IT Certification and Training Blog

An Administrator’s Guide to Popularity

Mar 20, 2013 9:34:00 AM / by Kelson Lawrence

By Tim Charlton

Remember the good ole days of high school? The adulation from a seemingly endless stream of friends? The parties? The clubs? Being treated like royalty over your own little fiefdom? Yeah, me neither. If your experiences were like mine, you more likely endured an endless stream of wedgies, awkward interactions with the opposite sex, and other 1980s John Hughes movie clichés.

But you do have a chance for redemption. If you missed out, listen up. I’m about to let you in on how YOU, the administrator, can become the most popular person at your company. Are you ready for it?

It’s simple: break something.

That’s it. The more critical the system, the more popular you’ll become. Go ahead, try it. Force that e-mail server to crash. Unplug that switch that serves as the network’s backbone. You’ll have a line at your door so fast it’ll make your head spin.

Granted, no one’s coming to gossip about you-know-who or to check out your latest choice in fashion or accessories (as awesome as they might be). No, they’re coming to inform you that something is broken and, more importantly, to ask how long till it’s unbroken.

As my colleague, Thomas Chipman, once posted on my Facebook page in a moment of my own surging popularity, “no pressure.”

I don’t need to tell you this kind of popularity is bad. The company’s ability to function properly is now on hold, and despite Thomas’ ironic remark, the pressure is indeed on. What to do? Here's some advice:

1. Assure everyone you’re on the case, and if possible, give them an ETA on a solution. Be careful not to over-promise. If you think your users are anxious now, wait till you miss your target for resolution. Over-promising is simply setting yourself up for failure, not to mention more snarky comments from Thomas—err, your colleagues. If you haven’t yet identified the problem, be honest with your coworkers and assure them you’re doing everything you can to get everything back to normal. In addition, do your best to keep your coworkers informed of your progress.

2. Assess the situation. Start with the basics first. Is the device powered on? Did anyone change the device’s configuration? Was an update recently applied? New administrators often make the mistake of looking for complex causes first. Often times, the problem is much simpler. You should incrementally progress from basic to more complex troubleshooting techniques as necessary.

3. After you’ve identified the problem, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty: correction. If the problem can be solved with a quick fix, get it done. If completion is not imminent, it’s again a good practice to keep your coworkers informed of your progress.

4. When the repair is complete, you’ll want to once again communicate this to your coworkers. Then, after some high-fives and maybe a parade in your honor, you can withdraw to your former life of relative obscurity. After all, being popular can be such a bore.

As an administrator, you need to be prepared for sudden rushes of popularity. Systems malfunction without notice. As my boss, John Oden, once told me, “A big part of IT is being ready for something that never happens … until it does.” Don’t be caught off guard. Things are going to break. It’s only a matter of time.

Here are some tips for being prepared:

1. Backup, backup, backup. ALWAYS have current backups of your data on hand. This cannot be stressed enough. However, simply having backups is not enough. You need to regularly test your backups to ensure they’re complete and ready for use. An untested backup is better than no backup at all, but you don’t want to wait until something bad happens to determine the validity of your backups. Hope is not a plan.

2. Perform drills for any repairs or restores that you can foresee. Can you restore that e-mail server in the event of a catastrophic failure? Set up a testing environment and find out for yourself. Create documentation of the steps used to perform the repairs. Ideally, you’ll get the opportunity to perform these drills multiple times before you need to do it for real. This will allow you to refine the process and avoid wasted steps for when the line begins to form at your door.

3. Know your environment. Understand how it all works together. Create thorough documentation about any hardware, software, and network protocols used in the environment. Don’t wait until a crisis happens to figure out which model of server or version of software you’re using. In addition, you should have contact information for vendors, ISPs, and other providers on hand for quick reference. After you’ve created this documentation, be sure to print it off. That information won’t do you any good if the only copy exists on a dead or inaccessible server.

4. Address little problems before they become big problems. Regularly check event logs and other forms of reporting for errors and warnings. Just because a problem hasn’t manifested itself in the form of a full-blown crisis doesn’t mean you should ignore the warning signs. Be proactive.

Follow these tips and you’re sure to find your popularity fleeting (until it isn’t). From one administrator to another, here’s to a life of obscurity. Live long and prosper.


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Topics: Network Administrators guide, tips, assess, backup, repair, event logs

Kelson Lawrence

Written by Kelson Lawrence

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