Thursday, March 07, 2013

Getting things done...

As an IT Pro at a small company, I rarely get to do the fun stuff.  Instead I spend most of my time putting out fires and fielding requests that in the end nothing happens with.

Ideally I'd like to spend 75% of my time on projects and the other 25% on help desk stuff.  Currently that ratio is flipped and I get constantly interrupted while doing the project work.  But don't kid yourself, help desk items are the first indicators of a greater issue.  Use them as part of the Root Cause Analysis of the problem.

The projects I'm focused on these days involve Email, Phones, Infrastructure, and IT Operations.  Getting these areas stabilized and improved is a time consuming process and that's if Management doesn't change its mind (which of course never happens).

For a small firm these four areas are conceptually easy to maintain but in practice when you're a one-person IT department with a limited budget, it's a daily struggle.

Oh, if it were only so easy as to go with a hosted solutions - everyone run to the Cloud!  Sometimes management has their own ideas about email and if they want total control, there is no choice but to have an on-premise solution.  And when that happens, you have to build out processes that encompass availability (anytime, anywhere access), security (spam filtering), continuity (spooling of messages), and archiving (storage of each & every inbound & outbound message).  Oh, how that gets expensive & complex.  Let's hear it for the Cloud! 

Just like email, if management has their own ideas about phone service and wants rock solid stability, PBX is still the way to go.  Even with advances in the technology used by VoIP providers, cloud-based voice service providers have the sound quality of mobile calls.  And when troubleshooting them invariably there is finger pointing and commentary such as, "Well, it's your local area network where the problem is and we can't do anything about that." Even with a VoIP solution, you still need to build out a separate local area network in order to ensure Quality of Service (don't kid yourself, configuring QoS on network devices to prioritize traffic gets very complex) and even after all that is done, you still have the Public Internet to worry about. 

Have you built out your local area network to support both wired & wireless connections?  How many of your employees are glued to their desk and using a traditional desktop PC these days?  This is actually the best scenario but not the norm anymore.  Oh, so the majority of your employees have laptops - what's network performance like when everyone is watching YouTube while connected via the wireless LAN?  What's your company's BYoD policy?  BYoD dramatically affects the performance of the local area network because everyone of those personally owned devices is pinging the Internet every few seconds for things like a status update for Facebook or new information for the weather widget installed by default on that smart phone.  Let's not forget about Software-as-a-Service and the Cloud.  Basically your LAN should be as fast as possible, spend as much money as management allows on a high amount of bandwidth from your ISP, have a backup ISP in place, and put SLA contracts in place with the ISP as well as every Cloud vendor because there will be disruptions and its just a matter of determining who is responsible for what.

IT Operations:
All of the above cumulatively make up IT Operations but they aren't everything.  How do you identify & authenticate users on the local area network?  If Microsoft's Active Directory is your identify & directory service of choice, do you have multiple Domain Controllers in case of a failure?  What are your backup & recovery processes in case AD crashes?  How many file servers do you have?  What are the backup & recovery processes for them?  What kinds of solutions do you have in place for whole system recovery of a physical server?  What do you have in place to protect your virtual servers?  There is file level backup and then there is whole system level backup - have multiple options for both.  Do you have a backup of the configuration of the phone system hardware?  What are your processes to recover your Exchange mail store if it crashes?  If your firewall crashes, do you have processes in place to acquire a replacement piece of hardware in an acceptable amount of time?  When was the last time you made a copy of the firewall's configuration file?  Backup & Recovery are the bane of every IT Pro's existence but perhaps the most important thing they'll every do because when things aren't working, the pressure is on. 


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