Monday, April 26, 2010

I've moved to my own site!

O hai! I'm not here anymore because I've moved to my own Wordpress blog! You can find me at:


http://www.TheNubbyAdmin.com/


That's right, I'm just an IT nublet, trying to be less nubby. No shame in admitting that. Change your bookmarks and tell your friends. It's going to be a wild ride as I settle into a new job, create my own business and attempt to de-nubify myself.


Come on over and join in as life and experience unfolds. I'll be there waiting for you!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

ProjectCartoon.com – How projects REALLY are

Some of you may have already seen this original cartoon, the author of which I can’t seem to track down to give proper credit to:

project

The site ProjectCartoon.com expands slightly on that original with the addition of a few cells and also allows you do edit the captions and order of the cartoon.

My favorite new cell? This made me chortle:

FOSSVersionHowever, all the cells are worthy of a laugh or two. Project planning, even for single-person IT departments, can be an exercise in juggling ferrets. What’s your best IT project story? Bonus points if it involved the calling of at least one public emergency-services department (negative points if that department was the SWAT team).

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Speed Reading, Week 2 Finished!

I did a speed reading test on the morning of Monday the 19th before starting my first lesson of the week. The supposed reading speed was 295 WPM, but I admit my comprehension was low. I’m focusing less on comprehension and more on technique. I’m attempting to consistently stop verbalizing the words I read in my head and just let my eyes see the word and my brain register the meaning.

  • Monday:
    • Morning: Lesson 3 Completed
    • Evening: Lesson 3 Completed
  • Tuesday:
    • Morning: Lesson 4 Completed
    • Evening: Missed
  • Wednesday:
    • Morning: Missed
    • Evening: Missed
  • Thursday:
    • Morning: Lesson 4 completed
    • Evening: Missed
  • Friday:
    • Morning: Missed
    • Evening: Missed
  • Saturday:
    • Morning: Lesson 4 completed
    • Evening:

Wow. I got a weeklong pass on the FAIL train. Two all-day seminars back-to-back on Tuesday and Wednesday threw a wrench into my plans. Thursday, Friday and Saturday were exercises in mediocrity and failed time management.

It’s hard to leave for a day or two and then come back. You really need to keep on it each and every day, twice a day. The ability to keep up a steady reading pace and simultaneously assimilate all of the information (which is now coming in through your eyes at a faster rate than you’re accustomed to) is a draining activity and needs to be consistently done. Much like weight training.

With good intentions, and hopefully more disciplined time management and prioritization, I enter week 3.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How many days are left in my Windows Server 2008 R2 trial?

 

The Quick Answer:

Run the following command at a command prompt:

slmgr.vbs –dli

You may have to wait for 20 or 30 seconds, but eventually a dialog box will pop up that displays the following information:

slmgr.vbs.output 

The Long Story:

I’m frobbing around with Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2 and Exchange 2010, and in the development of my test lab a question occurred to me:

“How many days are left in my Windows Server 2008 R2 trial?”

There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and some of it contains methods that were common in older versions of Windows.

One common method that is still espoused today is to check the creation or modification dates of various system folders. This isn’t accurate. I have creation and modification dates of system folders going back almost a year before I actually installed the operating system.

Another method that I just learned about is to check the registry key at HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\Current Version\
InstallDate
which shows the date of installation in UNIX epoch time. Converting the decimal notation into UNIX epoch time is as simple as going to www.EpochTime.com and performing the conversion.

epochTime1

EpochTime2

You could then take the current date’s epoch time, subtract it from the installation date’s time and see how close to the trial limit you are (180 days).

However, that is inaccurate since you can wait up to 10 days to activate Windows. The trial period starts from the date of activation not the date of installation. I’m unsure if there is a registry key that shows the date of activation.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Video on Web Application Development that Doesn’t Suck

Being a stereotypical SysAdmin, I tend to shy away from development topics. Partially because I attempted to program as a kid (HyperTalk, AppleScript, Pascal, C and the nail that sealed the coffin lid: C++) and found it to be an exercise similar to self mutilation except without garnering any sympathy from people.

Furthermore, being a SMB SysAdmin I tend to be ignorant to the unique challenges that SysAdmins who focus on web technologies have to face. Ironically, my latest contract is managing the technicals behind an upstart website that a friend is making… go figure. Looks like I’ll be having a nice, vertical learning curve soon.

Moving on, I found a video on YouTube that intrigued me. No, it wasn’t Hamster on a Piano, even though that amused me far more than I’m comfortable admitting.

It’s a well done video by a fellow named Sean Kelly (who has worked at places as diverse as NOAA and NASA Jet propulsion laboratory) titled “Better Web Application Development”. The video itself is a little old, circa late 2006 I believe. It starts with Sean’s frustrations with using C++ in the 90s to attempt to get various datasources unified in a single user interface at NOAA.

Moving forward into the 2000s (and a job at NASA), web protocols became the standard for the kind of application development he worked in. As a result, one of the sticking points that he felt in the 90s, that of slow UI development, started to become obsolete. However, not before some poor tools caused him to reach a breaking point.

