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266 Posts authored by: Josh Stephens
Josh Stephens

IT admins gone wild...

Posted by Josh Stephens Jun 20, 2011

Something tells me that if we ever made a video about this it would be somewhat less successful than the other "People Gone Wild" videos out there but it's an interesting topic to discuss nonetheless...

We've all been around them and many of us have even assumed the role ourselves if only for a short time - the role of the IT admin gone wild - otherwise known as the rogue IT admin. Rogue IT admins can wreak havoc on your infrastructure and even on your career if you're not careful. This week Dan Tynan over at InfoWorld took a closer look at rogue IT admins in the article here. Be sure to check it out.


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It's hard to imagine working in a company nowadays that doesn't leverage shared storage and virtualization. These technologies have revolutionized the ways that we think about computing resources, server technologies, and our data centers as a whole. I mean think about it, without these technologies things would be dramatically different. How much would you have to physically expand your data centers if all of your servers were physical and had their locally attached/installed storage?

Day after day I talk with customers and members of the IT community that are expanding their usage of virtualization and storage technologies and one common thread always presents itself - these technologies are great but they require specialized management tools to get the most out of them.

Well, as of today I'm happy to say that SolarWinds is even more equipped to help with that. Today we announced the availability of two new products - the SolarWinds Virtualization Manager and the SolarWinds Storage Manager.

You can check them out on SolarWinds.com and as always, you can download them for free to try them out for yourself.


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Figuring out what's where, right when you need to, can be a real horror without the right tools. We've all been there and it's a pretty darn scary place to be. Not too long ago I was working with a company here in Austin and we started seeing unauthorized, virus, and spyware infected PCs showing up on the network. There were more than a few of them and we weren't sure exactly how they were getting in. Turns out someone had gotten an authorized wi-fi router onto the network and all of these machines were connecting through it. It took us quite a while to figure out they problem and a bit longer to locate the 802.11 enabled culprit as it was a large, flat, switched network and they didn't have any user and device tracking tools installed.

Another time, I worked with a company up North that did a lot of work security consulting and ethical hacking. One of their employees had taken his profession a little too far and had started hacking into internal servers and reading other peoples' e-mail. It was a large campus and we needed to locate the individual ASAP but we had no idea where they were - just what their IP address was.

While these may seem like pretty good horror stories the truth is that these cases were pretty mild and that these stories are way too common out there. Have your own user tracking horror stories? Share them with us here...

 

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As the father of a teenaged boy I can never seem to find the tools I need exactly when I need them. Sure, I commonly find ratchet drivers in the kitchen pantry, hammers while mowing the yard, and tape measures mixed in with the laundry but when something needs fixing I don't usually have the time to go searching all over the place for tools...

As a network engineer and systems administrator there are a set of tools that I always keep handy and that luckily my son can't easily misplace. Most of these tools are included within the SolarWinds Engineer's Toolset. My favorite tool is the IP Network Browser as it lets me quickly discover and assess a network and is a great launchpad for other tools.

What's in your toolbox? The folks here at SolarWinds want to know and are willing to give away some pretty cool prizes (iPads, Kindles, digital cameras, t-shirts) to find out. Fill out the form here to tell us your own Toolset story and start collecting some of those cool prizes...


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If you've never attended VMWorld I highly recommend it. I was fortunate enough to attend last year and I was blown away by the energy and passion of the vendors and attendees. VMWare's labs were some of the best I've ever seen at a tradeshow and the breakout sessions were phenomenal.

This year, VMWware has narrowed the choices for the breakout sessions and is leaving the final selection up to the community. SolarWinds is planning to present three sessions but we need your votes to make it happen. Here's how to vote:

 

Voting instructions:

1.      Go to http://www.vmworld.com/cfp.jspa.

2.      Create a VMworld log in.

3.      Once at the Session Voting page, use the Search Options and enter SolarWinds in Keywords.

4.      Click on the “Thumbs Up” symbol next to the Session ID and description.

5.      Thanks in advance for your support!!!

Please visit the VMWorld website and vote for the SolarWinds sessions if you'd like to hear our experts speak on virtualization and cloud topics. Details on the sessions are below.

Vote now. Vote often. Vote SolarWinds...


