Diary of a Network Geek

The trials and tribulations of a Certified Novell Engineer who's been stranded in Houston, Texas.

3/11/2014

Systemometer

Filed under: Geek Work,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:30 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

A screensaver that monitors your server.Systemometer

This may not seem like much of a “tool”, since it’s pretty passive, but when you have a server that’s getting old and failing, being able to quickly glance at what its performance is like can be a real benefit.  And, for the past eight months, I’ve been running a server that, to be honest, was a little too old to be in production.  People would complain about it pretty much constantly, even, I suspect, when it may not have been the actual problem they were suffering from.  I’ve since replaced the server, but I kept running Systemometer on both the old server, which now serves as strictly a backup server, and the new, shiny, Windows 2012 server, just so everyone can see the difference.

But, let me be really specific about this; Systemometer is a configurable monitoring tool that shows system performance and resources in a spider chart. Seeing the varying shapes of displayed polygon, representing a visual pattern drawn based on normal, or critical, system states. Once you get used to it, this snapshot view helps to read the overall system status at a glance. Just looking at the screenshot in this post, which will enlarge if you click on it, you can see that a lot of information is displayed.  Notice, for instance, that there are 12 “CPU”s listed.  Since this is a modern, multi-core server, those are really just all the cores being displayed, with the current processor time in yellow and the average processor time in green.  If I wanted to, I can also set Systemometer to display the maximal processor usage, but as this is a new server, I haven’t bothered to set that.  The same goes for the number of processes the server is handling, as well as the number of threads.  Also displayed is the physical and virtual memory usage, total drive space used and the hard drive seek time.  Notice how almost everything falls well within that red circle on the display?  That’s because the server is new and being used well below it’s capacity, by design.  This is the second server upgrade I’ve done since I’ve been at this company, and I’d like to not have to do one again soon.  That’s also why the number of threads is reading like it’s in the red, even though it’s not.  The new server is so new that not all metrics have been calibrated to display correctly.
Also, notice that the two performance polygons are yellow and green.  The yellow is the current usage while the green is the average usage.  It may be hard to tell the difference between the two because I took this screen shot on a Sunday afternoon with minimal usage.  Of course, the server being primarily a file server and an Active Directory server, the average usage is pretty constant in any case.

It may not be obvious from the screen shot, but I’m running this as a screen saver, which is only one option for using Systemometer.  It can also be used as a kind of replacement performance monitor instead of using the built-in Task Manager for that function.  Actually, one way I validated the results I was seeing from Systemometer was to run it next to Task Manager and compare the displayed performance information.
Personally, I like running it as a screen saver because I can quickly check on my server as I walk past the screen into or out of my office.  Also, it seems to impress people who see it and can’t make heads or tails of what they’re seeing.  It’s not big, fancy monitoring system, but unless you really know what you’re looking at, the average person isn’t going to figure that out!

Finally, the other reason I use Systemometer is that it’s free!
Yep, that’s right, absolutely free.  Of course, it may not ever get updated again, but I’m okay with that, as long as it still works as it has been so far.

2/23/2014

Flawless Victory!

Filed under: Geek Work,GUI Center,MicroSoft,Pressgram — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:37 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

Okay, so maybe not “flawless”, but victory nonetheless.
What this is, is a screen shot of me remotely accessing my new, upgraded server, after about 11 hours of work, with a break for dinner.  I migrated the complete Active Directory server, as well as the DNS and DHCP servers.  (Which for you non-geeks means I moved all the network services that let people get to both this server and the internet.)  Trickier still was getting the print services moved to the new server.  For some very strange reason, in my opinion, the import of the exported print configuration wouldn’t work unless I had the Windows Firewall turned on for the new Windows 2012 server.  That’s just crazy to me.  Why does print services care that the firewall is turned off?  It should be able to ignore that and just go!  Damn Microsoft….  (Grumble, grumble.)

In any case, after 10+ hours of work, the upshot is that most people won’t even realize that the server was upgraded on Monday.  (At least, I hope that’s the case.)  I may still have a few issues with printing on Monday morning with some people, but, I hope, those will be few and minor.  We’ll see, I guess.  But, everything else went about as well as I could hope for.
No, it wasn’t quite “flawless”, but I was able to work it all out, so that’s good enough.
Besides, what I really get paid for, in my opinion, is not the fact that I make few mistakes, but that I make virtually no catastrophic mistakes and I can work out pretty much all of the mistakes, catastrophic or not, that I do make.
In shot, I’m very good at what I do for a living.  As a character from an old Western, “The Guns of Will Sonnet”, used to say, “That’s not brag, just fact.”

