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Geek Speak

10 Posts authored by: 24x7itconnect

Starting out in IT there are many things that I wish I had known about, but one of them is the value of the soft skills required.  Organizations want people who are willing to learn with the proper drive, but the ability to communicate, support, empathize, and the ability to help other people in the business will go a long way for your success within any enterprise.

 

Finding a Job

 

Over the years I have spent in the field I have been on both the interviewing side and the interviewee side of the table.  I have found that it always starts with how you related to others and whether or not you can have a real conversation with the person you are talking to. I have met people during the interviewing process that have been proud to be the guy/gal from Office Space with the red stapler: hiding out without any social skills.  I have not ever once seen them be hired into the organizations I have worked in.  So, what are the key skills that a person must have to succeed in IT?  Let’s break it down here.

 

  • Communication – The ability to have a conversation with a person will go a long way for your IT career.  In most IT roles staff interacts with the business daily.  From the ability to just have a conversation to the ability to listen, and then assist by articulating clearly is necessary. I read something somewhere that said you should be able to explain complex technology in a simple form, so simple that even a child can understand. That is not always an easy task, but I compare it to when I go to the doctor. They have a lot of complex terms like we do, but at the end of the day, they need to remove that from the conversation and explain what they are doing so that a non-medical professional can understand. That is the same level of communication required to be successful in your IT career.

 

  • Negotiation – The art of negotiation is so important to anyone in life as a whole, but here is how it applies to your IT career. As you are looking at third-party products to support your organization, are you going to pay retail price? No way! Negotiation is necessary. How about when you are talking to a future employer about salary. Do you ever take the first offer? No way! Lastly, we even get to negotiate with our users/management/team in IT.  They may ask for the most complex and crazy technology to do their jobs. You may be inclined to say no, but this is not how it works. Figure out what it takes, price it out, and odds are they won’t do it. This is the art of negotiation.

 

  • Empathy – Always empathize with the frustrated user. They are likely consuming the technology you implement. While the issue may not even be your fault, it is important to share that you understand they are having a hard day. More importantly, you will do what you can to resolve their issue as quickly as possible.

 

Soft skills go further than even the key ones that I have highlighted, but my hope is that this did get you thinking. IT is no longer full of people that don’t communicate well with others. That is a stereotype that needs to go away.

 

Long-term success

 

The only way to be successful in IT is to communicate well and play nice with others.  Use those soft skills that you have.  Any other approach, no matter how well you know your job, will find you looking for a new one sooner rather than later.

There is something to be said about ignorance being bliss, and then there are times when it is good to know a little bit more about what you are getting into. My IT journey started over 20 years ago.  All I knew going in was that I liked IT based upon my studies and that the university I attended had 100 % placement in IT positions of it graduates.  That’s not a whole lot of detail to start from, but I was all in.

 

At the time I certainly didn’t have the foresight to understand how big this IT thing would become.

 

Done with college, done with learning

So I was done with college, and I was done taking tests forever right?  Wrong!  I would be forever learning.

IT becomes part of you. It becomes natural to want to read a book, search the web for new insights, or start working with some of the latest new technologies.

 

Always learning

The best part of working in IT is the always learning and growing nature of the industry. Even more exciting is that people who never spent a day studying IT, but are willing to learn, can easily move into this space. I have worked with history majors, music majors, sociology majors, and more. You name it. When you think about it, this is really cool!

 

As long as you have the drive to learn, keep learning, and get your hands dirty in technology, working in IT really is an opportunity for many.

 

Just getting started in IT?

Today, there are countless varieties of IT jobs. Organizations around the world are looking for very smart and driven individuals. Be willing to research the answer to questions, and spend time on certifications. Certifications are important to everyone, but especially when you are getting started in your IT career. It shows drive and it also prompts you to learn enterprise technologies that will benefit you both personally and professionally.

