Data Centers

Talking Shop: Help a frustrated administrator escape a backup dilemma

Would you file a formal complaint against a colleague not properly performing their daily responsibilities?


Grace is a support tech in a medium-size company. Since the IT department is small, she is also the network administrator with the sole responsibility for ensuring the integrity of nightly backups. This is a responsibility that Grace takes very seriously; she diligently changes tapes, regularly checks the backup logs, and frequently practices restoring files.

Update: So what really happened?
To learn the outcome of the scenario outlined below and get a recap of the comments and suggestions given by TechRepublic members, click here.

The company has a sales office located approximately 12 miles from Grace's location. The sales office has just one server and no on-site technical support. Ever since this server was installed, it has traditionally been the responsibility of the general manager's personal assistant/receptionist, Ken, to ensure that the backup tapes are changed every morning. This had never caused any problems until a few months ago when Grace noticed that Ken had started to skip days—and sometimes failed to change the tape for several days.

Grace has always maintained a very good relationship with Ken, so she felt that she should be able to address the problem with him directly. Grace first asked Ken if he would like her to find someone else to change the tapes, but Ken declined, offended that Grace didn't trust him any more. Since then, Grace has taken the additional steps of creating reminders in Ken’s Outlook calendar and placing sticky notes on his keyboard. Nothing has proved effective, and recently Ken has started to lie to Grace, claiming that he changed the tape even when the backup log indicates that the same tape had been overwritten several nights in a row. Grace has expended numerous hours troubleshooting backup problems only to realize that they were happening simply because the tapes were not being changed when Ken claimed that they had been.

So far, Grace has been lucky that nothing has been lost, but she realizes that she cannot allow this situation to continue. She has already discussed the situation with her own manager and with HR, but they claim that there is nothing they can do unless Grace files a formal complaint against Ken. Grace is very reluctant to take this step because she does not want to jeopardize her relationship with Ken and, potentially, with the general manager. Even if Ken agreed to allow someone else to assume the responsibility, this would not be a completely satisfactory solution because he is the only person who is in the sales office on a daily basis.

If you were in Grace’s situation, what would you do? There is no money in the budget for upgrading the company's backup solution, so Grace is stuck with using their current technology for the foreseeable future, and there is no usable link between the two offices. Grace really wants to resolve the situation by finding a means of making Ken do his job. If you have any suggestions, we want to hear them.

We want to hear what you have to say!
You can submit your ideas either by e-mail or by posting a discussion item at the end of this column. A week after the publication of a scenario, we'll pull together the most interesting solutions and common themes from the discussion. We will later present them with the situation's actual outcome in a follow-up article. You may continue to add discussion items after the week has elapsed, but to be eligible for inclusion in the follow-up article, your suggestions must be received within a week of the scenario's publication.

Should a tech support pornographic e-mail?
Here are some of your responses to our previous column that detailed a tech’s dilemma about being asked to assist a user with opening some pornographic pictures.

Most of the responses fell into two broad categories:
  • The tech should mind his own business—it is not the job of IT to be the morality police.
  • The tech must take action as “non-activity could be interpreted as passive approval and come back to haunt him,” member Jboston wrote.

Most responders acknowledged that while it is not a support tech’s job to be a moral arbiter, if at any time a tech discovers anything on a company computer that seems at all inappropriate, he needs to take some action, if only for the purpose of self-protection. For the particular support tech in question, his options are very limited because of his company’s open policy toward the personal use of company computers, e-mail, and the Internet. But, depending upon the political/personal atmosphere in the company, he could explore one or more of the following courses of action:
  • Make an appointment to discuss the issue directly with the CEO. Without naming the employees in question, the tech could cite the current incident as an example of what could happen as a direct result of the company’s open policy. If the tech had been personally offended or threatened by the pornographic pictures, it is arguable that he could have brought a sexual harassment/hostile workplace case against the company.
  • Deal with the particular incident directly with the users in question. The tech could simply tell them that he feels uncomfortable assisting them in opening the files in question, and would they please not put him in this situation again. He could document his position and give copies of this documentation to the users and to HR and/or the IT manager.
  • Report the incident to his immediate supervisor.
  • Report the incident to HR—even if the company has no computer usage policy, it might have a sexual harassment policy, and by taking this step, HR might be able to persuade the CEO that a computer policy is necessary to protect the company against potential litigation.
  • “I would simply tell the person asking me, 'Due to some recent issues that have come up here at work, I'll need to run this past the boss and make sure he believes it is OK to help you with this.' Most of the time the person asking will be so embarrassed at the thought, he will withdraw his request,” member SuperMCSE wrote.

The need for some type of computer usage policy was expressed in most of the responses, but obviously, while this is probably the best solution to the situation, it is beyond the scope of the support tech to implement. Although, depending upon the tech’s standing in the company, his relationship with his manager, and the manager’s influence on the CEO, it is conceivable that the support tech could exert some influence in the implementation of such a policy.

So what did our embarrassed tech actually do?
Fortunately for him, the situation proved self-resolving. The following week neither of the users showed up for work; they had both quit without giving notice, and as a parting gesture had erased all work-related files to which they had access, leaving nothing but their personal pornography on their computers, home directories, and the public directories. Fortuitously, their attempt to damage the company backfired, because all the destroyed files were simply restored from backup and the incident sufficiently alarmed the CEO that he is now in the process of working with IT and HR to write a computer usage policy. Sometimes you just get lucky.

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