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When software developers are responsible for Network Administration...

By CodeFingers ·
This is my first post on TechRepublic. I am very interested in your reactions, insights, opinions on a situation we're facing in our company.

We are an employee development and training company with 19 employees total. This includes 3 software developers (myself included) who have historically shouldered the full gamut of all things IT (network infrastructure/administration, network security, desktop support, database administration, backups, etc.) We do not have a dedicated network administrator.

Our clients use three distinct database-intensive web-based applications that support our training and development offerings. We have one Primary Domain controller (Windows 2003), two web servers (IIS), two SQL Server database servers, an Exchange server, a linux web server and MySQL server, 20-25 workstations, a Goldmine CRM server, a hardware firewall, Symantec A/V corporate server, an OCR form-scanning and data-capture workstation, a machine for external employees to remote into via terminal services, and a 1.75 Terabyte file server which also acts as a print server.

We're heavily dependent on our web-based applications not only for the revenue that we derive directly from them but also for the revenue that we otherwise wouldn't receive for various training offerings that are enhanced by and packaged with these online services.

Like so many businesses in this day and age, we're extremely reliant upon email for our day-to-day business communications.

Our lead programmer has repeatedly made the case that a company that is reliant on IT to the degree we are for our revenue should have at least one dedicated network admin who can devote themselves full-time to network/server maintenance and proactive desktop support, etc. No action has been taken on this issue. Apparently, there is a reluctance to spend additional money for something they perceive they are getting in the form of the three developers trying to haphazardly handle whatever issues arise.

Has anyone ever faced a similar type of situation? Are there many companies who follow this approach? I?ve read some other posts in the IT Management topic in TechRepublic about staffing issues ? mainly ratios of IT help desk/techs to employees rather than the question I am asking which is: At what size does a company make the investment to formally establish a network administrative role ? in a situation where technology plays a role similar to the one I?ve described?

I look forward to any insights you may have. Your external input may even make its way to our COO.

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There are two answers to this question

by Deadly Ernest In reply to When software developers ...

1. When the senior financial decision makers realise that not having a dedicated specialised IT administrator will, usually has just, cost them a few hundred thousand bucks.

2. The best time to employ a dedicated specialised IT administrator is when you have more than 4 servers and the loss of any or any data on them could reduce work activity by 25% while down.

Did you list all your servers as I noticed the list does not include a mail server or an Intrusion Detection server or system back up server. I do hope you have properly set up routers at both ends of your gateway, and use Network Address Translation, thus helping to protect your data.

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Re: There are two answers to this question

by CodeFingers In reply to There are two answers to ...

Thanks Deadly Ernest for your response.

I totally agree with #1 - that's been a prominent point we've periodically raised.

I really appreciate your response in #2 - could you elaborate on how you arrived at that? Is that a common metric for when to employ a specialised IT administrator or a general rule of thumb, etc.?

I apologize on the server list - I listed "Exchange" which is Microsoft Exchange 2003, our email server. We have a Netscreen 25 which is our firewall and gateway router to our ISP which is at our business park. The firewall has some basic Intrusion Detection capabilities but isn't a full-blown stand-alone IDS. We are gimping along in terms of backups - no where close to where we need to be, but enough to save us from complete core-meltdown status if something goes really wrong.

Our firewall handles the NAT process, it also supports multiple ethernet interfaces so we have a DMZ in addition to our private network area.

We've done a decent job at the bulk of the basics but we're not specialists at Exchange administration, domain administration, and all that kind of stuff. As long as nothing severely bad happens, we can probably manage pretty fine indefinitely. But there is a risk and a cost. The risk, as you've mentioned, is hitting a brick wall that could have been prevented with proactive network administration - something that could cost us a great deal of business. An additional ongoing cost of not having a network admin is all the improved efficiencies in our infrastructure, our customer satisfaction and staff productivity that otherwise could be ours.

If my mental count is correct, we have 9 server boxes hosting more than 9 various services. There are several that would be a nightmare for us if they were to fail. So I think we're in the ballpark on your 2nd point.

Thanks again for your reply.

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Mostly educated guestimation from experience

by Deadly Ernest In reply to Re: There are two answers ...

First, sorry I missed the point about the Exchange server being your mail server. Once you mentioned it I remembered that is the MS mail server, in all the gateways I have worked with I have NEVER found anyone who used MS Exchange - yeah I've heard about people doing so, but never seen it, OK :8} - every mail server I have been near has either been sendmail or Lotus Notes because of security reasons.

When any system or set of connected systems affect 25% or more of your business operations they are critical business activities - that is a basic management figure I learnt doing a bussiness management course, some experts set the figure at 20%. As critical activities they MUST be properly protected or your dead. Another aspect is if they have any personal data, they must be solidly protected by law.

The figure of four servers comes from the activities that they do. A small business can run with a domain server, mail server, file server, web server and have two or more loaded on then one machine. But when the load is so large that you can't share the hardware, then they are big enough to need a LOT of maintenance. Once you get past this you have some real specialty servers and need to be able to set up automated maintenance programs and constantly check them - that's a full time job. Most fair sized gateways have a computer displaying server performance all day long, to react to problems before the complaints come in.

Another aspect to take into account is that when you build a server you have to format it, load the operating system and software, then 'fine tune' the server for the best security and performance to suit its purpose. This is commonly referred to as 'hardening' the server - this process normally takes between 3 to 8 hours dedicated work to do properly (depends upon the software and purpose). I've yet to see anyone get away with under 4 hours.

Now you have about a dozen servers going, what happens if your building gets hit by lightening, that will ALWAYS **** a computer or two to electronic heaven. How quickly can you build and set up anyone of these servers? That's your critical fact, can any of the existing staff do this within one working day?

For your own peace of mind you should have another server that has images of all the other servers stored on it at regular intervals - everytime any patch etc is made to it. This sever should be disconnected from the system and turned off when not being updated. That should greatly reduced the time taken to get systems back up.

Data back ups are another issue. and should be done daily.

On a more important issue, if you're located within reasonable drive time of Wagga Wagga, NSW, Australia - or are prepared to pay my travel costs and some time - I'm prepared to come and give you a detailed examination and report on your gateway, I have both IT and business management qulifications and experience, so I can see both sides of the issue.

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RE: Mostly educated guestimation from experience

by CodeFingers In reply to Mostly educated guestimat ...

Thanks again for your reply. I appreciate the offer to come out and consult with us. We're located in the western United States in a strong technology center, however, so I do not see an easy way to make a business case for bringing you out from Australia unless we exhaust all local options first.

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