So, now, it’s off to church to give thanks for not completely fucking this up!

Published via Pressgram

2/21/2014

Weekend Plans

Filed under: Geek Work,MicroSoft,Pressgram,The Dark Side — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Monkey which is mid-afternoon or 4:23 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a Third Quarter Moon

Guess who’s spending the weekend upgrading the company’s main server?

Finally after dealing with an aging server for too long, we’re upgrading.  And, not a minute too soon, either.  I have the joy of migrating Active Directory from a Windows 2003 server to a Windows 2012 server.  Not to mention, I get to migrate printing services, an iSCSI array connection, DNS and DHCP.  Wee!  What fun!

Well, I suppose that’s why I get the “big bucks”, right?  A system administrator’s work is never done!

Published via Pressgram

2/18/2014

PogoPlug Multimedia Sharing Device

Filed under: Apple,Fun Work,Geek Work,Linux,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:56 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

I love this device!

Almost a year ago, I took a photography class from Syl Arena and he mentioned, in an off-hand comment, that he used a PogoPlug to access his files from home while on the road.  Now, I’d heard a little about the PogoPlug before that, but not much and with all the cloud storage services, like Dropbox, around, I didn’t really pay too much attention to it.  After hearing Syl go on at length about how easy it was to use, I read a little bit more about it.  I was suitably impressed, but just didn’t have the time or cash to really go ahead and follow through on a purchase.  Then, thanks to Gizmodo, I saw that Adorama had the entry-level PogoPlug on sale for $17.99, including free shipping.  The price has since gone up a dollar or two, but it’s still cheaper than full price and, let me tell you, completely worth it!

In brief, the PogoPlug is a network device that allows you to hook up USB-based drives to share on a network and the internet.  The device has six connections; one for power, one for the network cable, and four USB connections for storage.  I got mine hooked up in about five minutes.  Really, all you need to do is connect it to your network, attach storage to it and sign into your free my.pogoplug.com account to configure the device.  There’s an option once you sign in to check for new PogoPlug devices and, once yours is found, to configure the sharing services, if you want, or to upload files.  And, that’s pretty much all there is to the setup.  It really took me all of five minutes, and that was because I had forgotten to turn on the external USB hard drive enclosure I had attached to the PogoPlug.  Then, I just started uploading files.  And, the next day, to verify that I had done everything correctly, I signed in to the iPhone app while I was at the office and checked to make sure I could see my data remotely.  And, I could!  It really was just that easy!

I was even more excited when I discovered the slightly hidden ability to upload files directly to the PogoPlug without having to go through their webpage!  All I had to do was download and install the companion software which they offer for free.  They have both Android and iPhone clients as well as clients for Windows, Mac and Linux.  That downloadable software also let’s you do regular backups from any device you load it on to your PogoPlug, even over the internet!  Once installed, it makes your entire PogoPlug available to you as if it were a mapped drive with a drive letter and everything, just like any other network attached storage, except, of course, it will let you attach to that PogoPlug over the internet.  I’ve tried other things that claim they’ll let you have your own “personal cloud”, but they’ve all had problems when they bump up against the security I run on my network at home.  The PogoPlug, however, was even easier than advertised.  It was amazing!

There’s only one, small problem I’ve encountered with the PogoPlug and, really, it was only with the Android app.  I run a rooted Nook which I often use to read PDF files.  When I open PDF files through the Dropbox Android app, they launch right into Adobe’s PDF Reader without any issue.  But, when I try to do the same from the PogoPlug app on that rooted Nook, it gives me a message about downloading the file, but it never opens.  I hope that bug will be corrected in future versions of the app, but it’s a relatively minor issue, all things considered.

I really cannot say enough about how fantastic this device really is.  I haven’t tried just plugging in a regular USB thumb drive yet, or the outer limits on size, though I do have another USB drive enclosure and a 2 Terabyte drive that I’m itching to get hooked up.  Not to mention how deeply I want to dig into the software capabilities.  Also, I’m hoping I can get another cheap 2 Terabyte drive and figure out how to clone from one to the other to create a backup.
But, again, even if I can’t and I’ve seen all the possibilities of this device, it’s still awesome!
(And, yes, that link to Adorama which has sales information about the PogoPlug is an affiliate link, so I’ll make a little money of it if you buy it that way.)

