Appalling Customer Service From Virgin Media Business

Since our Suberhub was unfortunate enough to receive the new BUS_V2.37.13 firmware around the 21/10/14 our whole experience with Virgin Media Business Broadband has been terrible, totally a joke would sum it up quite well.

Now in all fairness to NTL / Virgin Media Business, the company I work for has been with them since around 2003 / 2004 for business broadband, i’m told the company has never had any major problems in the past. I’ve worked here for over 3 years and the only issue with the internet until recently 30mins of downtime one morning. However earlier this year we upgraded from the legacy 10mbit package to fastest package available to Virgin Media Business Broadband connection available at the time, 50mbit. Part of this upgrade included our old modem been swapped for a Superhub, which is essentially a modem / router combo.

In our setup the Superhub is essentially used as a modem, we have five static IP addresses which are assigned to our own router. The only thing the Superhub is doing is providing the internet connection. Wireless and any additional functionality is disabled on the Superhub.

The Superhub in this configuration has worked great in our office from May 2014 to October 2014, however all that change when Virgin updated our Superhub firmware from BUS_V2.37.06 to BUS_V2.37.13.

Since then our Superhub has not been able to go much more than 12 hours without crashing. Essentially the internet goes down, the Superhub is inaccessible via its web interface and the only thing that will fix the issue is switching the Superhub off and on again. Doing so allows the Superhub to work for another 12 hours before crashing again.

Over the last five weeks I have been trying to get this problem resolved with Virgin Media, which to all intents and purposes has become a total joke now. No communication exists between anyone at Virgin Media and certainly no communication between Virgin Media to myself on how and when this issue is going to be resolved.

I’m writing this blog of my experiences so far, with the hope of someone with some authority at Virgin Media reading this and doing something about it. About the only positive thing I can say about my experience so far is for Business customers Virgin Media appear to have call centres based in the UK and not other countries like for home broadband customers.

First Call to Virgin Media Business Broadband Customer Services – 21/10/14

The first time i called Virgin Media about the issue of our Superhub crashing was around the 21/10/14. During this call some tests were run on our connection which came back fine, I then explained I thought the problem was with the new BUS_V2.37.13 firmware which had been rolled out to our Superhub. I was told other business customers were reporting problems with the new BUS_V2.37.13 firmware and that someone would call within the next day to downgrade our Superhub back to the BUS_V2.37.06 firmware, which had worked perfectly over the last few months. Sure enough I got a call the next day from an engineer who downgraded the Superhub firmware, after that and all was good for the next few weeks. The Superhub never crashed after that. Pretty good customer service I thought.

Second Call to Virgin Media Business Broadband Customer Services – 17/11/14

Around 17/11/14 I called Virgin Media again as our Superhub had been crashing over night again for the last few days. The Superhub had been upgraded to the new BUS_V2.37.13 again. I was told our connection was fine and this would be escalated to second line support so the Superhub could be downgraded again to the previous BUS_V2.37.06 firmware. When I asked if we would automatically be upgraded again to the newer firmware I was told our account could be tagged so we wouldn’t be upgraded to that firmware again until the issue we were having was resolved.

Third Call to Virgin Media Business Broadband Customer Services – 20/11/14

On the 20/11/14 I called Virgin Media again as no one from second line support had returned my previous call from the 17/11. I explained what had happened previously and asked if our Superhubs firmware could be downgraded again. I was told the Superhub could no longer be downgraded as it would automatically be upgraded again during the night, and no way around this existed.

So that totally contradicts what the previous person told me on the 17th… great.

I was informed the Superhub crashing issue was been looked in to as other business customers had been reporting the same issues. I was then told that someone would call me back within 24 hours and advise me what was going to be done to resolve the issue. Friday came and went, no one had called me back again. (21/11/14)

Fourth Call to Virgin Media Business Broadband Customer Services – 24/11/14

On Monday 24/11/14 I called up Virgin Media again and somehow ended up at their main switchboard after been on hold about 15 mins, I was told I would be transferred to customer support. After been on hold for another 30 minutes apparently I had been transferred through to sales, so was then told I would be transferred again…

After finally been on hold for over an hour the person I was speaking to had no idea why no one had yet called me back about this issue. Some tests were once again run on the line, which of course found nothing wrong just like the previous three calls. I was once again told this would be escalated to second line support who would get back to me within 24 hours. Despite explaining this was supposed to happen last week, and never did, he said as first line support he could do nothing more. I got the impression the person on the other end of the phone couldn’t care less either way.