The video is a 36 minute tour of Sean pitting various web app frameworks against eachother in a logical and fast-paced style. What happens when you pit J2EE (using servlets and hibernate), J2EE with JBoss, Ruby on Rails, Django, Zope and Turbo Gears? It’s a framework beatdown and while the front of the pack is a little crowded, the loser(s) are easy to spot.

The video is well done, with good audio and is fast paced. It’s obviously scripted so the speaking flows nicely and the whole video moves along well. Overall it’s great to listen to and the areas where computer work has been screencasted are sped up with a summary narrative given so there’s no excruciating waiting periods watching someone fumble at the CLI.

 

There were several good quotes and concepts from the video that I took away and applied to systems administration. Because, when you come down to it, we’re all in the same boat. We all have to create and support systems that are interacted with by people who just want to get their jobs done. Some of my favorite quotes from the video are these:

“Planning a UI is 1/4 of the battle. 3/4 of a UI comes from users playing with it”

The concept I took away from the above quote is that whatever a person has to interact with needs to be good. Furthermore, it needs to be good by their standards. If it’s good by your standards, that’s not enough. If the QA department’s interface is good by an accountant’s standards. That’s not good enough. If the sale’s teams interface is good by the art department’s standards… actually, that probably is good enough.

“It’s got to be fun. Why? C’mon! Fun don’t need a reason!”

Quoted for truth.

“Rapid turnaround is absolutely, unquestionably, irrevocably vital.”

Whatever we do, whatever is implemented, it must be modifiable and furthermore it must be easy and quick to modify. Things change, people and industries are different. Live with it and like it.

“You might recognize this as the n-tier architecture where n is always 3. I’m not sure why they don’t just call it the 3-tier architecture.”

Yeah, what’s up with that?

If you watch the video, let me know what you think about it. know of any better ones?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Speed Reading, Week 1 Finished

I started the week, prior to starting any of my lessons, with a reading speed of about 170 to 185 words per minute. Not bad for me! I think that increased speed is a result of doing these exercises and learning some techniques late last year.

  • Monday - Lesson 1: Morning and evening
  • Tuesday – Lesson 1: Morning but missed evening (Got back into the mental habits pretty good. Came up to speed quickly, was able to focus my attention well.)
  • Wednesday - Lesson 2: Morning but missed evening
  • Thursday - Lesson 3: Morning (more like late afternoon)  Evening
  • Friday - Lesson 3: Morning, forgot evening! =(
  • Saturday Lesson 3: Forgot both. Fail.

It wasn’t the most energetic or consistent week and the last day was a bit of a failure. At least I got back into the habits. Next week will be better!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Listing all volume mount points on a Windows server

This most has been moved to my new blog The Nubby Admin. Check it out here: List All Volume Mount Points on a Windows Server.

Integrate Google Docs and Microsoft Outlook… free!

I recently stumbled upon a free Microsoft Outlook Add-in that allows you to have access to your Google Docs from within Outlook 2007. It’s from a company called Mainsoft and the tool is called Harmony for Google Docs.

HArmony for Google Docs

I’m not a huge Google Docs fan, primarily because the web interface never impressed me and I didn’t want to juggle two interfaces to access various similar information. Those two interfaces being Outlook for much of my email and Google Docs for online files.

However, with this new plug in, I think I may give Google Docs another try. If I can easily store files “in the cloud”, I’ll be more apt to do so.

Mainsoft also creates an Outlook plug-in for SharePoint called Harmony for SharePoint. However, not yet having fully implemented SharePoint in one of my offices, I’ll save my opinions on that tool for when/if I ever use it.

If anyone else has comments or experiences with either tool, drop me a line or comment. Guest blog posts are always welcomed!

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Speed Reading; Legitimate personal development or just a gimmick?

A few years ago, I started to realize just how poor my reading skills were. It’s not that I can’t read, it’s just that I have a constant battle with staying focused as well as a rather slow words-per-minute reading rate.

I knew I was somewhat of a slow reader because it seemed that most people could read through a page or paragraph well before I was done. On top of that, people seemed to have better comprehension than me. “Faster reading and better comprehension? Is everyone I know some kind of genius?” I would think dejectedly.

I also have difficulty knitting together the sentences that I’m reading at the moment with the sentences that I read a few seconds ago. Stringing sentences together into a full comprehensive work can be difficult (if not impossible) for me. Instead of a full tapestry of thought, I see everything that I’ve read as a mostly disjointed series of vignettes.

Think of watching a two hour movie, but chunking it into 2 minute intervals or intervals that last only as long as each specific scene and only watching two or three of those intervals a day. That’s my reading experience.

Strangely, that’s also my movie watching experience. While watching movies, I focused on the scenes as individual units and never knit them together into fluid stories. At this moment, thinking back over all the movies I’ve watched prior to just a year or two ago, I only recollect them as a series of scenes, vignettes or segments devoid of any context. I did not know from whence a scene came, what it was doing or where it was going.

Now, with better insight into my comprehension issues, I have re-watched a few movies that I grew up with and used some newfound concentration techniques and am amazed! It’s like watching a movie for the first time. I actually understand what’s going on and see it as a story and not just a bunch of cool scenes that follow one after the other. My comprehension isn’t nearly as good as I’d like it to be, but I’m healing it little bit at a time… partly through my previous involvement in speed reading. More on that later.

