Systems admins checklist: 10 tasks to perform every year

Make sure your systems are up to date and running smoothly to keep employees/clients ready for work in the new year.

Engineer touching laptop check and control welding robotics automatic arms machine in intelligent factory automotive industrial with monitoring system software. Digital manufacturing operation.Industry 4.

Image: ipopba, Getty Images/iStockphoto

As systems administrators, we are tasked with the ongoing administration and management of employee/client computing devices--whether they are standalone computers connected directly into the LAN, mobile devices for  telecommuters, or a veritable army of tablets and smartphones connected to the WAN through public Wi-Fi networks or particularly dubious hotspots.

SEE: Network administrators: A guidebook (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The start of a new year is the best time to make sure all your ducks are in a row. Below is a list of 10 checklist items to perform to ensure your systems are ready for 2020. 

1. Verify disaster recovery plans work

Disaster recovery plans work, right? This belief is often bandied about, but the true test is the response to a disaster. If disaster recovery plans don't work, there is still time to correct them before a major incident. If there is not an effective disaster recovery plan in place, there's no time like the present to start that conversation.

2. Roll out operating system upgrades

This is by far one of the simplest tasks to perform given the multitude of software applications available. Mobile devices or those communicating over less-than-ideal connections will take some added effort to complete successfully. Giving your clients fresh systems for the new year will give them a bit of extra pep in their step.

3. Service call equipment, and order replacement parts

Scheduling a service call appointment or ordering replacement parts for failed components, or those in danger of failing, will save you time.

Some service contracts build in visits from the vendor to assess equipment and determine if any issues exist--kind of like an engine checkup by a certified mechanic. If issues are found, the vendor can often facilitate servicing these devices promptly and efficiently with little involvement from IT, freeing them up to focus on other tasks.

4. Check server health and performance

Similar to item three above--except more critical--is to perform a health check on the servers powering the services used by the enterprise. Chief among things to look for are alerts pertaining to potential hardware failures, loss of services, and resource utilization. The latter goes doubly in virtualized environments where resources may be configured according to their physical server counterparts, resulting in often over-provisioning of resources that remain underused.

The converse to this scenario is a server that is starved of resources and not operating stably. Too many or too little resources only yield one result: Some servers along the way are not configured properly and not operating optimally.

5. Perform preventive maintenance

Preventive maintenance is one of those tasks that--depending on your organization's layout--you may be either too busy to do or you may feel it's below your pay grade. Examples include cleaning the computers with a can of compressed air to prevent dust build up and using specialized cleaning solvents to "de-gunk" keyboards and mice to improve functionality and longevity. Regardless of where it falls on your spectrum, there are a number of preventive care tasks that may be performed by a number of people at all levels; this type of care can extend the life of your devices. 

6. Update licensing agreements

This may seem like another lackluster task, but it's an important IT-related task. License management can severely affect the company's bottom line if left unchecked. Developers enjoy the financial benefits of use of their software, and any violation may lead to hefty fines.

Performing the due diligence to assess the current and projected usage across all devices, including the sometimes tricky licensing structures for virtualized instances based on CPU counts, is just the tip of the iceberg. Don't forget to account for OS upgrades and support agreements for appliances, covering firmware updates and the like. An updated inventory of licensing records can also better manage IT funding moving forward, especially if consolidating servers and client desktops by virtualization can bring down license consumption and save money that can be redirected to other expenditures.

SEE: Is your data policy ready for California's new consumer privacy act? (TechRepublic)

7. Ensure monitoring tools are updated

The larger the footprint, the more likely the organization is using some form of monitoring tools. Regardless of whether it is license based or open sourced, the servers and workstations used to monitor and manage clients should be regularly updated for maximum protection and stability. There's no better time than the present to perform these tasks to verify that all management systems are optimized and running efficiently.

8. Run hardware inventory and system health reports

A concise hardware inventory helps IT know what systems are where, while the system health checkup helps determine the status of these nodes, whether they are missing any updates or require a tune-up or hardware replacement. 

9. Analyze logging output for hidden issues

All devices generate logs, and IT can't possibly read through every log generated on every device or we'd never get anything accomplished. Lucky for us, syslog servers exist, and their job is to correlate all these logs into one centralized location and sort through the entries to determine which are critical and should therefore be acted on immediately and which logged items require a less-than-immediate response.

Information gleaned from log files can also inform IT on how to proceed in the new year. When combined with other reporting types, a larger, more holistic view of the network can provide insight into future management tasks to focus on and projects to pursue.

SEE: 5 important tasks for G Suite administrators (TechRepublic)

10. Perform patch and change management

This should be a no-brainer. Patch management, updates, hotfixes, whatever you call it, must be performed regularly and by a controlled method in order to have any measure of verifiable success. This can be tricky in larger companies where patches should be tested for a determined period of time before being deployed across the production environment. This causes downtime for end users.

Always do a  thorough testing phase as well as work in time to confirm patch deployment across all devices. You should also  include detailed change management documentation to identify and track changes as they occur in the event of regression testing or future issues are noted during subsequent patch management cycles.

Also see