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IT – How Pennywise Would’ve Done It

Screaming like a little girl

Screaming like a little girl

Warning: some material may not be suitable for unqualified IT professionals. Some IT pros may be easily scared by the following scenario. Viewer discretion is advised.

Sometimes you walk into a new client’s site, and are amazed by what you see! I have walked into sites where everything is like a bright, sunny day; but I have also walked into some and it was like walking into a horror movie. Unfortunately, I see more bloodcurdling IT infrastructure than I’d like to. Here’s a classic that Hitchcock could have used:

Before we get into the scary details, this client is an awesome company and they are doing great work in the community; and I am very humbled and honored to be a part of their team. The first time I walked in was because the “server” wouldn’t work. (This situation was the basis of my Microsoft Technet blog post, “My IT Guy was Hit By a Bus“). Needless to say, their IT guy went missing. Locals say he was last seen walking into the fog.

What I saw scared me. I wasn’t just a little worried, I was terrified of their setup; and if I were religious, I would have said a prayer.

Their “server”, which was hosting the shared files for the 10 employees, was a homemade box (nothing wrong with this) with a mysterious copy of Windows Server 2003 installed, but not configured for server use. What made me panic like a little girl watching The Shining (with the lights off), was that all their data was stored on a portable USB drive, with a Post-It note, just barely hanging on (much like a severed limb), reading, “Do not ever remove”. Yes, you read that right! All the data was on a USB drive. Talk about a cold sweat. To ensure that nothing would happen to their data, I hunted for a backup. Go ahead, guess what I found. If you guessed “no backup,” you would be correct. This went from The Shining scary to The Exorcist scary.

By following the steps below, you are guaranteed to have a haunted server, and risk data death; and you’ll be playing the lead role in your own horror movie.

1. Server-rated hardware is overrated, just grab the first desktop you can get your bloody hands on.

2. We can always revive your hardware with electrocution, don’t bother with backup strategies.

3. Mirrored drives (and RAID) are only good for funhouses. Make sure to exclude them from your server.

4. Proper licensing is scary (it really is). Avoid it entirely! You don’t need that in your life.

5. Only hire the undead, and unqualified, IT professionals.

For the client in this situation, we immediately ordered new server hardware with a proper and current server operating system. Until the new system was in place, I manually backed up their data weekly to ensure that if the USB drive was ever possessed, we had a backup of their data.

Both the client and I sleep better at night knowing that they now have the proper safeguards in place. Your IT infrastructure should never look like it was put together by Hannibal Lecter. If opening the server closet is scarier than being slashed through a shower curtain, please have your qualified IT professional come in and rescue you from the horror of it all!

Can you find all the scary references? And which movie scares you the most?

PS: I love scary movies, but seriously, your technical infrastructure should not be a scene out of one.

3-2-1 Ready…Now Backup!

It’s Thursday morning and an acquaintance emails saying that she can’t load Windows.  After troubleshooting via email, it was decided that a full clean re-install was required.  Unfortunately, she lost all of the pictures on her system.  I asked if she had a backup, and you can probably guess the answer.

Yes, we have all been there, a hard disk fails, you can’t find the USB you put the critical files on, etc.  In the tech industry, there is something we call the 3-2-1 backup strategy.  It’s a very simple procedure to help keep your data recoverable if something was to happen.

Ready…here we go.

3 – You must have 3 copies of your data.  One copy should be on your hard disk (your working copy). The other 2 copies could be on an USB drive, an external hard drive or a cloud service.

2 – You must have your data on 2 different media.  Again, one copy would be on your hard disk, the other could be on an USB drive, or DVD.

1 – You must keep one of the copies off-site. You can accomplish this by taking a backup set of DVDs to a friend, or use a cloud service.  Consider this: if your office was to experience a fire or flood etc, would you be able to recover your backups?

Both Windows and Mac have built in backup software to help make this procedure easy and automatic.

Following these 3 simple steps will help keep your data safe and recoverable.   If you are unsure of how to best keep your data safe, please contact your IT Professional.  He or she can help develop a backup strategy that best meets your needs.

Don’t learn the lesson the hard way.