I also tended to get lost in thinking about how I would personally react in the movie’s circumstances rather than enjoying the story itself, but I think that’s another, separate issue.

What’s worse is that I didn’t even know anything was wrong about my experience or that people experienced things in any other way. I suppose I did have an inkling that something was wrong. When people talked of things like character and plot development being too slow/fast/predictable, I looked at them in silent puzzlement, not knowing how one would even sense something like that. I felt stupid.

Now, imagine having these issues with learning and general information gathering… with your job title being “Systems Administrator”. Anyone remotely connected with IT knows how much info we have to wade through. If any job would expose my problems with learning, this would be it.

In fact it was the job’s mental workload that truly made me realize there was a problem and I needed to do something about it. One day I discussed my problems with my boss, particularly concerning my slow reading speed, and he mentioned a speed reading program that he had tried and had success with.

I was slightly skeptical, however this person’s track record of not getting sucked into gimmicks lent some instant credibility to the concept. In my limited exposure to speed reading, it all seemed murky and on the fringes of rationality.

I performed a reading speed test and found that I read at about 160 WPM with supposedly full comprehension. If I attempted to push it to 200, comprehension dropped sharply. 160 WPM reading speed isn’t too bad. However, cut that speed at least in half when you realize that I often need multiple passes to understand something. Further drop that number when you realize that I tended to force myself to slow my reading down in an effort to forcefully understand what I was reading.

I decided to look into this certain speed reading program to see what it was all about. This program is not photo reading, subconscious absorption, skimming or “schematic processing” system. According to Wikipedia, it would probably be classified as “Meta Guiding”.

The basic concept is very simple. You must first stop mentally vocalizing the words that you read in your head. I do this all the time… and I didn’t even know I was doing it. I have a friend who is studying to be a librarian who reads around 500 WPM (I tested his speed one day out of interest). I asked him if he pronounces the words in his head and he thought about it for a moment before answering “no”. Apparently, he had never thought about it. It was just natural to see the words without pronouncing them mentally.

After breaking that habit with some help from the program, you also are encouraged to expand your vision slightly (not the “peripheral absorption” that I think some systems may delve into) as well as keeping a rythmic flow of your eyes over the text.

I have settled on one speed reading course in particular that seems mostly devoid of mysticism and pseudo-science. I will not reveal it’s name publically just yet, if ever. If anyone is interested, I’ll tell them through email or IM (email and IM me through nonapeptide@gmail / live.com depending on your network of choice). I’ve attempted to go through this course late in 2009, but had other commitments get in the way as well as my own undisciplined time management habits.

During my attempt at working through the course, I made a few fascinating breakthroughs. I found it amazing that my comprehension seemed to go up and my ability to absorb information increased. What it seemed like was that my whole life my brain wants information fast, but my reading habits (pronouncing words in my head, for one) kept me back. My brain in frustration would wander off to other thoughts further thwarting my attempt at learning. As a result, I’d get even more frustrated and force myself to concentrate on the text, only I would then read more deliberately and more slowly which only served to compounded the problem.

Attempting to bump my reading speed up actually helped satiate my brain, helped it to stay focused and increased my learning ability (and decreased my frustration levels which in itself helps out quite a bit).

The plan is simple. I give a few minutes to my speed reading exercise twice a day for six days in a week. The lessons can be repeated for as many days as I think I need to. For example, one day does not necessarily equate to one lesson. I could spend 3 days or a whole week on a lesson. Whatever seems best.

I’ll go through all ten lessons (and not wander away from the course like I did last time), which I estimate might take a month, and see if I can put into practice the timing, vision and speed discipline into my everyday reading. From then, it’s a matter of maintenance to do an exercise or two a day at the speed level that I want to maintain.

My goal is to be at 600 to 700 WPM reading with close to 100% comprehension. Obviously, material that is complex or new will require slower times, however simply reading a ZDNet article of 500 words shouldn’t take more than 60 seconds. With all of the Google Reader blogs I’m subscribed to, I’d love to power through a few dozen of them in just 10 or 15 minutes since not many of them are deep dives into murky technical waters (Except for SysAdmin1138’s Storage Administration entries =) ).

I’ll record my progress here as well as delve a little deeper into the topic of speed reading over the coming weeks.

Any comments, debate, flames and etc. are welcomed. I don’t moderate my comments so as long as you don’t say too many bad words or try to sell R0lex watches, you’re comments will be accepted. =)

Friday, April 9, 2010

Backing up GPOs with GPMC scripting on Windows Server 2008

I’ve been developing a thorough set of backup and disaster recovery processes for an office running Microsoft’s Small Business Server 2008. The built in Windows Server Backup tool is quite nice from a “set-it-and-forget-it” perspective, even if it doesn’t offer a lot of customizable features.

However, there are a few things on the server that I’m considering backing up in a different way in addition to Windows Server Backup (WSB). One of those things is the domain’s Group Policy Objects (GPOs).