 

This approach will also provide a good foundation for your entire IT career. IT is full of opportunity, so also be sure to keep an open mind about what you can do. You will be sure to go places with a position-driven approach.

 

Best of luck!

PowerShell has been around for a long time now, consistently proving its value in terms of automation. PowerShell (aka Shell) was first introduced to me personally when it was still code (named Monad) in the early 2000s. Even then, it was clear that Microsoft had a long-term plan when they began sharing bits of code within the Exchange platform. Every time you did something in the GUI they would share with you the code to complete the task in Shell. They were making sure the learning process was already beginning.

 

PowerShell has come a long way since the early days of Monad, and just about any product, Microsoft or not, has PowerShell commands to help you complete your job.

 

Modern Day

Today, PowerShell is seemingly everywhere. Its ability to automate tasks that the traditional toolset cannot is impactful and necessary. Today, all administrators need to be able to do some level of PowerShell from simple to complex.

 

So, why has this become a staple in our workday?

 

Organizations today are streamlining IT always striving to simplify their workday.  Some may argue that organizations are trying to do more with fewer employees. This almost implies they are trying to overwork their teams, but I prefer to take a more positive spin. To me, automation is about allowing a process to flow, and happen in a way that simplifies my work day. This doesn’t mean that I am kicked back with nothing to do when automation is complete. It means that I get more time to work on other things, learn more, and grow professionally.

 

Today, automation presents endless possibilities. For context, let's take a look at some things that we automate today that, in the past, we handled manually.

 

  • Operating System deployment – In the early days of IT, we were feeding floppy disks or bootable CDs into computers to manually deploy an operating system to a computer. Once that was complete, we still had to install all of the necessary applications. Repeat this for every single person that needed a PC, and you had potentially thousands of PCs repeating this very manual process. When the application “Ghost” was released, we were ecstatic. Now we finally had a way to copy an image and deploy it to another PC, which significantly reduced our deployment time. Today, really the only accepted approach is to automate workstations via third-party tools and/or PowerShell. Enterprise IT staff cannot imagine spending a whole day setting up a laptop or PC for a user anymore. Now you are done in less than and hour!
  • Reporting – Anyone who knows me knows that I have done a lot of work with Citrix, and over the years I have found that there are just some things traditional reporting tools don't offer. While third-party offerings in this space are much improved today, this doesn’t mean that I might now need a custom report. PowerShell to the rescue! Custom reporting gives me the insights into my environment that I need to help ensure that it’s healthy and running successfully for the enterprise.
  • Microsoft Exchange – As previously mentioned, Microsoft Exchange was one of the first applications from Microsoft to use PowerShell. When working with Exchange, you open Exchange Management Shell to get all of the Exchange-related PowerShell commands pre-loaded. From daily tasks to automating mailbox moves and more, Shell has proven its value over and over if you are working with Exchange.

 

This list really only scratches the surface of PowerShell's automation possibilities. If you are doing work on Windows, as with most applications today, PowerShell skills are necessary for your technical success.

 

Taking it to the Next Level

 

The automation movement has already started. The power of automation has the potential to really change the landscape of the work we do. I anticipate that the need for automation will continue, and over the next few years the more we can automate, the better. That being said, there is a risk to automating everything with custom code without proper documentation and team sharing.  As employees leave organizations, so does the knowledge that went into the code. Not everyone that writes code does it well. Even if the script works, this doesn’t mean that it is a quality script.  Application upgrades typically involve rewriting the automation scripts that go with it.

 

As you can see, the time savings can go right out the window with that next big upgrade. Or does it?

 

If you plan the upgrade timeframe to include the rewrite of your automation scripts, then you are still likely better off than you were without it due to all of the time savings you realized in between.

My final thoughts on this, despite all of the pros and cons to automation, would be to automate what you can as often as possible!