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Josh Stephens

Dirty IT Jobs

Posted by Josh Stephens May 11, 2011

This week Infoworld published an article on the "Dirtiest Jobs in IT". When Dan, the author of the article, called me to talk about the story I got really excited because I have some strong memories (notice that I didn't say fond memories) of some really dirty jobs I've done.

Most people think that being a network engineer or systems administrator is a desk job and that we never have to get our hands dirty. Admit it, how many times when you've been asked "What do you do for a living?" have you said "Oh, I work with computers." just to keep things simple? The truth is, sometimes this couldn't be farther from the truth. If you've ever had the pleasure or installing your own cable in a building, constructing and filling up your own racks, or trenching and burying your own fiber you know exactly what I'm talking about.

You can read what I had to say on the subject and a little bit about my experiences with dirty IT jobs towards the end of the article here. We'd love to hear from you about some of the dirty jobs in IT you've had to deal with. Please post your own dirty war stories as comments and let's reminisce a bit together...


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One of the most complex projects to work on as a network engineer or system administrator is the implementation of load balanced, redundant connectivity to application servers. There are many different best in class designs to choose from and deciding which technology to use is a hot topic among network architects. Several of the leading hardware vendors like Barracuda, Cisco, Citrix, F5, and Riverbed offer their own flavor of solution to help solve the ever present problem of "how do we improve our application response time?".

Once you've finished the network design, selected the hardware, and implemented the solution it's still sometimes hard to tell exactly how helpful these specialized appliances are being. Load balancers and application accelerators are great technologies but there is a lot of fine tuning that can be done within their configurations and without tools designed specifically for monitoring application performance before, thru, and after these devices, configuration optimization can feel a little bit like shooting in the dark.

Recently, we worked with Citrix to help solve this problem for users leveraging their NetScaler load balancers. Citrix has helped to develop and is standing behind a technology called "AppFlow" which is similar to the NetFlow used to analyze network traffic through routers and switches but designed specifically for monitoring application traffic thru load balancers and WAN accelerators. Here at SolarWinds we've recently announced a new free tool called the Real-time AppFlow Analyzer. This new tool, available for download on SolarWinds.com, makes analyzing application traffic passing through Citrix NetScaler Load Balancers easy.

Like other SolarWinds free tools, this is a non-expiring, fully functional application. The Real-time AppFlow Analyzer also analyzes NetFlow, Jflow, and sFlow so you can understand network traffic performance on the routers adjacent to your load balancers.


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It's hard to imagine life as we know it without wireless networking. Just about every company that has a network nowadays has extended it using 802.11 or some other wireless technology and that means that we as network engineers, systems administrators, and IT managers are responsible for building and maintaining these systems.

As you're probably aware, the Orion Network Performance Monitor includes wireless network monitoring and management capabilities. In the old days this was a paid add-on but as we saw that pretty much everyone with a network also needed the wireless component we decided to bundle it in.

While monitoring and managing your wireless are important - an area that is often overlooked is Wi-Fi security - especially in home network and those of small and medium sized businesses. So, I decided to write up some tips on the subject here and also highlight what can happen when you don't secure your wireless networks.


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No, this isn't a post about hunting or the last time I played Battlefield Bad Company and no I'm not the next guest on Bear Grylls' hit TV show Man vs. Wild (if you're reading this Bear I'm still waiting on that invitation in the mail)... What I'm talking about is what we as IT managers, system administrators, and network engineers do every day - we search and destroy. We hunt, track, and eventually locate problems in our IT environments and then we take them out.

Some of the most troublesome things to locate are devices and users' machines on the network. Typically, when you identify the problem you start out with an IP address. You're looking through some NetFlow data and you see that the user or device at 192.168.54.12 is using up 90% of your internet bandwidth downloading videos from iTunes. You really need to know who that user is (or whose machine it is) before you take action else you might be writing an access list to block your own CEO from accessing the internet and that's never a bright idea (sorry about that Kevin, I really didn't know it was you). So, what do you do next?

Well, it really depends on what tools you have at your disposal. You should be able to trace that IP to a particular subnet fairly easily. Once you know which router that IP is using as a first hope (layer 3 wise I mean) you can look through the router's ARP cache to match the IP address up to a MAC address, assuming that the user is still sending internet traffic and the ARP table entry hasn't timed out. If you don't see a valid ARP table entry you can try pinging that IP from the router to populate the cache. So long as the machine is still on and using that IP address that should get you a valid MAC address.

