“When You Get a PFE… You Don’t Get a Person, You Get a Team.”

Our organization has been hiring like crazy, so we have been conducting a lot of interviews. One thing that we hear a lot is: “I think I know what a PFE is, but what does a Dedicated Support Engineer (DSE) do?”

We recently received this submission for a blog post that explains what one of our Exchange DSEs on the team has been doing recently. It seemed like a great time to post it in its entirety below:

What does a DSE do?

Focused on helping you improve IT health, we empower your IT team to drive successful deployments, plan for supportability and improve systems availability. My technology is Exchange and here is a success story of my customer who was in the planning stages of deploying Exchange 2010 and migrating off Exchange 2003.

Build on the Capabilities of Your IT Team

Starting on the account, the first thing we did was to completely understand the customer’s unique IT environment by having a series of meetings with their Engineering and Support groups. These meetings helped us review their existing architecture and give us an understanding of their objectives, short and long term goals, timelines, assess the staff readiness, focus areas, capabilities, expectations and requirements for onsite or remote support. Based on the information we gathered and working along with the Technical Account Manager (TAM) we developed a Service Delivery Plan (SDP) for the year.

Team for Successful Deployments and Migrations

The immediate goal for my customer was to complete the Exchange 2010 Design, Testing and Deployment and then to start migrating the mailboxes. Their Engineering Group was on a very tight time line and had very limited training on Exchange 2010. As they kicked off their planning phase and before they started the design phase of the project, we did a series of Chalk Talks and Knowledge Transfer sessions customized to their specific business requirements for the Exchange 2010 project like Co-existence with Exchange 2003, Name Space Planning, Proxying and Redirection, High Availability and Site Resiliency, Transport, Client Access and RBAC. The customer was now able to start their design with the skills required. My next task was to provide a thorough in-depth and detailed assessment of the planned configuration for supportability, review the design to validate future supportability and make recommendations based on best practices around their particular business scenarios. The customer was able to complete the design in line with their project goals. As their testing phase started, I helped them put together a test plan to include the required test cases like Jetstress, Loadgen and Disaster Recovery. During the Jetstress testing I worked on resolving a major issue with storage that had stalled the project. This was a multi-vendor environment that required coordination with storage vendors, hardware vendors, and Microsoft. I led the effort to resolution by getting input and discussing the specifics of the customer’s issues with the extended PFE Group, Exchange Product Group and MCS Consultants. This is my favorite saying that I tell my customers based on this experience… “When you get a DSE you don’t get a person, you get a team.”* The customer has completed the testing phase and is currently piloting the migration.

All along the project as the real-world best practices are updated, new items are added and as we identify issues or bugs during our internal meetings, I constantly provide feedback, perform a detailed analysis on the impact on their environment and to their design, help them plan and develop alternate solutions.

Maximize Your IT Investment and Help Your IT Operation Go Proactive

As the customer completed the testing phase, my goal was to work on upgrading the skills of their Operations Staff from Exchange 2003 to Exchange 2010. Customer requested complete customization of the training around their specific tasks for the support group and some formal training for the Engineering group. I got accredited to deliver the required formal training on "Exchange 2010: High Availability". We developed a training plan customized around basics of Exchange 2010 based on their specific design, upgrading Administration skills from Exchange 2003 to Exchange 2010, Message Tracking, Managing Queues, PowerShell for Exchange Admins, and Monitoring to help the operations team to quickly upgrade their skills from Exchange 2003 and make the support seamless for end-users during migration and post deployment.

When we had the Virus Impact Worm:Win32/Visal.B, even though some of our other customers were impacted, we were able to coordinate the effort internally and proactively help my customer by alerting them and putting blocks in place to minimize the impact. As a proactive measure the PFE team is currently wrapping up development on a Chalk Talk session that can help customers prepare for these situations.

Every “Patch Tuesday”, I review the patches released, perform an assessment on the relevance to the customer and provide constant feedback. During a recent patch cycle for MS Security Bulletin MS11-028, the community helped us identify that there were some issues with the patch going on to the Exchange servers and I was able to alert my customer. The patches were scheduled to go on that weekend and we were able to exclude or validate the issue in their environments before deploying.

Throughout the engagement I share the knowledge of the customer’s environment with other Microsoft resources to help them more effectively deliver proactive services, such as Health Checks and Risk Assessment Programs. Since I understand the customers environment, I facilitate problem-resolution efforts should any issues arise, providing an initial assessment, ensuring customer has the right data (logs etc.), which helps reduce the time to resolution. I provide a root-cause analysis of any critical situation, as well as recommendations and plans for preventing recurrences of the issue.

To help my customer provide efficient and effective IT services, I constantly thrive to transform their IT operations from a reactive support function to a proactive business resource. Acting as a trusted advisor, I tightly integrate with the customer teams, working alongside with them on a daily basis, equipping them with the knowledge, tools and techniques to manage their environment effectively.

So if you are in the process of Deployment and Migration of a Microsoft Technology or trying to achieve Operational Excellence for your IT, check with your TAM on how a DSE can help you reach the goal.

*  To be clear…  The term used here is an effort to show how well the PFE group works with other groups in Microsoft on behalf of the customer.  It is not to imply that you get MCS, or any additional Premier Services simply because you purchase PFE services.

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