Best practices, I feel, mean different things to different people. For me, best practices are a few things. They are a list of vendor recommendations for product implementation, they come from my own real-world experiences, and they are informed by what I see my peers doing in the IT community. I have learned to accept that not all best practices come from vendors, and that the best practices list I have compiled is essentially a set of implementation guidelines aimed at ensuring the highest quality of deployment.

 

So how does this apply to virtualization and the best practices you follow? Let’s chat!

 

Getting ready to virtualize your servers or workstations?

 

According to Gartner, enterprise adoption of server virtualization has nearly doubled in the past couple of years. That doesn’t even include workstation virtualization which is also becoming more relevant to the enterprise as product options mature.  So, if your organization isn’t virtualizing an operating system today, it’s highly probable that it will in the future. Understanding how to prepare for this type of business transformation according to the latest best practices/guidelines will be key to your deployment success.

 

Preparing according to best practices/guidelines

 

As mentioned, it’s important to have a solid foundation of best practices/guidelines for your virtualization implementation. Diving right in, here are some guidelines that will get you started with a successful virtualization deployment:

 

  • Infrastructure sizing – Vendors will provide you with great guidance on where to begin sizing your virtual environment, but at the end of the day, all environments are different. Take time to POC/Test within your environment and build out your resource calculations.  Also, be sure to involve the business users to help ensure that you are providing the ultimate performance experience before you finalize your architectural design. Also, when sizing, don’t use averages. You will come up short and performance will suffer.

 

  • Know your software – A key part of the performance you will get from your virtualized environment will depend on the applications you are running.  It’s important to baseline test to obtain a solid list of applications in your environment. Then take this a step further to understand the number of resources used by your applications. You can see that even the smallest software upgrade can impact performance by looking at the following example: Microsoft Office 2016 consumes up to 20% more resources than previous versions (2007/2010). That’s a big deal if it wasn’t considered in advance because it could severely impact the user performance experience.

 

  • Image Management – One of the best things about virtualization is that it can greatly reduce your work effort when it comes to patch management and operating system maintenance. The value of this can only be seen when you deploy as few operating systems as possible. So, when you are deciding on use cases, keep this in mind.

 

  • Use application whitelisting instead of anti-virus – Anti-virus solutions have proven to impact the performance of virtualization environments. If you must run something at the operating system level, I would strongly suggest using application whitelist instead. Having an enforced approved list of applications can provide a more secure platform without taking a performance hit.

 

  • Protect your data – You just spent all this time deploying virtualization to make sure that your virtualization databases are backed up. Heck, your entire environment should be backed up. Taking this even one step further, be sure to include high availability and even disaster recovery in your design. In my experience, if an environment isn’t ready for the worst, you can end up in a pretty bad situation that could include an entire rebuild. If you cannot afford the business downtime in a worst-case scenario, then button things up to be sure that your plan includes proper data protection.

 

  • The right infrastructure – Vendors are pretty good about creating guidelines about the type of infrastructure their virtualization platforms will run on, but I strongly suggest that you take a look at both hyper-converged infrastructure, and use of GPUs. If you expect the performance of your virtual systems (especially with virtual workstations) to be the same as what your users experience today, these infrastructure options should at least be part of your conversation. They'll likely end up being a part of your deployment design.

 

  • Automate everything you can – Automation can be a very powerful way to help ensure that you are using your time efficiently and wisely. When it comes to automation, keep the following in mind: If you are going to do manual automation, remember that there is a certain amount of time being spent to complete the work. In some cases, if there is a third-party tool that can help with automation, that may be worth considering. Third-party automation tools typically come with an upgrade path that you won’t get when you home grow your code. And when the person that wrote the code leaves, there goes that support, too. There isn’t one single answer here. Just remember that automation is important, so you should be thinking about this if you aren’t already

 

For virtualization success, be sure to fully research your environment up front. This research will help you easily determine if any/all of the above best practices/guidelines will create success for your virtualization deployment. Cheers!