1/21/2014

Free LogMeIn Alternative

Filed under: Career Archive,Fun Work,Geek Work,PERL,The Network Geek at Home — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Sheep which is in the early afternoon or 2:22 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Looks like the free LogMeIn option is going away.

It had to happen eventually, but it kind of sucks for those of us who relied on it to get certain things done.
They sent an email this morning, giving free users, like me, about a week to either pony up for a pro account or find another solution.  I figured I would have to search around for a while to find an alternative, but, thankfully, the folks over at Slashdot were already talking about it in the thread Short Notice: LogMeIn To Discontinue Free Access.  The ever helpful commenters had a lot of suggestions, with varying levels of snark and technical skill required and, you know, actual usefulness.  There were some interesting and baroque solutions to this pretty common problem.
Now, I’m a devote of Perl, so the idea that “there’s more than one way to do it” is near and dear to my heart, but some of those solutions on Slashdot were more hassle than they were worth!

The solution I looked at and quickly tested today was the Chrome Remote Desktop plugin.
I chose this for a couple of reasons.  First, it was free.  Frankly, that was probably the most important requirement.  I don’t have a budget for a lot of things I don’t use everywhere or every day, so I need to be careful how I spend that money.  Secondly, it was easy to implement and use.  There were several options discussed on Slashdot, but most of them were going to take creating one or more accounts on services like DynDNS or something similar, or they would need a new server or other dedicated machine.  That wasn’t going to work for me either.  I need something simple to install and use.  Mostly because I’m lazy, but still, the requirement is there.  And, thirdly, there had to be some kind of security on it so random users couldn’t log into machines.
Now, the “down-side”, such as it is.  This solution requires that Chrome be installed on any machine you want to get access to or from.  This is a Chrome plugin, so, obviously, it won’t work without Chrome.  Secondly, to get it and install it, you need a Google account of some kind, even though it’s free.  Gmail will do, and in fact was what I used to get the plugin from the Google App Store.  And, yeah, that was pretty much the only “bad” thing about it.  Again, for me, it wasn’t a big deal because I tend to install Chrome on any machine I happen to work on for any length of time, but it could be a hassle for people who don’t use or know Chrome.

Setup was easy and prompted me to enable remote connections to my machine then immediately asked me to set a PIN to restrict access.  I like that it did that.  Also, the PIN is required to be at least six digits, which is decent enough security.  I, personally, made it seven digits, but for the truly paranoid, you can make it longer.  I first set the plugin up on my work machine and then set it up at lunch on my home PC.  Again, I was asked for a PIN.  I happened to make it the same, but I’m pretty sure that PIN was unique to each machine, so, again, for the truly paranoid, you can lock this down pretty well.  After that five minute install, I was able to take over my machine at work.  Boom!  Just that easy.

As a further test of the plugin’s ability, I checked the box that allowed for “off-line access”, then I shut down my Chrome browser at home.  Once I got back to work, I tried remotely accessing my home PC.  I was asked for the PIN and then I was right in!  Again, just that easy.
Also, I should note that my work PC has only one monitor, but my home PC has two and Chrome Remote Desktop plugin flawlessly displayed both monitors.  It was absolutely amazing!  And, the connection was fast!  Frankly, it was faster than LogMeIn was most of the time.  It was great!

So, I know that LogMeIn won’t miss my business, since I never really gave them any, but I cannot say that I’ll miss them.  This is a great solution to the problem of remote access and I cannot be happier with it.  We’ll see how things go over time, of course, but this looks like a great, easy and free replacement for LogMeIn.
If you all find other solutions or solutions that you think work better, leave the information in the comments!

11/7/2013

Security Screwed

Filed under: Geek Work,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,Pressgram — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Snake which is just before lunchtime or 11:16 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

A new screwdriver set, with a complete set of long-shaft bits, and a special set of “tamper resistant” bits for work. Purchased because the original in-house installers of a projector are all claiming ignorance now that we have to replace it.
Luckily, Harbor Freight Tools had a sale and this whole set was less than $20!

The screws in question, incidentally, are the “hex” or “Allen wrench” style with a post in the center.  Kind of deceptive and frustratingly hard to identify when you don’t know their name!

Published via Pressgram

10/17/2013

ServerLift

Filed under: Geek Work,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,Review — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 6:44 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Gibbous

Where was this when I needed it?!

