Data Centers

Support diary: Tom S. (Monday)

Have you ever wished you could read someone else's diary? Here's your chance. This week's diary entries come from a TechRepublic reader who provides 24/7 support.

This week’s support diary comes from a network administrator employed as a contractor for a government agency.

Introducing Tom
With a pager strapped to my hip and a laptop in hand, I’m ready to go wherever, whenever. I didn't have to accept the 24/7 responsibility, but it has certainly helped me advance through the ranks and make substantial monetary gains. For the amount of pages I get, I really don’t mind having it. Besides, my wife thinks it’s great that I have a pager; she can reach me whenever she wants!

I provide computer systems administration and technical support in a mixed environment of Windows (NTS, NTW, 95, 98), HP-UX UNIX, and Linux. I'm the primary administrator for an NT domain with five NT Servers and around 400 NTW/95/98 clients. I'm the PC support/helpdesk guy for around 200 of those clients in four buildings. I'm also a secondary network administrator of three HP 9000/800s used to support a global client/server application. The Linux boxes are being tested for possible use as firewalls. We're currently planning to replace the three HP-UX boxes with a PC server-based NT solution.

Get up, let the cats out, take a quick shower, get my wife up, and get a cup of coffee. I check my pager to see if I got any pages in the middle of the night. I skim my [work] e-mail to see if there's anything I should worry about on that end. My wife and I do our morning chitchat for a little while, and then I'm off to work.

In less than ten minutes I'm at the front gate. I stop at the first building and grab the weekly backups out of the production UX-box. I park right outside the front door of my building because I’ll soon be hauling out a PC to deliver. I drop off my briefcase and lunch at my desk, take a peek in the LAN room (I don’t smell any smoke so I keep moving), and then I’m off to make the coffee (do you see a pattern here?!). With coffee in hand I’m back to my desk to plow through some e-mail. I have all our boxes set up to e-mail me the results of their nightly backups. Saves me a little time. I quickly check to make sure they were all good backups.

(Side note: When I first got tossed into Admin duties it was for backups. I made a big deal about maintaining “good” backups and regularly testing them. And I regularly got my balls busted about being so anal. One day, one of the systems I was NOT responsible for crashed and nothing was left because they did not have good backups. I’m running that system too, now. Heh heh heh.)

I browse the headlines of a couple of my favorite Web sites—TechRepublic and Slashdot —to catch up on news and points of interest while scarfing down a bowl of chili.

I load that PC into my truck and head off to another building. This PC was a no-brainer—needed an HDD. The user is a little upset that all his files are gone and he doesn’t want to listen to me talk about the network storage area where users should keep their important files. “Blah blah blah...” Is he done talking? I smile, nod, and leave.

(Oops.) Scamper off to a 9:00 A.M. meeting (where’s my coffee?). It’s an overview of the plan to ditch the HP-UX boxes and replace them with PC servers running NT.

Finally, make it back to my desk. It’s been a very slow day but I’m not complaining one bit. No real emergencies... in fact, nothing. I can catch up on paperwork (ooh, paperwork). I will not bore you with the details.

I spend about 20 minutes gathering the pieces of a laptop for another user to take on travel. I grab my lunch and hide in the LAN room to set up tonight’s backups. While I’m in there, I make a few more notes on my whiteboard (it’s my list of things to do/avoid).

I sit for a while with friends (yes, I work with friends), catching up on the “goings on.” It turns into an impromptu meeting about our earlier meeting. This plan involves many different aspects of designing and planning. It’s a pretty big deal. Ready for another ear bender? The group that supports the network backbone for the entire base has its own ideas about network security: close all the holes and there’s no problem. Problem: Our primary c/s app is accessed worldwide. But the members of that group [plural expletive deleted] don’t care and they’re planning on closing all the holes without compromise.

I will not get into the philosophy of network security here. Suffice it to say we do not agree. Anyway, they have what they call a “DMZ,” an area outside their firewall where they place everything that would compromise their security. That leaves us and whoever else wishing to do business with “the rest of the world” wide open. So, we’re in the process of planning/developing an entire network solution (love buzzwords). Basically, we’re building our own firewall in the DMZ and placing all our computers behind it. Fun. It really is, but the serious time constraint is bugging the crap out of us. I’ll tell you how we stood up our current NT domain (converting it from a Novell network too) in less than a week. That was fun! BTW, that’s how I got my Admin job.

I’m amazed at how slow it is today. I’m almost bored. I found an orphaned P90 motherboard while scrounging around for unused computer parts. I think I’ll try building a Linux router/firewall out of it. I have a cable modem at home and I’m uneasy about leaving my computers “unprotected.”

Just when I’m ready to leave I get a call that someone needs access to one of our buildings (lucky me). I’m off to let the person in and then I’m outta here. What an easy day it was today.
If you’d like to comment on Tom’s day, please post a comment below. If you’d like to write a support diary for TechRepublic, please send me a note .

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