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.

2/21/2014

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

10/27/2011

The Half-Life of IT Skills

Filed under: Career Archive,Certification,Geek Work — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:44 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a New Moon

There is one, apparently.

So, it seems someone has figured out the answer to an old question which has often plagued IT professionals: How long are your skills good?  According to Eric Bloom, over at IT World, longer than you think.  He claims that the tech skills you have now will be half as marketable in two years.  If you read Slashdot, you’ve seen this article and the comments that followed.  Here are my thoughts, though.

First, I think it depends on the skills involved.
For example, if you’re working on Windows Server, your skills will probably translate fairly well and that two-year half-life is about right.  For Unix, maybe a bit longer than that.  For Novell, well, sadly, I’m not sure who actually uses that old warhorse any more, as much as it makes me sad to write it.  For other, less vendor oriented skills, I think two-years may be a bit short-sighted.  Take routers, for instance.  Now basic routing hasn’t really changed in quite a long time.  Even Cisco routers, the creme-de-la-creme of enterprise routers, haven’t really changed that much on the inside in the last 15 years.  I was in one the other day and I have to admit I was shocked at how quickly the skills came back to me after quite literally years of disuse.  Far more than two years, I might add.
Also, skills that are a little harder to quantify certainly stay “fresh” longer than those hypothetical two years.  Things like troubleshooting and the so-called soft skills involved with user support are something that I think are deeply engrained in someone.  They’re part of a work ethic.  So the customer service skills I learned more than 20 years ago when I worked for Hyatt Hotels are certainly still more than “good”.

Secondly, Mr. Bloom is talking about marketability, not actual utility.
So, the fact that, for instance, I don’t have a Cisco certification, even though I’m clearly capable of configuring a Cisco router, means that quite probably was never what he would have considered a “marketable skill”.  In fact, based on what many recruiters may have felt about the marketability of my skills, I should be farming beets right now, not working as the Lead Tech/IT Manager of a fairly prosperous design and manufacturing company.  Instead, of course, all through my career, I’ve managed to talk my way through the door and then show the people in charge that versatility and adaptability, not to mention mad Google-query-crafting skills, are far more important than any specific past experience or certification.

So, what about you, gentle readers?  What do you think?  How long are tech skills “good”?  And does working on legacy systems harm your future employability?

12/8/2010

Backup Plan Review

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Geek Work,MicroSoft — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:43 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waxing Crescent

It’s almost the end of the year and most people are wrapping up projects and thinking about how they’re going to squeeze in their last vacation days.

But, not if you’re in IT.
No, if you’re one of the over-worked, under-paid technology “elite” in the corporate world, you’re working harder than ever right now.  While everyone else is taking time off, you, like me, are trying to get all the system maintenance done that requires everyone else to be off your systems.   Well, while you’re waiting for them to get out of the office so you can start your work, here are some things to think about.

When was the last time you had to restore a backup?  Have you ever even tried to restore any files from those backups that you worked so hard to get running right when you setup your servers?  Well, now is the time to try it.  Trust me on this, but you don’t know how good your backup is until you try to restore.  Now, you may not be able to do a full server restore on fresh hardware, but, if you can, do it.  That’s the only true test of your disaster recovery plan.  Barring that, though, at least try to restore some files from random places on the server, just as a check to make sure it works.

And, while we’re talking about backups, how is your off-site rotation working?  If you’re in a large company, you probably have a long-standing system for rotating backups off-site in case of a massive disaster, but many smaller companies don’t.  Generally, what I suggest to people is that there should be one full backup off-site, one coming back or leaving, and one on-site.  The most current, usually, should rotate off-site just after completion and be off-site for two weeks, or, really, off-site for one week and coming back on the second.  There are plenty of  services to do this, but even just taking them to the network manager’s house is better than nothing.  Just somewhere relatively secure that’s not the same as the site you’re backing up, just in case the entire building catches fire or is demolished in a hurricane.  You get the idea.

Now, something else to consider, if you run Windows Server is Active Directory.
Mostly, your backup program should be taking care of this, but sometimes funky change creeps in when you don’t expect it.  Back in the days when I was more than an IT department of one, I was a big believer in getting baselines.  Every once in a while, it’s nice to take a snapshot of what’s working so that when it inevitably breaks, you can see what might have changed to break it.  This is especially true of things like Active Directory.  Every year, AD gets more and more complicated and, as your network grows, your individual AD tree will get more complicated, too.  Now, assuming that things are running well, is a great time to take a snapshot of your AD tree for a baseline to use in the coming year.
Tech Republic has a good article on how to use a free tool from Sysinternals to do just that.  Check it out.

And, for those of you who don’t have an IT department, or are a sole-proprietor, don’t think you can just slide, either.
Chances are your clients are taking more time off and you’ll have some down-time, too, so now is the perfect time to review your backup plans.  Many of you may not have much of a plan, or much of a budget to get something working for you.  Well, don’t worry, Tech Republic has some creative suggestions for backups to fit most situations. Do yourself a favor and go check them out now.  Then actually implement one before the start of the new year.  Do it now, before you need to restore data from a crash.

Trust me.  Make sure your backups are running before you need them.  You’ll thank me later.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"The spirit , the will to win, and the will to excel are the things that endure. These qualities are so much more important than the events that occur."
   --Vince Lombardi


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