Now that you've got a MAC address to work with you can login to the switch and start looking thru bridge tables (CAM tables on Cisco switches) to see which port that machine is connected to and hopefully after that you'll be able to map it to an office or cubicle location.

That's a lot of work and it's sort of a best case/easiest resolution scenario so let's complicate things a bit. Last Thursday someone from your company hacked into one of your customers networks and starting downloading pornographic material to one of their web servers. Hey, free bandwidth and disk space, right? Well, thanks to that ******** your CIO is breathing down your neck. You're able to tell from looking at some of your management tools that the IP address was 192.168.55.17. However, that IP address is in a DHCP pool with 2 day lease times and that particular address block is used by a bunch of temporary employees that all bring in their own personal laptops and connect to your corporate network. Say goodbye to your lunch break my friend...

Problems like these happen all the time and in many cases you're in a real hurry to solve them. One time, many years ago before SolarWinds, I had a user that had hacked into one of my mail servers and was using it to download gigabytes of images that he'd found online. Not only was this causing problems for the mail server but it was choking our internet bandwidth and this was happening while we were attempting to finish some finance updates that were time sensitive. We literally had only a few minutes to solve this problem or risk missing the market close and probably our jobs.

If you've had experiences like this or if you have tips on solving these types of problems post a comment and share with the rest of us. In Part 2 next week I'll discuss some of the solutions available to help solve this problem and I'll post some "sneak peak" footage of a new product from SolarWinds.


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Most of the time when you start troubleshooting a network problem it's best to start at the bottom - at layer 1 - the physical layer. Recently I took some time to discuss Layer 1 of the OSI Model with the readers of Computerworld. Check it out here.


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Today we officially launched my new blog out at Computerworld. It's called "EtherGeek" and in that post I'll be talking a lot about networking fundamentals, troubleshooting best practices, and relevant network engineering news.

In the initial post and within the first series of posts we'll be breaking down the OSI model to understand how the different layers function and how to use the knowledge in your role as a network administrator or IT manager.

I hope that you'll bookmark and subscribe to the blog and please send me any ideas that you have around content and comment frequently :)


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Last week I was in Sydney Australia for the first ever SolarWinds live community event in the land down under. We've done several webcasts and web oriented events for our Australian community and the larger APAC region but this was the first time I've traveled to Australia in person to meet with our customers and community members. As you might know, we opened a regional office in Singapore a few years back and last year we opened our first office in Australia.

It was a fantastic event and I was blown away by how many people showed up and how engaged everyone was during our technical sessions. I don't think we made it to the end of any of our presentations as we had so many great questions and discussions going on and to me, that makes for a much better event than some yahoo talking at you from the podium and flipping through a bunch of slides (yeah, I'm that yahoo sometimes).

I saw two interesting trends. First off, while over the last few years IPv6 has seen more interest and momentum in APAC it seems that adoption is only slightly ahead of the curve in that region. Secondly, cloud computing - specifically public cloud - seems to have gotten more traction there than here in the US. Of the people in attendance, over half were either already leveraging  public cloud resources or were planning to within the next 12 months.

While I was there I did have a chance to take in some of the sights. I visited Darling Harbor, The Rocks, Manly Beaches, Circular Quay, the Sidney Opera House (though from a distance) and just generally walked around the city for hours and hours. It's a beautiful place. I planned a long motorcycle tour for Saturday but alas the rain and wind didn't cooperate. Why couldn't it have rained on one of the days we were inside so I could go riding on Saturday!!!

Thank you to everyone who attended - customers, partners, community members and to all of the SolarWinds team that helped to make this such a great success. I hope to return soon and stay tuned for a community event coming to your neck of the woods...


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I've fielded a lot of questions lately about VM Sprawl. It's a common problem for just about everyone these days as just about everyone is using VM technology in one way or another. No matter if you use virtualization technologies from VMWare, Citrix, Microsoft (HyperV) or some combination of these - you're going to have to think about sprawl and the sooner you do so the better

So, with all this in mind I decided to write a blog post out at Search Networking on the VM Sprawl. Click here to check it out and good luck.


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