It’s a simple enough procedure from within the Group Policy Management Console (GPMC). In typical Windows fashion, it’s only a single right click away.

backup GPOs

However, as a Windows admin who is attempting to recover from GUI-itis (the unreasonable reliance on GUI input to do tasks) as well as scripting-itis (an irrational fear of text that resembles code) and is also trying to fortify his body of automation skills, I knew I had to script this task.

Fortunately, the GPMC has it’s own set of scripting interfaces so that you can automate group policy tasks. There is also a set of GPMC scripting samples that were included with Windows Server 2003 but for some reason are not installed by default on Windows Server 2008.

To install the scripting samples on Windows Server 2008, go to this Microsoft download link. Those scripting samples include many useful scripts that allow for listing all disabled GPOs, Listing GPO’s without security filtering, deleting, restoring and importing GPOs as well as, most importantly to me at the moment, backing up and restoring GPOs. Here’s a list of the GPMC scripting samples.

From there, it’s as simple as calling BackupGPO.wsf or BackupAllGPOs.wsf from within Task Scheduler to get the job done. If you really want to get fancy, you could use PowerShell to do something like backing up all GPO’s that have been modified this month.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Heads up on a good SysAdmin related blog

Just a heads up to my SysAdmin peeps… uhm… I mean, “peers” about a blog that started earlier this year. It’s called “SysAdmin Talk” (not to be confused with the oddly defunct SysAdminTalk.com forums – what happened to that place anyway?)

Started by Red Gate Software, it actually avoids the self-promotion and gets to some meaty posts. It mostly centers around Microsoft technologies such as Exchange, Windows Server and Active Directory. Some of the most memorable posts include:

There’s only a handful of writers at the moment, and posts are sporadic, but they are looking for writers so if you don’t see the topics you’d like to… you can always make them yourself. =)

There’s always room for one more good SysAdmin related blog on the intertubes

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Creating an IT consultancy in the USA, Episode 0

As I spend my evenings researching how to create my own IT consultancy in the USA, I’ve come across one main website that has most, if not all of the information that I need: www.Business.gov

I haven’t even scratched the surface yet and already I’m swimming in the midst of “fictitious names”, EINs and Schedule Cs. Fun.

One article in particular on Business.gov has been helpful to me in my larval stage: “10 Steps to Starting a Business” I’ll reproduce those 10 steps here so I can fill in the blanks with the specifics of my own situation.

1. Research and Plan Your Business

Located here are helpful guides such as How to Write a Business Plan, a video on Business Planning and Research and a Start Up Assessment tool.

In my case, this is all overkill since I’m simply creating a consultancy so a friend can contract me to do a large job for him. Maybe someday I’ll actually make a business out of it, but not today.

2. Get Business Assistance and Training

More information on business plans are offered here, but there is an additional emphasis on Small Business Counseling as well as financing your venture.

This too is unnecessary for me. Unless I can get someone to finance my protein shakes and Clif bars. Anyone?

3. Choose a Business Location

Tips on choosing the right location to set up a business are given here as well as listing various zoning laws and precautions.

Once again, this is irrelevant to me since I’m not actually setting up a storefront nor am I currently seeking customers. I’m just sitting in my home office in front of a computer, hacking away for entirely too many hours in a day with no reason to venture outside of the house.

Maybe I should try eHarmony…

4. Finance Your Business

Some of these bullet points make me think that the original author really only had 7 points, but stretched a few just to make a nice round number. This is repeating much of point 2.

I’m not looking for financing so I can cross this step off. Hey! This isn’t going too bad. Four points down and I haven’t had to do a thing!

5. Determine the Legal Structure of Your Business

Finally, a point that I need to pay attention to. Fortunately, there are very few options, and only two make any sense. The options are a Sole Proprietorship, Partnership, Corporation, S Corporation, LLC, Non Profit and Cooperative.

Of those, a Sole Proprietorship (SP) and an LLC are the only reasonable options for me. If I choose to become a Sole Proprietorship, I am personably liable for any debts or lawsuits. That means my car, clothes, baseball card collection and family heirlooms are all fair game.

If I choose a Limited Liability Company (LLC), I have a limited amount of liability that I can be responsible for. In otherwords, I won’t literally lose my shirt.

However, there seems to be a significant amount of extra paperwork that is needed and taxes seem to be a bit more convoluted than they normally are anyway.

Furthermore, I’m only becoming a consultancy for one job and I seriously doubt that any liability lawsuits are in my future (famous last words!). If I want, I can always change to an LLC at a future date, but for now I’ll choose to go with a sole proprietorship.

I’ll tackle the last 5 points soon. Until then… yes, I’m growing a beard. 23 days and still going strong.

demotivational posters

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I’m back and I’m… warm!

After moving 1,800 miles from the Cincinnati, Ohio area to Scottsdale, Arizona I’m finally settled down enough to attempt to get some blogging and work done. That is, when I can tear my eyes away from the palm trees and stop picking oranges, grapefruit and lemons from the trees in my backyard.

“What work are you doing these days?” you might ask. (I know, I know –- no one asked, but I’m falling back on my imaginary friends to voice these questions)

lolcat-job

Aside from digesting citrus and giggling at everyone who lives roughly above the 35th parallel line (even YOU Amarillo – unnaturally cold and windy place that you are), I’m now doing work for a friend that requires me to be an independent contractor. Thus I am beginning to delve into the mysteries and myths surrounding sole proprietorship and the United States tax laws which are rapidly beginning to look like a Vorticistic painting created by inebriated wombats falling down stairs.

