IT network management seems to be in a transition when we look at our practice in the Burlington area of Ontario. More and more clients are interested in knowing what is actually happening within their system, not just maintaining them on a break fix basis.
I think part of this is the change in role that a computer network is meeting in most small businesses. At one time the network was a place to store files, usually accounting data, and to support multiple users accessing common equipment like printers. Workstations had the office suite installed and various types of documents were created.
The essential mission critical application was the accounting or ERP package that tracked inventory, dealt with transactions and stored invoicing and other number data. In more sophisticated operations there might be a service support module, an estimating module or some other specialized tool.
If the network went down, there would be disruption and loss of productivity, but essential business practices could still continue.
In an IT network of 2012 the situation is quite different. Communication tools like e-mail, internet access, SaaS (software as a service), CRM (customer relationship management) are much more pervasive. When these tools are not available primary business communications, client service and sales processes grind to a halt. In the worst case scenario this can lead to not only loss of business but to loss of customers as well.
How does the modern IT network administrator deal with these threats?
First they build some redundancy into their plans. Systems are put in place to be able to quickly shift function if a given component fails. In a high redundancy install there will be the capability to have automatic fail over to backup equipment.
Choosing higher quality tools, especially network components and hard drives that are designed for commercial installation has a big impact on reliability and performance.
Regular patching of software and hardware firmware will assist in keeping security threats and component failures reduced. Diligence in responding whenever even a minor threat occurs can help keep the big ones at bay.
Monitoring network performance including servers, workstations and infrastructure through the use of a 24/7 automated tool can alert administrators to future potential problems as minor 'glitches' or incidents are brought to their attention quickly and effectively. Knowing about the things that are occuring permits early intervention before they are serious and major in nature. The costs of this type of monitor program can be very low and the benefits are substantial.
Network inventory tools can help an administrator record changes to the systems with less mundane time spent on manual checking, as the inventory package tracks all significant alterations that occur. This can help track for software loads that are made by individual users (a common occurence in smaller more open environments) as well as other updates and patches which occur in a routine way. The auto update of things like Adobe reader, browsers, java scripts can cause problems at time. If a problem occurs in a workstation shortly after such an install knowing about it can help diagnosis.
Some up front planning along with the use of various low or no cost tools can make the administration of a computer network easier and less risky. Depending upon your memory or availability of time (no one ever seems to have enough), attempting to manually check all of the many items which affect performance will generally lead to something being missed.
Do you check disc space so you know it is not running out? How often? Is your exchange space growing to a dangerous level? How about event logs? Are you sure your anti virus was updated? Did it run properly? Just a few of the daily checks that every network needs.
How about your workstations? Are you checking them too, or do you depend on users to ask for help once something goes wrong. Wouldn't it be better to know ahead of time that a hard drive is failing?
How redundant is your IT network install? Do you get unhealthy surprises?
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