load. He grimaces waiting for the neato server-side dynamic droplist element population. He slogs his way through page after page of nonsense surrounding the few actual pieces of information he needs. Minutes tick by. A storage admin vomits in terror in the hallway. The CEO is reportedly "on his way from his daughter's wedding."

But the admin is almost there, only a few more slow-loading pages to go. But what's this? The new firmware image can't be downloaded without the use of a proprietary Java-based "download assistant"? And it's 45MB? "Dear God," mutters the admin.

The room goes as quiet as a morgue while everyone fervently watches the download progress bar creep across the screen. Someone calls 911 on behalf of the storage admin, who is laid out on a desk in the corner, whimpering softly, his eyes rolling aimlessly in his head. The progress bar moves ahead another percent. An interminable gulf of time now exists, and all in the room know that this is just the first part -- the actual firmware isn't even being downloaded yet. But finally the Java download assistant has been downloaded. Thank God the CEO hasn't arrived yet.

The network admin starts the installer. It launches, but disaster strikes yet again -- it requires JRE 1.6.11, the admin's laptop only has JRE 1.6.5. The storage admin's whimpering ceases as he quietly expires. Nobody notices.

The only one with his wits about him, the head networking guru leaps toward the table and snatches the laptop. He runs at breakneck speed to the elevators, but veers in the direction of the stairs. He jumps down the steps two, three at a time, the laptop swinging from his hand like a frisbee ready to fly.

He reaches the ground floor, runs onto the sidewalk, and hurtles through the doors of the coffee shop next door. Wrenching the laptop open, he jumps onto the free Wi-Fi, and pumps through the steps to download the right JRE. As it starts, he screams at a hipster streaming "Garden State" to his iPhone to stop stealing all the bandwidth.

Finally, the download completes, and he updates the JRE version. It's only then that he can start installing the download assistant, pounding his fists on the table in frustration. At last, he's finally ready to download the core switch firmware that will save the day.

But he's coming from a different IP address now, and the vendor support site terminates his session and kicks him back to square one. Swearing loudly, tears of madness flowing down his face, he logs in and again wades through page after page of nonsense to find the one firmware image he needs. After an hour of trial and tribulation, along with several hours of downtime, he has finally succeeded. The image is there.

He blasts through the coffee shop doors, back into the building and back up the stairs, two at a time, then one at a time, then staggering out of breath. He runs back into the NOC, through the operations room doors, and screeches to a halt. It's empty, save for the deceased storage admin and a slightly drunk CEO in a disheveled tuxedo, sporting a red face, a shaky finger, and a visage of pure outrage.

The laptop clatters to the floor as the CEO terminates him with extreme prejudice.

As he stares at the floor of the elevator on his way to the ground floor, he can only think to himself, "One file. All I needed was one file...."

(The above drama is based on a 35-minute escapade during which I tried to download firmware from Cisco's support page. On a very fast link, some pages would take several minutes to appear and the download was interminable once the data started flowing. Luckily, the situation wasn't quite as critical as the one depicted. Nonetheless, please, please, IT vendors, don't let Flash, heavy JavaScript, "download assistants," or other nonsense get in the way of critical information or updates. Lives are at stake.)

This story, "Danger: This tech support page contains marketing crap," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog at InfoWorld.com.

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