Useless

Photo of my phone after I had been on hold with Virgin Media for over an hour. At the start of this call I entered my reference number when asked for a pin number (this is what I have blurred out) thinking that might get me through to someone a bit quicker. It didn’t.

 

Fifth Call to Virgin Media Business Broadband Customer Services – 26/11/14

Sure enough its now Wendesday (26/11) and no one from Virgin Media has bothered to call me back. Meanwhile our modem has crashed every night meaning our server hasn’t completed its off site backup to Windows Azure in over a week. No one has been able to remote desktop in to the office, or access anything hosted on our Office server.

So I enjoyed another 45 mins on hold to Virgin Media listing to some space age on hold music. When I finally got to speak to someone, he actually agreed the length of our ongoing problem was unacceptable, which on his system showed as been on-going since 20/11/14. He escalated me to second line support with the view of sending an engineer out. This time I was put on hold and not told someone would call me back within 24 hours. Thinking its a firmware problem i couldn’t see how a new modem would be of any benefit, however i wasn’t going to say no now i had actually got somewhere.

Sure enough the result of this called was a very friendly engineer came out and spent about two and a half hours at our office swapping our old Superhub out for a new one. I have nothing against the engineer himself he was probably one of the friendliest people I have met in a long time, however I do question the quality of the training Virgin Media have given employees.

Apparently Virgin have recently given engineers new laptops running Windows 7 and have taken away their old Laptops running Windows XP. The engineer sent out to us had clearly not been trained on how to use this new laptop, which he indirectly said so himself. I ended up having to show him how to set a static ip address on a network connection on Windows 7, I felt a bit awkward doing that as I didn’t want to tell him how to do his job, then again I also felt bad watching him struggle to find where to do this on Windows 7.

After he had been here for well over an hour the engineer called his college who still had an old Laptop running Windows XP, when he arrived I just left them both to it not wanting to get in the way. After around two and a half hours our new Superhub was up and running with our static ip subnet configured.

On Thursday (27/11) the modem was fine all day, however looking on the modems web interface the next morning I could see it had been restarted during the night, which is probably the reason it hadn’t crashed the next morning.

Sixth Call to Virgin Media Business Broadband Customer Services – 28/11/14

Come Friday (28/11) the Superhub had once again crashed, exactly the same as the Superhub that just got replaced. Our server had not completed its backup to Windows Azure which is scheduled to take place at midnight, so the modem must have crashed sometime before then.

I called Virgin Media again and actually got through to someone in under 10 minutes for once which was nice. I quoted my previous reference number which he sad had been closed on Wednesday as an engineer was sent out… great so now were back to square one. I told him that was unacceptable given how long this has now been ongoing for, however as first line support all he could do was run some tests on the line, which obviously came back ok and open up a new support ticket for us… maybe closing the old one as resolved looks good for internal statistics at Virgin Media?  He told me someone would call back within 24 hours. I informed him the office was closed on Saturday 29/11 as per the business hours he had for our company on file. He informed all been well someone would call later that day. So I was hoping for a call before 5pm yesterday, as I suspected never happened…

Current State of out Broadband Service – 29/11/14

Sure enough today I have had a call and text message saying our internet connection is down again… luckily we have a sales rep in the showroom who has been able to switch the modem on and off again, restoring the connection.

However I do image by Sunday morning the Superhub will have crashed again, which means our server will not have completed it’s offsite backup to Windows Azure once again (I take manual backups too don’t worry) and no one will be able to remote desktop to their office PC, or access any files hosted on our server until Monday.

Its pretty obvious this is a problem with the firmware on the Superhub, which was basically confirmed the first time I called up five weeks ago… however it appears no one at Virgin Media speaks to each other. Everyone I have spoken to has told me something different, or simply wasted my time and Virgin Media’s time.