If anyone has any tips, I’d appreciate some guidance. In the interim, I’m going back to reading some of the many helpful articles over at business.gov.

I’ll post what I find along the path to self-employment.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Blog activity temporarily suspended

Due to beginning a move from the Cincinnati area to Scottsdale Arizona, my writings are temporarily suspended. Most, if not all of March will be taken up by activities related to the move.

You may still see some activity on my Twitter account, but I don’t have time for much more than 140 characters at a time.

On the bright side, I’ll soon be a resident of an area of the world that is home to palm trees and cacti. Everyone should experience that at least once.

Monday, March 15, 2010

“Remember when every business had their own SysAdmin(s)?”

I.Fix.it.cropped

Do you think that sentence will ever be uttered? If so, do you think you’ll hear it in your lifetime? In your career?

According to a recent CIO article titled “Cloud and the Death of the Sysadmin”, the answer to each of those questions may very well be “yes” (unless you plan on retiring in the next few months). The cloud is the reason.

In the article, sysadmins are analogized with car mechanics of old. Back before cars didn’t need software updates and laughed in the face of a potential EMP “event”.

There was a personal touch and much lore and insight that mechanics had. A bit like Systems Administrators today. Journeyman programs prepared young grease monkeys to become arch mechanics much like Jr. Admins (or PFYs if you prefer) are ideally mentored by an experience admin in the nuances of administration.

Fast forward to today. According to the CIO article, the average high-end car has more lines of code than the Windows 7 and that codebase is distributed over more computers than a small office has.

Mechanics can no longer turn a wrench or replace a hose to fix many problems. They resort to rip-and-replace tactics for various microcomputer components (called Electronic Control Units or ECUs) because they don’t know what else to do. Half of all replaced ECUs show no signs of errors.

Apparently automobiles are now so complex, that remote support technicians will soon be who mechanics turn to for diagnostics. It is intelligently hypothesized that cars will be connected to a network and remotely diagnosed by highly skilled and specialized technicians. Those techs will then tell the mechanic what parts to replace.

A ever increasing disparity in skill will exist between the highly specialized remote worker and the local “mechanic” which will become little more than the hands for the remote tech. Maybe a few local mechanics will be kept on to do physical tasks like changing oil or rotating tires. At least, until that’s automated with arms that are similar to those seen on factory floors.

The generalist mechanic will become a relic. Any current-day specialist skills will become obsolete. We may no longer need a transmission specialist any more than we need switchboard operators today. Those displaced mechanics may find satisfaction in restoring those old cars that served their career so well, but they will no longer have a job working on a modern fleet of vehicles.

Change the story to focus on SysAdmins. The older automobiles change to private server room. The new autos to the cloud. The applications and services to the increasingly complex individual components or ECUs.

According to the CIO article, application complexity is increasing and troubleshooting is becoming harder. Specialized skills are needed for each service that an IT department is required to render and maintain.

The article continues the conjecture and considers a future where finely honed specialists for each service will be centralized and will service the applications that are being delivered. Onsite personnel are now only there to handle physical tasks for the service’s required onsite hardware.

Visions of a Googler walking through a non-descript server isle with a shopping pulling out bits of failed hardware from servers comes to mind. Even that scenario is old fashioned when you take into consideration the new datacenter pods that are never opened by humans, but simply get replaced wholesale when a certain percentage of hardware failure is reached.

The jack-of-all-trades (and if he’s especially amazing, master-of-some) SysAdmin has gone the way of Car Hops and Lamplighters. Maybe they’re needed in third world countries or in a themed Old Tyme amusement park, but not in the Real World.

To further drive home the point, the author reminds us that skilled workmen once filled factories. Now those same factory floors have had the lighbulbs removed and are filled with robotic appendages working at threatening speeds, eerily aping human motions that our grandfathers once did. The few workers that are still employed are the ones with the highest specialization… in robotic repair, efficiency analysis and various factory systems.

Essentially, information workers.

Is this true? Will SysAdmins be a fabled creature, spoken of in the same sentence as American Wild West cowboys? Vestiges of a time before more efficient, predictable and civilized ways of handling things was implemented?

In my opinion, probably to a large extent that scenario is true. I believe that the role of the Systems Administrator will change drastically in the next 10 years due to SaaS and cloud-ifying applications. How and why that happens is a question I’m still trying to answer.

The article only mentions application complexity as a reason for the move highly specialized positions. I disagree. I think it’s a simple matter of sheer scale.

SaaS is in many ways cheaper. It is also much more reliable. Cheap and reliable… who could resist? More services will be moved offsite from a private datacenter to a cloud service. Cloud services develop and grow at an exponential rate. More and more people will be needed to run those datacenters and the individual application ecosystems on them which will be massive in scale.

The drive for specialized skills will primarily be born from positions that must manage services on a massive scale. The complexity comes as a result of scale. Not, as I believe the article is implying, that the applications themselves are becoming more complex.