By Theresa Miller and Phoummala Schmitt

 

Hybrid IT has moved from buzzword status to reality. More organizations are realizing that they are in a hybrid world. Including any potential impact, you should be thinking about the following: What is hybrid IT? Why do you care? What does it mean for the future of IT?

 

Hybrid IT and the Organization

 

The introduction of the cloud has made organizations wonder what hybrid IT means to them and their business applications. Hybrid IT is any combination of on-premises and cloud in just about any capacity. Cloud for Infrastructure as a Service (IAAS), Software as a Service (SAAS), Platform as a Service (PAAS), and any other cloud option you may choose. The moment you choose a cloud to provide something in your enterprise, you are not in a mode of hybrid IT.

 

With hybrid IT comes the same level of responsibility as on-premises. Moving an application to the cloud doesn’t mean that the cloud provider is responsible for backups, monitoring, software updates, or security unless that is part of your agreement with that cloud provider. Make sure you know your agreement and responsibilities from the beginning.

 

Hybrid IT can provide cost savings, and while some may argue otherwise, it comes down to a budget shift to operational cost. The true value is that you remove the capital overhead of maintaining your own servers, heating, cooling, and sometimes even software updates.

 

Is there value to a hybrid configuration within a Microsoft Exchange deployment?

 

Looking back, it seems Microsoft was one of the great innovators when it came to email in the cloud. It wasn't exactly successful in the beginning, but today this option has grown into a very stable product, making it the option of choice for many organizations. So how does email factor into hybrid? I wonder if migrating the Exchange online through hybrid is necessary? This is due to the ability to failback, the ability to keep some email workloads onsite, and the ability to create a migration experience similar to an on-premises deployment. These options work to create a more seamless migration experience overall.

 

How you ask? Here are some of the technical functionalities that are vital to that seamless experience.

 

  • Mail routing between sites – When correctly configured, internal and external routing appear seamless to the end-user
  • Mail routing in shared namespace – This is important to your configuration if the internal and external SMTP domain remains the same
  • Unified Global Address List – Contributing to the seamless user experience, the user sees all of their coworkers in one address list, regardless of whether or not they are on-premises or in the cloud
  • Free/Busy is shared between on-premises and cloud - This also contributes to the seamless user experience by featuring a visible calendar showing availability, no matter where the mailbox exists
  • A single Outlook web app URL for both on-premises and cloud – If your organization uses this functionality, your configuration can be set up with the same URL, regardless of mailbox location

 

How about hybrid IT for VDI?

 

VDI has been showing significant growth in organizations. It is becoming more interesting to companies with an estimated growth rate of 29% over the next couple of years. So what about hybrid? Well, to date we are still seeing the strongest options for VDI being within on-premises product options. That being said, there are some cloud options that are getting stronger that can definitely be considered.

 

Many of these options do not have strong plans for hybrid, but are rock solid if you are looking for one or the other: on-premises or cloud, but not both. So, what are the gaps for hybrid? To date, many of these options have proprietary components that only work with certain cloud providers. Connector options between on-premises and cloud are still in the early stages, and there needs to be more consideration around applications that are on-premises that need to work in the cloud.

 

Hybrid IT - Ready or not

 

So, if you are already moving just a single application to the cloud, you are embarking on the hybrid IT journey. When moving to Microsoft Exchange Online, be sure to use hybrid for your deployment. Last but not least, if you are ready for VDI, choose either on-premises or cloud only to get started. Also, be prepared for some bumps in the road if your applications are on-premises and you chose to put your VDI in the cloud. This is because this option is very new and every application has different needs and requirements.

 

If you would like to learn more about hybrid IT for VDI and Exchange, check out our recent webcast, "Hybrid IT: Transforming Your IT Organization. And let us know what you think!

If you love technology and enjoy learning, then working in IT without losing your mind will be a breeze. In my past 20 years of working in IT, I've personally found that if you are willing to keep learning, this will lead you down a very interesting journey—and one of great success.