From reading websites such as Cable Forum I can see we’re not the only business with this issue, and not the business getting no where with Virgin Media customer support. From my experiences so far I have little faith Virgin Media are actively doing anything to resolve this problem, or are even aware of any issues.

Until Virgin can be bothered to sort this out what am I supposed to do? Get a timer plug and set it to cut the power from the modem every 12 hours for a few minutes so the modem can be reset when no one is there?

24-hour-plug-In-timer-switch

I guess a 24 hour plug in timer switch would be a very dirty fix for Virgin Media’s Superhub…

I guess in an ideal world we would have a leased line, however been a fairly small business a minimum of £500+ a month for one is way more than the business can afford.

Seventh Call to Virgin Media Business Broadband Customer Services – 01/12/14

Sure enough the Superhub crashed again on Saturday night, so the office was left without an internet connection all of Sunday, meaning no one could remote desktop in. So first thing Monday morning I called Virgin Media up again. This time the person i spoke to actually acknowledged an issue on the 50meg Business Broadband Package Existed.

He read me a statement out over the phone from the senior fault engineer basically saying this issue only affects 50meg Business Broadband connections and is been treated with the “highest priority” He want on to say something to the effect of more and more business customers reporting issue, however its a firmware issue that Virgin can’t resolve.

I was then basically told because Virgin Media cant provide me service I would be able to leave my contract early, I explained no real alternative exists (sadly!). I was then told i could either upgrade to the 152meg business service the firmware issue doesn’t exist on the modem used for this connection tier, or simply put up with the modem crashing for every 12 hours for the foreseeable future. The upgrade from 50meg to 152meg would apparently add £3 to our bill, brining it to a total of £60 a month. The person i was speaking to said he would have it put on file that we wouldn’t have to pay the £50 install / upgrade fee. With that in mind I told him I just wanted the problem sorting and to upgrade our connection if that would be the easiest solution.

I was then transferred to someone else and kept on hold for another 10 minutes, only to be told I had been transferred to the wrong department (again!!!) and that i needed to speak to someone in sales. So i was yet put on hold again and thankfully only had to wait a couple of minutes this time.

Here i spoke to a very friendly lass called Bethany, who again had no idea of my previous call with the first person i had spoke to, despite him taking details to put on our file, which she would have access to (so i was told). I basically explained all that had happened and said i wanted to upgrade to the 152meg package. That was all fine, then she told me they would be a £50 installation fee. I told her the first person i spoke to had put this on our file and said we wouldn’t have to pay this due to all the problems with out 50meg service over the last six weeks. She said that she couldnt let the £50 install fee go and i would have to phone customer services back within first month after the 152meg service had been installed to get the £50 refund… great yet one person telling me something and someone else at Virgin Media telling me something else.

Then comes more bad news, i’m told Virgin can not currently offer static IP’s on the 152meg Business Broadband service, despite Virgins Media’s own website stating otherwise. Apparently that is worded very poorly and the static IP only applies to the 50meg tier.

 

virgin-media-business-static-ip

I did read that as getting a static IP on either 152meg or 50meg, however i guess it could also read as 50meg only. Despite that the 152meg page did read something to the effect of static ip address where available (that has now been removed) so i didn’t think that would be a problem given i currently have 5x static IP’s on the 50meg service.

 

As i currently have a block of 5x static IP’s on the 50meg service it’s hard to comprehend something that is been sold as the next tier up actually offers less than the previous tier.

So now i can either:

  1. Leave Virgin Media
  2. Put up with our Superhub crashing every 12 hours
  3. Upgrade to 152meg and loose our static IP address, meaning people will not be able to use Remote Desktop Web Access if the IP address randomly changes.

After some thought i decided to upgrade to 152meg to hopefully get a stable connection, having no static IP address is not ideal, however presuming it works the same as Virgins Home Broadband service the IP address you obtain will never change unless you connect the Superhub to a device with a different mac address. I’ve had the same IP address for years at home with Virgin Media, despite going from a VMNG300 modem to a Superhub.

I guess the worst case scenario is ill have to use use a Dynamic DNS service such as No-IP until Virgin are able to offer static IP’s, or look at getting them from else where.