Maybe I’m drawing a blurry line. However, the important part to take away is that needed skills will change both their nature and their location. Skills will become specialized and will be moved from the onsite datacenter to massive, centralized datacenters. To what degree is in question.

The article’s emphasis on the increasing gulf between those that are specialists in one thing and those with lower, generalist skills seems accurate to a point.

However, I doubt that most business will offsite a majority of their services in the near future. Maybe non-trivial amounts of it… say, 30%. I do believe that there will be a tipping point. For example, once say 50% offsiting is achieved, it seems that the remaining percentage will be easier to achieve than the first 50%.

Nonetheless, the SysAdmin’s role is changing. That change is happening now. That change is unavoidable. Instead of fighting it, we ought to intelligently prepare ourselves for it today.

When the day comes that we have to decide to become datacenter infrastructure specialists or cloud applications specialists versus being relegated to SMBs that are too suspicious or remote to support their workflows being sent to the cloud… we ought to make that decision based on rationality rather than stubbornly sticking to old ways.

"I observe that old men seldom have any advantage of new discoveries, because they are beside a way of thinking, they have been so long used to.”

--Jonathan Edwards

Friday, March 12, 2010

iPhone FAIL

Click the image to go to the Flickr original.

4426943495_ba70d50d51_o[1]

…but then again, if it supported flash it would be even slower and Safari would crash even more. So maybe it’s for the better.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Flickr group for server rooms from the wrong side of the tracks

UPDATE: I fixed my borked Bit.ly link. This one should work now.


Ever been in one of those server rooms? Ever seen solutions designed by someone who could only use one hand because the other was on a chrome .45? Awww yee-uh. Ghetto IT.


Got any photo evidence of those slipshod solutions? Maybe you would never close circuits with a pair of plyers, but did your predecessor leave you with core switches powered by an exercise bike and servers propped up with broom sticks? If so, I've created the Flickr group for you: "Ghetto IT


The inspiration behind this is a thread at the SysAdmin-Network from a user named Isaac.The thread was named "Isaac? The ghetto is calling, they want their servers back." I figured that we all had our own run-ins with ghetto IT whether we were the originators of it or merely the unfortunate stewards of it.

Got anything to contribute? Want to join the group? Want to be a Thug Operator? Lemme know over at Flick-to-the-r.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Free eBook: The Complete Guide to Twitter

We all know that Twitter is a popular social network that has more than its fair share of criticism and parodies. However, I believe that Twitter can be harnessed by progressive IT departments for their own good. I'll explore that possibility in a future post, but until then read and digest this free 40 page PDF eBook from MakeUseOf.com titled "The Complete Guide to Twitter".


If you have an experience with using Twitter in your IT department, drop me a line to give me some ideas for my forthcoming post on the topic.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Let's create a groundswell at Dell!

A few weeks back, Shawn Anderson of Admin Arsenal fame posted a blog entry concerning how Dell gets one-upped by Dominos pizza when it comes to a customer's visibility into the build process. In fact, it's more than just one-upped, it's more like completely pwnz0red.

Someone took that idea and posted it to Dell's IdeaStorm website. I'm proposing that all interested admins rally behind this effort to increase the visibility into the hardware build process at Dell. It matters not whether you're an "IBM person", an "HP person" or a [insert-favored-hardware-vendor-here] person. Technical innovation and competition in any industry will (ideally) never hurt anyone.

Consider giving this idea an upvote or a downvote and share your ideas to help better the hardware industry as a whole.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Controls create complexity

When something bad happens do you tend to react by quickly implementing some control to quell the immediate symptom? Users taking up all your file server space with videos of their kids' soccer practice and pictures of lolcats? No problem! Run a script each night that deletes all files that end with common video and picture extensions. That's a great idea... except the script deleted the HR director's collection of employee photos as well as all of the product teams' video documentation of their latest prototypes. One late night and three backup tapes later you decide to tweak your script.


Now, all suspicious file extensions that are found in user directories that are not HR or product team members are deleted. Wait, the web team is complaining now so you'd best exempt them as well. Except that one guy Sven who you never liked so we'll pick a random date 3 times a year and indiscriminately wipe out a few files.


You then discover that users are sending their media files to HR and Product Team members to share out. You immediately create a rule in the email servers to drop all image and video files as well as impose a 250k message limit. Except now you're company logo is being dropped form email footers and the CFO's 750k policy change documents can't get sent to the contracting agency that he uses.


Tweak time! Only image files that have an approved file path are accepted and email from VP level people can go above the 250k limit. Oops, the product team can't send PDFs to the engineering team because of size limits. Okay, 5Mb limit for them.


Users have now figured out that files are only being deleted based on extensions and have started naming their media files .mymovie, .watchme and .ouradminsucks.


This is getting out of hand. You spec out and pitch a fancy NAS box to the uppity-ups. They miraculously give their support. Now you can inspect each file and tell what it is regardless of file extension. You deny certain file types from even being moved onto it based on user groups in your directory service. Problem solved. Until you look up and see the angry mob with pitchforks and torches approaching.