If you don’t work in the IT industry, you may think of us all as the stereotypical “pencil-necked geeks”, but you’d be wrong.  That’s especially true of those of us who have had the pleasure of doing regular work in large data centers or server farms.  When you see those long racks of endless servers in ads on TV, consider this, someone had to lift them all into place.  And, if you think that laptop you have to lug through airport security is heavy, then you never, ever want to have to lift a server into place in a server rack.  Consider this; a Dell PowerEdge 2950 server, which is a pretty standard or average size, weighs almost 60 pounds.  When you have to lift that into a server rack, you have to hold it steady while lining up the sliding rail assemblies so that they lock into place in that server rack.  Now, imagine controlling 60 pounds with that kind of fine motor control over your head.
Yeah, and that’s not even mentioning the big UPS units that often run more than 200 pounds.
So, that’s why so many IT people are really actually quite well built, at least when it comes to upper-body strength.  (It’s those damn chairs and keyboards that make the weight stack up around the middle!)

But, today, I got an email from a company advertising a product called ServerLift.
Now, regular readers know that I’m pretty mercenary, so I rarely advertise anything for free, but this product looks like genius!  This thing will, according to their product literature, will lift up to 500 pounds and will let you wheel that load right up to the rack and glide it right in.  I haven’t used one myself, because I don’t work in a big server environment at the moment, but the video makes it look like lining things up is pretty simple.  And, best of all, it looks really stable and secure, so there’s less possibility of dropping a server or, like I have, bending a rail that wasn’t quite lined up right.
I cannot tell you how many times I have wished for a product just like this one!  And, so help me, if I ever get into a position where I’m in charge of a big data center again, I’ll be finding out how much these are so I can work it into the budget.
I can only imagine how many broken toes this would have saved over the years!

10/3/2013

Order Up!

Filed under: Fun,Geek Work,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,Pressgram — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Monkey which is in the late afternoon or 5:01 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a New Moon

My new ordering system at work. Based on a blog post I read weeks ago, I bought a bunch if cheap “guest checks” like wait-staff use in restaurants. The post suggested using them to take ALL your notes, but at the office I only use them to write down equipment and supply requests for the day. Then, every day at about 4:00, I can just grab my pad and place my order. So far, it’s worked great! (And, if it continues to work well, I may expand my use of the guest check pads!)

Published via Pressgram

9/11/2013

IT Dreams

Filed under: Criticism, Marginalia, and Notes,Geek Work,Life Goals,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is terribly early in the morning or 6:48 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

You know what I’d like to do?

I’d like to run a large-ish IT shop with a clear and well-defined budget.  I’d like to plan for rolling upgrades so that no one had a workstation or laptop that was older than five years old.  If the budget allowed for it, so that no one had equipment that was older than three years old.  And, I’d like to take that old, retired equipment and donate it to worth causes, like the Boys and Girls Clubs of America or the Red Cross or Goodwill or something like that.  Local charities, too, but all causes that would use that equipment to better someone’s actual life.

I’d like to have servers that were under-utilized for a change, instead of always headed toward being out of resources.  Servers with so much room to grow that they still were running smoothly even after a five or six year period, but that were upgraded before they were ten years old anyway, just because that’s the right way to do it.

I’d like to have staff that I could develop and grow and train to be the best IT personnel that techs could imagine being.  And, I mean that both through having a training budget to send them out for classes, but also on a personal level.  The one thing I really, really miss about being more than a department of one is that chance to teach someone how to do it the right way.  (And, yes, there are many ways to get IT stuff done, but, honestly, there are some ways that are more right than others.)

I long for a neat wiring closet again.  And an orderly server rack.  I miss having a dedicated server room with it’s own A/C and raised floors.  Can’t there be a way for even small companies to do that?  Shouldn’t we find a way for that to be a thing?

Okay, Universe, there it is.  I’ve said it.  Now, go make it happen!

9/6/2013

External USB Drive Array

Filed under: Geek Work,Pressgram — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Monkey which is mid-afternoon or 4:48 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

My favorite new tech toy!
Recently, I cleaned up my office (by hiring my fiancé), and found a lot of older hard drives that needed to be wiped before I could dispose of them. This little guy from Startech.com has really done the trick! I just pop a drive in, hit the power button for that slot, and I have a fresh, new drive available on my machine to format clean! Just that easy!

(You can find my fiancé’s business at The Organizing Decorator, by the way!)

Published via Pressgram

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