Current Status – 02/12/14

After agreeing to go with the 152meg service i’ve had to sign a SMB Tenant Wayleave, giving Virgin permission to install and keep telecommunications equipment at the premises… despite Virgin having already equipment here for the last 10 years.

Likewsie despite the business already paying Virgin by Direct Debit, i’ve had to get a new Direct Debit Mandate signed.

Maybe that is normal practice, however the reason I found all this a bit strange is because upgrading from the legacy 10meg business broadband tier to 50meg involved none of that.

Now i’m currently waiting for a site survey. When I asked why this was necessary I was told the cable used for connecting the modem up might suitable for 152meg.

Going from 50meg to 152meg seems to be a lot of extra work, considering going from 10meg to 50meg involved a simple phone call, then confirming I wanted to do that via email. Then finally an engineer coming out a week later with a Superhub to replace the old modem.

However i’m told all should be sorted out within 15 days, so all been well any internet issue should be sorted out by December 16th.

Status Update – 12/12/14

A week ago today 05/12/14 Virgin came to do a site survey, after seeing we were already a Business Broadband customer the engineer said ill go to my van and get you a new modem, I might as well upgrade now you as there’s nothing for me to do here.

He simply switched the old Super Hub for a new Super Hub 2 AC, verified the internet was working and we were getting the full 152meg, which we were, then he left.

All i did after that was put the Superhub 2 in modem mode, then reconfigure our router to obtain and IP address from the SuperHub 2 and then hoped for the best.

I came in to work on Monday morning and the internet connection was fine, the new SuperHub 2 hadn’t crashed, same story all this week.

It’s impossible to see how long the SuperHub 2 has been connected as no statistics like that are available in modem mode, however looking at our router it staates the connection has currently been up for 7 days, 6 hours.

virgin-media-superhub-2-ac-business-connection-time

 

So there we have it, 45 days later the problem was fixed.

The only downside now is we do not have a Static IP address, however our IP address has not changed all week and i’m lead to believe it’s only ever likely to if the Mac address was changed on the router. As Virgin will offer Static IP’s in Q1 next year it’s not too much of an issue at the moment, given its unlikely our IP will change in the mean time. The main thing is we appear to have a reliable internet connection once again!

Small 8 Bay Home Nas / ESXI Server Build – U-NAS NSC-800

A Small 8 Bay Home Nas / ESXI Server is something I had been wanting to build for a while. Unfortunately small and 8x 3.5″ drive bays are not something that can be often found together in the same sentence when looking to build your own home NAS / ESXI Server Build.

However i then found the U-NAS NSC-800 which was perfect for the job of housing my 8 Bay Home Nas

The U-NAS NSC-800 featured:

  • 8 x 3.5” SATA/SAS Hot-Swap Drive Bays
  • 1x 2.5″ HDD/SSD Internal Drive Bays
  • 1x PCI / PCI Express Expansion Slots
  • 316mm x 254mm x 180mm dimensions
  • Mini ITX motherboard compatibility
  • The SAS breakout cables were already fitted in the case, so all I required was an actual SAS  SATA / Raid controller.

The most important thing here was the 8x SATA drive bays which i could fill with large 3.5″ drives with space for an internal 2.5″ hard drive / SSD for installing the OS on, or the data store for virtual machines when running Vmware ESXI in my case.

The PCI Express expansion slot would be perfect for a SATA / Raid controller which would be essential to connect up the 8x drives, finally i could fit a Mini-ITX motherboard with all that in the case.

This was perfect as i could use the 4x 3.5″ drives from my HP Proliant Microserver and the existing motherboard, ram, processor and 2.5″ drives from my VMware ESXI Low Power Home Server Lab Build, essentially combining my NAS and ESXI servers in to one small server, with room to expand as my storage needs grew.

I purchased the U-NAS NSC-800 directly from the manufacturers website, it was shipped to the UK via FedEx which took a week, as expected i was charged import duty which i believe was about £25. I think in total I spent about £150 on the U-NAS NSC-800 case, which I guess is not too bad when you consider the price of other high end cases. It was more than i would have liked to have spent, however given the U-NAS NSC-800 is such niche product I was happy enough.