This fictional, but oft repeated scenario plays itself out in one form or another every day. According to this Harvard Business Review article, an organization should step back and review their policies for three potential problems
1. Static controls for dynamic issues. (Banning .media file types from the file server)
2. Cost of controls higher than the cost of no controls. (Purchasing a high-end NAS appliance to restrict file types.)
3. Controls applied across the board, whether needed or not. (Now the boss's secretary can't download and load B-Net podcasts onto the VPs iPod. You will shortly be able to examine the finer points of said VP's dental work with the amount of time his mouth will spend open oh-so-politely requesting that you rescind your policy.)


We as admins have to deal with complex systems each and every day. As a result we are desensitized to complexity and lose sight of when a solution gets out of hand. We also take our systems too personally (which is a whole 'nother post) and become offended when someone does something that we think "dirties it up".


I propose that we as admins step back, detach our emotions and look at our policies with a critical eye. Let's look for the ones which are only addressing very tightly scoped problems and rescind them, looking for more flexible policies or none at all. In fact, I think I'll go grab some spare hard drives and make an OpenFiler NAS machine for people to share their silliness on.


And for the record, the VP of marketing has very nice caps and minty fresh breath.



Friday, February 19, 2010

To those who frequent my blog

...yes, both of you. I've been toying with an IT related blog in some form or another for about a year and a half. I'm focusing more on content than I am presentation. As a result, I'm still refining, renaming, moving and generally tweaking things. Bare with me as I change the name, titles, font, spacing and layout at will. I hope to settle into a nice groove soon.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Leadership Lessons from "Dancing Guy"

Leadership is overglorified. Be a lone nut.


It's only 3 minutes and you'll not regret watching it. Betcha can't keep from smiling.


Monday, February 15, 2010

The Ultimate Productivity Blog


I'm fascinated by productivity theories, tips and tricks. Probably because I have issues with staying focused and being productive. I like Merlin Mann, David Allen and BaseCamp. However, I've recently found the most amazing productivity blog I've ever come across. I think I may be on the verge of a major life change.


http://productiveblog.tumblr.com/


I think I need to meditate on that.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Cisco Puts an Internet Router in Space

Cisco has gone astronomical... and not just in their licensing and hardware prices.

Yes, they really do want to rule the world. And probably the universe too. It's all part of their Cisco Internet Routing in Space (IRIS) program. You have to hand it to them for thinking big. At last the size of their corporate plans are matching their out-of-this-world-pricing (the pricing jabs will be over shortly).


Let's not forget that ProCurve had the first ethernet switch in space. Okay, so maybe it was only a simple 2524 and not a router the size of an apartment complex. But still. Yay ProCurve. Now start making routers!


What are Cisco's ultimate plans? 
The long-term goal, they say, is to route voice, data and video traffic between satellites over a single IP network in ways that are more efficient, flexible and cost effective than is possible over today's fragmented satellite communications networks. 
Yep, they want to rule the universe. Joking aside, there are some fascinating possibilites that will drastically change satellite communication and functions.
Historically, the brains of satellite communications networks have resided largely in ground-based hardware, with the satellite itself passively reflecting the data beamed up to it. But IRIS shifts much more of the intelligence to the orbiting router – with potentially dramatic benefits, says Cisco's IRIS general manager Greg Pelton 
Cisco's plans will also remove the "double-hop" common in satellite transmissions which makes communication difficult for voice and video (think "reporter on the scene")


For all of the fascination I have with the possibilities, I'm still barely able to contain an "All Your Base" reference. I think I'll go play with Photoshop and a picture of John Chambers.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

code_swarm: Visualizing software development via commit bits

code_swarm is a project developed by Michael Ogawa that takes the history of commits on a software project, ties those to the developer's name that caused the commit and renders it into a movie. Watching a code_swarm rendering reminds me somewhat of the old simulation "life".

You can see some videos that have been rendered here. Some examples include the Eclipse project and Python. Here's how the development of Apache looks:


code_swarm - Apache from Michael Ogawa on Vimeo.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Free eBook! Managing Active Directory with Windows PowerShell

Quest software has a limited time offer for a free eBook at this link. Scraped from their web page:

Get this in-depth and authoritative Windows PowerShell book AT NO COST!
  • Discover new ways to manage Active Directory as well as local directory services
  • Get tips to help make Active Directory and PowerShell work more effectively together 
  • Learn from real-world examples, including complete scripts!

More evidence that multitasking == FAIL

From GreenM3.com, this is just one of many articles that have been brought to my attention concerning the downfall of multitasking. I didn't have to be sold on the poor effects of multitasking, at least not for my personality and mentality. When I start floating two or three tasks virtually simultaneously, all of the tasks suffer and in many cases are botched and end up having to be redone.


While some people may have more of a capacity for multitasking than others, it seems to be a practice that -- no matter how you look at it -- has detrimental effects. As I've said before, stop multitasking! Start unitasking!


P.S. Yes, the original incarnation of this blog post had a misspelling in the title. Could it be that I was multitasking while blogging? Perhaps.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Postini Resellers; Why so cheesy?

