Top 10 System Administrator Truths – Updated

Evan Erwin back in 2005 wrote a block “Top Ten System Administrator Truths”. I’ve updated his list with a few caveats as well as notes as to which of his truths are now more universal than the examples he cited.

#1 – Users Lie, Even When You Have Tracking Tools in Place

Users may lie about having installed personal software like affirmational screen savers, music players or even patches they thought they found online to try to avoid calling you. And they will sometimes say they didn’t break the rules set forth by IT in order to stay out of trouble, even after clicking on the “I consent to monitoring” every day they log in.

#2 – Email is the Lifeblood of Non-Techies Despite All the Articles Saying Don’t

Email is still the lifeblood of non-technical people, despite all the articles saying you should have face to face communications, phone calls and conferences instead. Even with a generation nearly raised on instant messaging, they can’t use that for much more than replacing over the wall conversations with a single peer, whereas email is still the standard for notices that a document has been updated, that tasks await their action to complete and reminders of events.

#3- Printers S#$& and In More Ways Than One

I’ve personally witnessed many “I can’t print” tickets that were blamed on the document management system that were actually network slowdowns due to denial of service attacks or sheer demand, hardware problems instead of software issues, devices not turned on, lack of toner, or a really big print job that was still loading.

#4 – Cleanliness is Godliness

The original version of this quote refers to clean work environments can save your hardware, such as lint from blankets or dust from a dirty workspace ruin servers and PC guts. This is true from a software side, too. Not having lots of apps or documents saved to the desktop saves you time when you try to find something. Not installing and downloading a lot of things prevents quite a few IT tickets from software conflicts to failed updates to “that app was actually malware”.

#5 – Backups are Crucial

Backups are still crucial. Backing up PCs to a server is much more common now. Backing up servers and personal computers to the cloud is more common, though Edward Snowden’s revelations mean that private cloud servers that the NSA can’t just review at will shall be more popular than Microsoft, Apple and other companies who have given the NSA access to not-hot copies of their production systems or where the NSA simply built themselves a back door.

#6 – Switches and Hubs (Usually) Die One Port At A Time

This hardware maximum remains true. The only change that comes to mind is the relative ease with which server blades can be replaced today, and the ability to set up mirrored servers and cloned virtual servers that make the repairs and part replacements easier.

#7 – No One Ever Got Fired For Buying Microsoft

Microsoft remains the 800 pound gorilla in the enterprise software market, in part due to its long term contracts and in part due to its universality due to its long term contracts. Linux and Unix servers are certainly more common and accepted now as a business standard. However, the diversity of Unix / Linux instantiations slows its adoption, and Unix/Linux desktops are still a long way from replacing the Windows PC. However, a Windows client delivered as a remote desktop hosted on a Linux or Unix server is plausible.

#8 – Politeness > Brevity

This is true, and only the range of applications has grown. Keep the error messages short enough for users to comprehend and be able to document in an error report. User work instructions should be one or two lines per step, never a full paragraph. If the whole user process is many pages long, perhaps you need to hire an Lean consultant, if not a better tech writer. One step installations and updates are ideal from a user’s perspective as long as it goes right most of the time. Automated tasks like backups and critical updates are ideal from the helpdesk’s perspective.

# 9 – Know Your Needs

The original version of this “Top 10 System Administrator Truths” was the advice to learn Linux and install it. A more universal version of this could be “don’t buy software you don’t need”. When you buy an enterprise software suite, don’t buy extra software or features you don’t need. Unfortunately, too many software suites are like the deluxe service package – getting the one extra you want requires getting ten extra items you don’t.
Another version of this truth is gathering accurate user requirements. What does your document management software need to do? It should ensure that access is only granted to those who should have access, provide access on demand with minimal delay and prevent unauthorized users from changing something. Workflow management is useful to the help desk, but workflow customization in general isn’t required. And if you want the ability to customize the workflow because the tool’s default workflow is too complex, maybe you need a different tool altogether.

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