Building an 8 Bay Home Nas in the U-NAS NSC-800 Case:

I didnt really have too many problems building in the U-NAS NSC-800 case, the 1U FLEX 250W PSU i had purchased wasnt really the best fit for the case (which i never realised when purchasing) however with a tie wrap it could be held firmly in place. Not exactly a professional solution, however it worked well enough. Getting the motherboard in to the side of the U-NAS NSC-800 was tricky, as i had to connect everything to the motherboard, then slide it down the case and screw it in, been careful no wires went over, or near the CPU cooler. I wouldn’t want to be doing that often, however simply taking your time is the key here.

Front view of the finished U-NAS NSC-800-1 build

Front view of the finished U-NAS NSC-800 build, plugged in and powered on

Angled view of the finished U-NAS NSC-800-1 build

Angled view of the finished U-NAS NSC-800 build

Back view of the finished U-NAS NSC-800-1 build

Back view of the finished U-NAS NSC-800 build, the 2x 120mm back fans keep everything nice and cool.

U-NAS NSC-800 Internals

View of the internals, the PSU wiring makes it look kind of messy, however everything fits in great and is nice and neat. The SSD is mounted below the hard drive you can see in the bottom middle.

 

My current 8 Bay Home Nas Specification:

For the reasoning behind my hardware choice I would recommend you have a read of my previous blog: VMware ESXI Low Power Home Server Lab Build to summarise however it was been able to have a server capable of running Vmware ESXi, that had a fair amounts of CPU power behind it, however didn’t use excessive amounts of CPU power when idle. Power usage tests and more are included in the blog post i liked to.

The Corsair 120GB Force 3 SSD was taken from a PC i had recently upgraded, if i was building this today I would get a larger SSD and not bother with the Western Digital Scorpio Blue 1TB Hard Drive as a secondary datastore.

Small 8 Bay Home Nas / ESXI Server Build Software Configuration / What Do I Use It For?

The server boots VMware ESXi 5.5 from a USB drive which is mounted internally. ESXi has two data stores for Virtual Machines, the SSD has a Windows Server 2012 Essentials R2 VM which acts are the “Home Server”. This has the HighPoint Rocket 2720SGL SATA controller passed through to it, giving the Virtual Machine direct access to any of the hard drive present in the 8x drive bays. I currently have 4x 4TB drives in the server. The majority of this space is used for TV Show and Movies i have ripped from Blu-rays / DVD’s (legal to do here in the UK), downloads and of-course daily backups from each of the PC’s around the home.

I have Plex Media Server installed which will share my entire media library to any device around the house running Plex Home Theater, XBMC or even a web browser. Thanks to the processing power of the Core i7 3770T the server is more than capable of transcoding media in real time for playback on any device, no matter what codecs it supports.

Also setup is a SFTP server which receives automated webserver and MySQL backups for various websites I have hosted on a dedicated server elsewhere.

I have an Ubuntu Server 14.04 LTS VM which runs OpenVPN so i can securely connect to my home network from remote locations, or simply browse the internet securely when in a public location.

Finally i have an old Windows Server 2003 VM which is running a dedicated game server for Unreal Tournament 2004. This server was setup back in 2008 originally on a dedicated server paid for by myself and three other friends, however as upload speeds have gradually improved on home broadband connections and people lost interest in the game i ended up hosting this at home.

I do plan to also set-up a PFSense Virtual Machine so the server can also be my home router. The Gigabyte GA-Z77N-WIFI motherboard has two on-board gigabit NIC’s so one of them will be directly connected to the modem and the other a switch, really making this server the centre of my home network.

I also have various other VM’s for leaning and experimenting with, pathetically useful as i have been experimenting and learning more about Windows Server, having a virtual network has certainly been handy for this.

Final Thoughts:

I have been really pleased with my U-NAS NSC-800 small 8 Bay home nas / ESXi server build, It’s been around a year since I originally set this up and it has run 24/7, sat in a cupboard ever since then. The only time the server has been off is for an afternoon where I had a power cut which lasted around an hour. With the new 6TB hard drives that are now entering the market i could get up to 48TB of storage in to this small home nas, more than i would ever need in the near future. For my own personal use this has been a great asset for learning, powering my home network and of-course storing all my data / backups. I have still only used 4x of the bays, so i think its pretty safe to say i’m future proofed for the foreseeable future anyway!