Losing the fight against spam with only Exchange 2007's built in tools to aid me, I've turned to hosted filtering solutions. Google's Postini has my attention at the moment because of it's seeming simplicity, user control and the ubiquity of the Google brand. Postini resellers, on the other hand, have captured my attention because of their lack of polish and seeming indifference to rudimentary marketing policies (such as Rule #1 of Marketing: Don't scare people). While the prices that resellers offer are better than Google, I'm not entirely filled with confidence about the support that is offered when a reseller's website looks like the fruit of a seizure-prone cat dancing across a keyboard with Microsoft Front Page open.

And furthermore, if the complaints about Google's Postini support being virtually nonexistant, what benefit to I get from a reseller who is downstream of that nonexistance? Will the reseller provide me with extra empathetic tech support to listen to me sniffle should Google's fireproof services get burninated? Sarcasm aside, I believe that the resellers may get a special bat-phone to Google's tech support if they have a certain amount of customers.

Dear Postini resellers:

If you want to instill confidence in your customers, please update your websites, include some option for live chat and answer my emails. Wouldn't the ultimate irony be that my emails were caught in their Postini spam filters? Hoist by my own MTA.


P.S. And why do I not look at services like MessageLabs and MXLogic? Because I don't trust anything with the Symantec name (MessageLabs) and I don't like MXLogic because remote mailboxes that use MXLogic for protection tend to block my Exchange server in spite of it having a flawless Spam record and not being on a blacklist. I suspect it's merely because I'm on a block of DSL IPs, even though it's a static, "business class" connection.

SpamHero and AppRiver's SecureTide, however, seem interesting. Any suggestions are, of course, appreciated.

Friday, February 5, 2010

How to manage and how not to manage

I recently read a blog post by Joel Spolsky that juxtaposed his working experience at Microsoft with his time at Juno. Say what you want about Microsoft, but they know how to treat their employees. This story is a quick and powerful read that everyone facing or occupying a management position should read. Twice.

http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/TwoStories.html

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

My Google number goes to someone else's phone!

Today I was setting up a website monitoring service, and chose to send SMS alerts to my Google Voice phone number. The SMS alert never came, so I double checked that I typed the correct number. I then picked up my office IP phone and called my Google number... and after 4 rings was connected with some woman's voicemail that I had never heard of before.

Slightly confused and worried, I checked my Google Voice account to make sure it was still active, that my cell phone number was typed correctly and that it was all set up to forward like it should. Everything seemed in order.  After some searches on the web (using Google... they're beginning to look more and more like a cradle-to-grave organization; I say this as I use a Google-based blogging service) it seems like there are some similar problems. One involves someone properly receiving the Google call on their cell phone, but voicemail is being forwarded to a wrong number. That's not quite my problem.

I added a second phone to my account and verified it. I then deselected my cell phone as a forwarding number and chose to only forward to the new phone. When I called my Google Voice number, I still did not receive the call after 4 rings and was then connected to some stranger's voicemail box. If there's some woman out there with a name that sounds like "Quitey", I'm sorry for annoying you.

I await contact from people on Google's help forum to see what might be the problem.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Microsoft's Internet Connectivity Evaluation Tool

If you have Windows Vista or 7, you may want to run the Internet Connectivity Evaluation Tool. It's an ActiveX control that requires IE6 or later to run. It will tell you, among other things, if your router can support some of the advanced features in Vista and above such as "Explicit Congestion Notification" as well as if your NAT router supports cone-type NAT or a symmetric-type NAT.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Can only browse Google based web sites

My Problem:
On only one computer on the network, I can only browse Google based web sites (GMail, Google news, Google shopping) while connected wirelessly to a Comcast branded Netgear CG814WG modem. All other application layer protocol communication to cross the router to that one PC seem to work fine such as email and VNC connections. All LAN based communication such as SMB and ICMP seems to be working. All other computers on the network can browse the web. If I plug the troubled computer via a network cable into the router, I can browse the internet perfectly.


My Solution:
Reduce the Wireless security to WEP 64-bit. For some reason, the router will cause one PC on the LAN that is connected wirelessly to be unable to connect to web sites other than Google (and possibly other sites) as long as the wireless security is stronger than WEP 64-bit. Thanks Comcast, and your bizarre custom firmware.


Thanks to the user curthesher in this thread for the tip.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

45 BaseCamp Alternatives Listed Over at PM-Sherpa.com

I recently had the need to search out some kind of online project management tool similar to BaseCamp. I've used basecamp before, but figured that I'd check out the competition. I found this lovely article over at PM-Sherpa.com that lists 45 Basecamp alternatives. I think I'll be going with Zoho's PM offering, simply because I really like Zoho's online office suite and use their wiki every single workday. However, there are plenty of other possibilities out there. Check the list out for yourself.

EDIT: I ended up using CoMindWork.com. What swayed me? Well, first you need to know that a Wiki was a requirement for my project management needs. Second, I remembered that in my nearly two years of using Zoho's wiki, I've had consistent trouble with the wiki editor which seems a bit quirky. I even had an entire page's formatting completely thrashed when I simply tried to spell check it. Yes, all of my documentation for a firewall, complete with bullet points, indentation, headings, etc. was rediced to one big long string of text. All the same font, size, style, everything. Only spaces were preserved. So. Much. Fun. I haven't noticed things with the wiki editor improving much over these last two years so I decided to try something new. So far, CoMindWork.com seems to be great.