Issue #17 March 2006

Red Hat Speaks

Iain Gray, Senior Director, Global Support Services

This month, we're talking to Red Hat's Senior Director of Global Support. Iain Gray is responsible for the delivery of global, follow-the-sun support for Red Hat's customers. With 18 years experience in the IT industry, Gray displays his deft hand managing Red Hat's worldwide support centers to meet the needs of enterprise end-users, ISVs, OEMs, and channel partners.

First, let's cover the basics. How large are the support teams at Red Hat? Where are they located?
We currently have over 160 technical support staff in the Red Hat Global Support Services team and we're continually expanding, both in terms of the number of staff and our geographic reach. Our primary technical support centers are in Raleigh North Carolina, Brisbane Australia, Guildford England and Pune India. In 2005 we launched a support center in Beijing to support the rapidly growing local market for Red Hat in Greater China. In addition to these primary sites, we have support teams in California, Japan and Korea.
With diverse teams and global customers, how do you overcome language and cultural barriers?
We do it the easy way by hiring local nationals. For example, our support center in the UK is staffed by engineers from France, Germany, Italy, Spain and other European countries. In Brisbane Australia, we've found it surprisingly easy to recruit a team of Japanese engineers. In this way, we're always capable of delivering high quality local-language support to our customers, as well as creating a vibrant, multi-cultural working environment for our staff.
What kinds of customers use Red Hat Support?
Diverse and demanding ones; that's what makes our job so enjoyable! We have customers from every industry using the Red Hat platform in every conceivable way: embedded devices, network appliances, massive computational grids, clustered database servers, desktops - you name it we're supporting it. The common theme is that these platforms are all business-critical and therefore our customers demand an enterprise-class level of service. That means going beyond just being knowledgeable about our products. Our customers expect a fast turnaround, detailed, proactive communication and above all, absolute accountability for the issues that they raise.
What kinds of support does Red Hat offer?
We essentially offer 2 main types of support. The traditional 'around the clock' production support implemented via level 1, 2 & 3 support teams of increasing product specialization. For our enterprise-class customers, we also offer a Technical Account Manager (TAM) who acts as a proactive, single point of contact for all support requirements. Supplementing these we have support offerings specifically aimed at software developers as well as our our freely available knowledgebase.
How long have you been in the job?
I've been at Red Hat for 10 months. Before that I worked for a couple of different Unix system vendors both in the US and the UK.
I've heard a lot about "follow the sun" support. Can you tell us what that means?
Follow the sun in the method by which we implement 'around the clock', continuous effort support. When a customer raises a call in the US during our business day and we need to continue to research that issue out of normal US hours, we transfer that call to our support center in Brisbane Australia. The team in Australia work the issue during their business day and if needed, transfer the issue to England and the research continues until it's back in the US first thing in the morning next day. Clearly, the success of this model depends on effective and efficient communication of both technical and customer information between the sites. We've worked hard to implement rock-solid processes and tools to enable that transfer. A break in the chain can be catastrophic to our customers and therefore isn't an option.
In December, CIO Insight Magazine's Vendor Value study ranked Red Hat #1 in Value for the second year in a row. What do you think our support services contribute to that ranking?
The #1 ranking is a reflection of the value that our customers derive not only from our products, but from way we deliver those products through our annual subscription model. Providing high quality technical support is just one part of the value of the subscription, albeit a very important one! I also think that the subscription model keeps us on our toes as a support provider. We know that we're judged on our abilities each and every time a customer decides to renew their annual subscription. That ensures we maintain high standards and that we strive for continuous improvement.
Could you tell us about a time when one of your support staff had to go to extraordinary lengths to help a customer?
You know, it sounds cheesy, but it's almost a daily occurrence. When I joined Red Hat, what struck me was the passion our staff have for Red Hat, for the technology and for the broader open source communities within which we participate; it's much more than a 9-to-5 job for our employees. From a technical support perspective this translates into a genuine desire to ensure our customers succeed with our platform. It's been refreshing for me to see such high levels of enthusiasm and a willingness to do whatever it takes to get the customer back on track.
What do you like to do when you're not at work?
I run to support my unhealthy vices and as a Scot, getting used to the humidity of North Carolina has been a big challenge; small children wave as they go by. However, the golf around here is second only to my home country!