 

How to choose what to learn

 

In IT, there is so much to choose from that it can leave your head spinning if you don’t know where to focus. I recently became part of a mentoring program, and my mentee struggled with this very problem. She is committed to virtualization, but the emergence of cloud left her feeling confused. Every virtualization provider is moving to some form of cloud, but in my experience, not all virtualization platforms in the cloud are created equal. She's also not from the U.S., which is another factor—some technologies are just more geographically adopted in some regions on the world than others. So how did we decide what she will learn next? We knew for certain it would be a cloud-related technology. That being said, there was much to consider.  So, we talked through some key questions, which I would also recommend you consider.

 

  • Which cloud providers meet the security requirements of your region in the world? Yes, this may take some research, but remember: you are looking to learn a new technology that will help you advance your career. This requires understanding which cloud providers are being adopted successfully in your area. The choice you make here should align with industry trends, as well as what will be of most value to your current employer and any potential future employers.

 

  • Is there a way for you to try the cloud providers offering? There is nothing worse than investing too much time into learning something that you ultimately may not enjoy, or don’t believe will meet your customers'/employer’s needs. Get your hands on the technology and spend a few hours with it before committing to learning it fully. If you enjoy it, then take the gloves off and get your hands dirty learning it.

 

  • Certification? If you see value in the technology and are enjoying learning it, then look for a certification track. I personally do not believe that certification is necessary for all things, but if you are passionate about the cloud provider's offering, using certification to learn the product will go along way—especially if you don’t yet have the real-world experience with the technology. Certification opens doors, and being able to put the certification down on the resume can help you get started using it in the real world.

 

So, take some time to answer these questions before you dive into what you will learn next in IT. Answering these key questions, regardless of your technical interests, will bring you one step closer to deciding what to learn next without losing your mind.

 

Technology changes fast

 

The pace of technology changes fast, and having a strategic approach to your technical one will keep your mind intact. Embrace, love, and learn more about technology and IT. It’s a great ride!

After taking a look at what it means to monitor the stability of Microsoft Exchange, and choosing a product option that won’t keep your organizational staff busy for months configuring it we will now look at what it means to monitor Exchange Online in the Office 365 product platform.   Yes, you did read that correctly, Exchange Online.  Isn’t Microsoft monitoring Exchange Online for me? Well yes, there is some level of monitoring, but we as customers typically do not get frontline insight into the aspects of the product that are not working until something breaks.  So, let’s dive into this a little bit further.


Exchange Online Monitoring


If your organization has chosen Exchange Online your product SLA’s will generally be around 99.9x%.  The uptime varies from month to month, but historically they are right on track with their marketed SLA or they will slightly exceed it.  As a customer of this product your organization is still utilizing the core Exchange features such as a Database Availability Group (DAG) for your databases, Outlook Web App, Azure Active Directory, Hub Transport servers, CAS servers etc, but the only difference is that Microsoft maintains all of this for your company.  So assuming that Office 365/Exchange Online meets the needs of your organization this is great, but what happens when something is down? 99.9x% is good, but it’s not 99.999%, so there are guaranteed to be some occurrences of downtime.


Do I really need monitoring?


Not convinced monitoring is required?  If your organization has chosen to move to the Exchange Online platform; being able to understand what is and isn’t working in the environment can be very valuable.  As an Exchange Administrator within the Exchange Online platform, if something isn’t working I can guarantee that leadership is still going to look to me to understand why even if the product is not maintained onsite.  Having a quick and simple way to see that everything is functioning properly (or not) through a monitoring tool can allow you to quickly provide your leaders the feedback they need to properly communicate to the business what is happening.  Even if the only thing I can do next is contact Microsoft to report the issue.


Corrective Measures


Choose a monitoring tool for Exchange Online that will provide valuable insights into the your email functionality.  My guidance here would be relatively similar to suggestions that I would make for Exchange On-Premises.