Extra Reading:

Install Windows 8.1 with Windows 8.0 Product Key / Serial Number

Installing Windows 8.1 using your Windows 8.0 key is not as easy as it should be, Microsoft first want you to install Windows 8.0, then upgrade to 8.1 using the Windows Store, then after that install Windows 8.1 Update 1 and any Windows Updates released after that.

That is a lot of wasted time both downloading and installing updates, even more so if you have a slow internet connection.

However you can simply install Windows 8.1 with update 1 using your Windows 8 key. This doesn’t matter if the key is a retail key, upgrade key or OEM key this method will work perfectly fine with Windows 8 Core or Pro Editions.

How to install Windows 8.1 as a clean install, without installing Windows 8.0 first.

First you need a clean, untouched Windows 8.1 Update 1 ISO, if you have a Technet or MDSN subscription you can simply download the ISO’s from there like I have. If you don’t i have included the file name and SHA1 of the ISO below, along with a magenet link.

To download the magnet link in uTorrent simply go File > Add Torrent From URL and copy and paste the magnet link in.

Typing the SHA1 Windows 8.1 Update 1 edition you want in to Google should find you a download too. Simply check the SHA1 of the ISO you download to the SHA1 here to ensure the ISO is clean and has not been tampered with.

Windows 8.1 with Update (multiple editions) (x64) – DVD (English)
File Name: en_windows_8.1_with_update_x64_dvd_4065090.iso
Languages: English (US)
SHA1: 4652DC6EBFEBE02C6A63E167C36E3FAEDFB93999
Download: magnet:?xt=urn:btih:F3EA2D2939380BB32F2B67E2E3ABABB5CD202F75

Windows 8.1 with Update (multiple editions) (x86) – DVD (English)
File Name: en_windows_8.1_with_update_x86_dvd_4065105.iso
Languages: English (US)
SHA1: 54B8572556B316A6BECE54C5033564E3296F5951
Download: magnet:?xt=urn:btih:BBC17FEB235417FC8F252A82CCA2CD50F20D16CA

Windows 8.1 with Update (multiple editions) (x86) – DVD (English-United Kingdom)
File Name: en-gb_windows_8.1_with_update_x86_dvd_4048086.iso
Languages: English (GB)
SHA1: 3B589873A08C3AEC7E525968D03878F2A239B187
Download: magnet:?xt=urn:btih:F3EA2D2939380BB32F2B67E2E3ABABB5CD202F75

Windows 8.1 with Update (multiple editions) (x64) – DVD (English-United Kingdom)
File Name: en-gb_windows_8.1_with_update_x64_dvd_4048142.iso
Languages: English (GB)
SHA1: 1F18420D65956DFE56E2359DA71AB6C363146570
Download: magnet:?xt=urn:btih:1e5515925ad8e699cb072716abbf3e3d91af2785

Clean Install of Windows 8.1 Update 1

So you have now obtained a clean Windows 8.1 ISO, you simply want to install Windows 8.1 as normal, however using one of the following default keys below depending on if you have the Core or Pro edition of Windows 8.1

Core: 334NH-RXG76-64THK-C7CKG-D3VPT
Professional: XHQ8N-C3MCJ-RQXB6-WCHYG-C9WKB

Please note: The above keys will not allow you to activate Windows 8.1, simply install it.

Installing a Windows 8.0 key on Windows 8.1 via Command Prompt:

1. Run a Command Prompt with administrator rights
2. Type slmgr.vbs -ipk AAAAA-BBBBB-CCCCC-DDDDD-EEEEE (ABCDE is your purchased key for that machine)

Windows 8.1 Product Key Install
3. Reboot and Windows will be activated

Windows 8.1 Product Key ActivateThat it, you have installed Windows 8.1 with Update 1 and activated using your Windows 8.0 key, saving you a lot of time by skipping hours of downloading and updating. I hope this method saves you as much time as it’s saved me over the last year.