Get IT Done: Commonsense strategies for supporting mission-critical systems

Tips for supporting mission-critical systems

Organizations of all shapes and sizes depend on technology for their success, and their list of mission-critical systems—from ERP to e-mail—continues to grow. Along with this increasing dependence on technology comes the need for IT professionals to support and manage these systems on a 24/7 basis. Let's take a look at some things your IT department can do to support these mission-critical systems most efficiently.

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Start with a stable system

An unstable system can be a support nightmare, especially when it's running some of your company's most critical processes. Whether the system is a single server or a complex cluster, maximum uptime and stability should be the ultimate goal. Try taking these preventive maintenance steps:

  • Spend the extra time applying necessary fixes and patches.
  • Ensure that you address issues such as low disk space or system performance warnings before they cause serious problems.
  • Establish baselines and then set up extensive monitoring to inform you when the system is down or thresholds are exceeded.
Once you've done these things, you are truly ready to start supporting a mission-critical system.

Tools are the key

Have you ever seen an IT professional without an accumulation of gadgets? Cell phones, pagers, PDAs, and laptops are often required gear in our field. These invaluable tools allow us to be notified and communicate quickly when problems arise. Knowing about a problem when it first arises gives you an opportunity to troubleshoot and correct the problem before it degenerates into a disaster. Software such as PC Anywhere, Terminal Services, RAS, and other remote control tools allow you to quickly troubleshoot problems and effect change on the offending system. These software tools often afford you the benefit of performing support from your home or your laptop.

Who's on call?

Companies with multiple IT staff members should rely on an on-call rotation for support of their business-critical systems. But a word of warning: Many on-call rotations fail when only one person is trained and knowledgeable on a given system. If this person is you, then you may find yourself being called after hours even if you supposedly have the night off. Make it a point to cross-train with others so that they can resolve problems themselves.

Also, be sure that your users have a complete and comprehensive step-by-step guide to troubleshooting "common" problems and that all IT staff members have easy access to this handout.

Take comp time

Regardless of how stable your system is and no matter what tools you have in place, there will be times when problems with your company's mission-critical systems will require extensive after-hours support. This can leave you putting in more hours than the typical workweek requires. With the dynamic nature of our jobs, IT professionals often feel that working long hours is just something that comes with the territory. However, unless your employer specifically informed you that a typical workweek is more than 40 hours, do not be afraid to ask for compensation time. Taking comp time gives you vacation or personal time equivalent to the overtime you worked. It is important that you receive this time and use it in order to avoid burnout. Hopefully, your employer has a written plan in place that covers comp time.

Knowing that you are responsible for a major part of your company's success can be very rewarding, but by the same token, keeping your company's mission-critical systems running can be a strain on your personal life. Supporting such systems can be especially difficult if they're not stable and you don't have the troubleshooting systems in place. Establish your on-call rotation carefully and avoid burnout by taking comp time when deserved.

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