  • Evaluate several tools that offer Exchange Online monitoring, and then decide which one will best suit your organizations requirements.
  • Implementation of monitoring should be project with a dedicated resource.
  • The tool should be simple and not time consuming to configure. 
  • Choose a tool that monitors Azure Connectivity too. Exchange Online depends heavily on Azure Active Directory and DNS, so being aware of the health of your organizations connectively to the cloud is important.
  • Make sure you can easily monitor your primary email functionality.  This can include email flow testing, Outlook Web App, Directory synchronization, ActiveSync, and more.
  • Ensure that the tool selected has robust reporting. This will allow for time saving’s from scripting your own reports, and allow for better historical trending of email information.  These reports should include things such as mail flow SLA’s, large mailboxes, abandoned mailboxes, top mail senders, public folder data, distribution lists and more.


These considerations will help your determine which product solution is best for your organizational needs.


Concluding Thoughts


Monitoring the health of your organizations connectivity to the cloud is valuable to providing insight into your email system.  There are options that with provide you and your organizational leadership instant insight into the health ensuring that there is an understanding of overall system health, performance and uptime.

Recently we covered what it means to configure server monitoring correctly, and the steps we can take to ensure that the information we get alerted on is useful and meaningful.  We learned that improper configuration leads to support teams that ignore their alerts, and system monitoring becomes noise. Application monitoring isn’t any different, and what your organization sets up for these needs is likely to be completely different than what was done for your server monitoring.  During this article we will focus on monitoring Microsoft Exchange on-premises, and what should be considered when choosing and configuring a monitoring tool to ensure that your organizational email is functioning smoothly to support your business.


Email Monitoring Gone Wrong


In the early days of server monitoring it wasn’t unusual for system administrators to spend months configuring their server monitoring tool for their applications.  With some applications, this decision may be completely appropriate, but with Microsoft Exchange I have found that server monitoring tools typically are not enough to successfully monitor your organizational email system. Even if the server monitoring tool comes with a “package” that is specifically for monitoring email.  The issue becomes that by default these tools with either alert on tool much or too little never giving your application owner exactly what they need.


Corrective Measures


So how can your business ensure that email monitoring is setup correctly, and that the information received from that tool is useful?  Well it really comes down to several simple things.

  • Evaluate several Exchange monitoring tools, and then choose a tool that will best suit your Exchange needs.  In most cases this tool is not the same as your server monitoring tool.
  • Implementation of Exchange monitoring should be project with a dedicated resource.
  • The tool should be simple and not time consuming to configure. It should NOT take 6 months to be able to properly monitoring your email system.
  • Choose a tool that monitors Active Directory too.  Exchange depends heavily on Active Directory and DNS, so Active Directory health is also vital.
  • Make sure you can easily monitor your primary email functionality. This includes email flow testing, your Exchange DAG, DAG witness, Exchange databases, ActiveSync, Exchange Web Services, and any additional email functionality that is important to your organization.
  • Ensure that the tool selected has robust reporting.  This will allow for time saving’s from scripting your own reports and allow for better historical trending of email information. These reports should include things such as mail flow SLA’s, large mailboxes, abandoned mailboxes, top mail senders, public folder data, distribution lists and more.

This approach will ensure that your email system will remain functional, and alert you before a real issue occurs.  Not after the system has gone down.


Concluding Thoughts


Implementing the correct tool set for Microsoft Exchange monitoring is vital to ensuring the functionality and stability of email for your business.  This is often not the same tool used for server monitoring, and should include robust reporting options to ensure your SLA’s are being met and that email remains functional for your business purposes.

Can server monitoring be configured in a way that it is effective? Is there such a thing as a monitoring project gone right?  In my experience this is rare that a team gets what they want out of their monitoring solution, but rest assured it is possible with the right level of staffing and effort.