Categories: backups, Cloud Tags: , , , ,

Example of a Typical Small Business Office Network Implementation

Background

A 10 year old company specializing in custom medical devices sold worldwide. At the time of this writing, the company had 10 full time employees. Five employees worked in the office on desktop systems connected to a hub and router.

The other five employees were outside sales reps all using company laptops. Two of the sales reps came into the office weekly. Two would be in the office a few times a month. The fifth lives in another province and is only in the office once a year.

The office has a business Internet connection. The connection was and still is a satellite and is prone to disruption. Satellite is the only cost effective and viable option at this point in time. Fibre will be available in the area in a few years. The office was hard wired with Cat 5 cable and two access points available for wireless connectivity.

Users had individual copies of pricing spreadsheets and quotes. When a user needed a file, the file was either emailed or copied across the network to a shared folder on the users’ desktop system.

A desktop computer served the CRM then shared via the network to the other users in the office.

A convoluted backup solution was in place. The backup solution was never tested. This was discovered after a hard drive failed and we were unable to successfully restore the users’ data.

Also, installed was one network printer, one NAS (network area storage) and a standalone fax machine.

The client requested we keep costs to a minimum to remain within their budget. They did not require or want a large, complicated system and do not have the staff or resources to manage it after implementation.

Requirements:

  • Easily share files between in house users
  • CRM must always be available
  • Reliable backup

Optional:

  • Easy access of non-confidential files (mostly customized drivers and documentation) for the outside sales reps and clients.
  • Allow all employees access to the critical files and CRM from outside the office.

Solution:

Requirements Met:

We installed a server operating system on a spare computer. This computer met the minimum requirements but had limited disk space. I expected this solution to meet their needs for 18-24 months. This was 3 years ago, and we are only now looking at upgrading, due to hard disk space limitations. The server houses all the shared files and the CRM which all users can access depending on their permissions. All sales reps have an offline CRM database on their laptops which they update daily and then sync with the office.

Critical files on the server (in this case financial files) are backed up to an USB key daily and rotated off site. All additional server files are automatically backed up to an external drive daily. Weekly backups are moved off site. Desktop systems have native OS backup software installed. These backups are kept on a NAS. Weekly, a staff member manually moves the backups to an external hard disk and keeps it off site. This requires a few hours, but can be done in the background. Once the office has a faster, more robust Internet connection, cloud bases backups will replace the current in-house solution. Until then, the current implementation is working well, and most importantly, when files had to be restored we were able to do so.

All users with laptops are responsible for their own backups on an USB drive.

Email and website hosting are outsourced. We choose this option due to connectivity issues at the local site. It would have also added additional costs to host internally in both hardware and administration.

Optional Met:

User can access files and the CRM database via a VPN connection. The server software controls the remote access permissions. Each employee has an account and permission to various files and/or options.

A networked printer and a networked multifunction device have since been added. The stand alone fax was removed.

In addition, an unused Windows XP system became a FTP server. The internal users can add non critical or non-confidential files to the FTP site for clients or other outside sales reps to access. Clients and outside staff can only download from the FTP server. Uploading is strictly controlled.

In order to keep the costs down, older equipment was re-purposed where possible. Printers and a new fax machine had already been budgeted. Total cost less than $1000 for the server operating system.

Current Status:

The users are very satisfied with the current implementation. As stated above, the hard disk space on the server is running low and we are in the process of adding additional hard disk storage to the server. We have looked into upgrading the current satellite Internet connection, but due to location of the office it is cost prohibitive. We will re-evaluate the connectivity issues in a few years when fibre will be available in the area. I suspect, within the next couple of years, the company may have move to a larger location in town as they keep growing. If a move or the employee growth trend continues, it would then be an opportune time to re-evaluate their needs. If and when this occurs a new server with an upgraded operating system and a more comprehensive backup plan would be added.

This outlines the basics of a typical small business office and what can and needs to be done to meet the needs of the users. As you can see from the above example we worked within a limited budget and provided the functionality they required.

PS Since this was originally written some of those expected growth changes are planned this year. I’ll do a follow up post as this company moves forward.

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