Data Centers

Talking Shop: Cleaning up a predecessor's messy network

Shows what can happen when you take over the net admin job from an incompetent administrator


Are you a new Network Administrator who, after accepting a glorious position with a top company, realized the previous Bubba left you a messy network? Well, don’t worry. You are not alone. There are many of us out here. My name is Jake Necessary, and I would like to tell you about a great new club for people like us. I call it “The Second Network Admin’s Club.”

If you are thinking about starting in the network administration discipline, I hope this document will provide you with insight into what’s to come. Let’s take a look at some of the shenanigans that I faced after relieving my administratively challenged predecessor.

From the Home Office in Hamilton, OH, here are the “Top 4 ways to tell that the previous network bubba was administratively challenged":

#4 The backup tapes are labeled “Tomorrow”, “Today”, and “Yesterday”
As we all know, backups are very important to the survival of the network administrator. If the backup fails, your direct-deposited paycheck will soon follow. Every company has different needs when talking about network backup plans. The administrator is clearly responsible for developing a successful backup strategy.

Any good backup strategy should include knowing which files and folders to back up, what type of backup to perform, and how frequently to run a backup operation. Remember to test the backup operation periodically, because restoration is equally important.

#3 The administrator’s username is BILLYBOB
Naming conventions are a must in the network environment. A good administrator establishes a naming scheme for usernames. For example, my company uses the mainframe RACF (Resource Access Control Facility) as the network login ID.

I am thankful that my network naming has been pretty consistent. Although the RACF method can be confusing for the administrator, the users are less challenged, and when the users are happy, my customer service belt gains another notch. Naming conventions should be established for all network objects including printers, groups, applications, etc.

#2 Network documentation is scribbled on a ketchup-stained napkin from Denny’s™
Documentation! Oh, how most administrators cringe at the thought. I have become a documentation freak over the last few years, which is a good thing for many reasons. Keeping a server and administration log is a must for the network administrator. Inside the server log, I keep valuable information on server-related issues such as Systems Application Architecture (SAA) configuration, backup results (some keep this as a separate log), and basically anything that deals with the server.

On the other hand, network administration such as login script changes, user creations and deletions, print queue problems, and other administrative activities are kept inside an administration record. Documentation should most definitely include wiring closet diagrams and detailed explanations of day-to-day processes. Any seasoned information systems veteran should be able to walk into your organization, study your paperwork, and be able to fully administrate your network. (That’s what you’d want if you were walking into a shop, right?)

#1 Everyone’s network password is the same: “GoneFishin”
Security is key in a network environment. My employer has an internal audit team that is similar to the CIA. They sneak around from location to location identifying problems. One technical difficulty they found was users failing to lock their Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 workstations. This behavior quickly became a pet peeve of the executive staff; however, the team failed to notice that everyone’s password was the same!

Locking the workstation is important, but if everyone’s password is the same, the process is useless. The previous network administrator had left the security wide open by failing to enforce password expiration rules. In my security investigation, I discovered that everyone had been given supervisor rights to the shared drives! (Yes that is plural).

I quickly established new security protocols, and honestly I am still working on straightening out the rights issues. The problem is that the users became accustomed to having the keys to the kingdom. Now, the difficulty is regaining the reins for our network horse.
These are the “big four” problems I’ve experienced when relieving another network administrator. I know many of you may experience similar horror stories. Please send me a note to share your administrative nightmares. Remember that I am not only a member of the Second Network Admin.’s club, I am the goofball that dreamed up this group of technicians!

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