  

Monitoring Project Gone Right

As many of us know, server monitoring is very important to ensure that our business systems do not fail, and that our users are able to do their jobs whenever they need to.  When we are supporting hundreds and possibly even thousands of servers in our enterprises, it would be impossible to do this manually.  The right underlying system is the key to success.  When we are handed a pager (yes, there was a time when we all had pagers) we want to know that the information that comes through is real and actionable.  Throughout my entire career, I have worked only one place that I feel did monitoring really well.  I did not fall ill from being worn down and woken up from pages that were not actionable when I was on-call.  I could actually be certain that if my pager went off in the middle of the night, it was for true purpose.


Steps to Success

So what is the recipe for successful monitoring of your servers? Let’s take a look at how this can be done.


  • Make sure this is a real project with dedicated infrastructure resources.  This will not only allow for development of skill-sets, it will ensure that the project will be completed on a schedule.
  • Put together a Playbook which serves multiple purposes:
    • Provides a detail list of the server monitoring thresholds and commitments for your servers
      • Document any exceptions to the standard thresholds defined
    • Limit the number of core application services monitored to reduce complexity
    • Allows your application owners to determine which software “services” they will want monitored 
    • Allows the application owner to decide what action should be taken if a service fails (i.e. page application owner, restart service, page during business hours only)
  • Make sure you are transparent and work with ALL of IT.  This project requires input from all application owners to ensure that the server monitoring team puts it together properly.
  • Revisit the playbook on a predefined interval to ensure that the correct system monitoring and actionable response is still in place.
  • Refer to “Server Monitoring from the Real World Part 1” for some additional thoughts on this topic.


This may sound like a lot of work, but ensuring that every service and threshold monitored has an actionable response is imperative success in the long-term.  In the end, this approach will actually significantly reduce the amount of effort and resources required to ensure that monitoring is everything your business needs to run smoothly.

 

Concluding Thoughts

System monitoring done correctly is important for both the business and the engineers on your team.  When it is setup correctly with actionable responses, your team will not “tune out” their pages, and will ensure that the quality of service provided to the business is stellar.  Server and application uptime will also be at their best.

Is it possible for monitoring of your servers to be really effective? Or have they been configured in a way that is just white noise that you have come to ignore?  Server monitoring is imperative to ensuring that your organization functions optimally, and minimizes the number of unanticipated outages.

 

Monitoring Project Gone Wrong

Many years ago when I started with a new company, I was handed a corporate “flip phone”.  This phone was also my pager. When I was on-call for the first time I was expecting that I was going to only be alerted when there was an issue.  WRONG!  I was alerted for every little thing day and night.  When I wasn’t the primary point person on-call I quickly learned to ignore my device, and when I was on-call I was guaranteed to get some form of illness before the end of the week.  I was worn down from checking every little message on my pager all night long. Being the new member of the team, I first observed, but soon enough became enough.  Something had to change; so we met as a team to figure out what we could do.  We were all ready for some real and useful alerting.

 

Corrective Measures

When monitoring has gone wrong, and the server monitoring needs to change what can be done?  Based upon that incident it became very important to pull together a small team to spearhead the initiative and get the job done right.

 

Here is a set of recommendations on how monitoring configured wrong could be turned into monitoring done right.


  • Determine which areas of server monitoring are most important to infrastructure success and then remove the remaining unnecessary monitoring.  For example, key areas to monitor would be disk space free, CPU, memory, network traffic, and core server services.
  • Evaluate your thresholds in those areas defined as primary, and modify the thresholds according to your environment.  Often times the defaults setup in monitoring tools can be used as guidelines, but usually need modification for your infrastructure.  Even the fact that a server is physical or virtual can change the thresholds required for monitoring.
  • Once evaluation is complete, adjust the thresholds for these settings according the needs of your organization.
  • Stop and evaluate what is left after these settings were adjusted.
  • Repeat the process until alerting is clean and only occurs when something is deemed necessary.

 

As the process is repeated, the exceptions will stand out more and can be implemented more easily.  Exceptions can come in the form of resources spiking during overnight backups, some applications inherently requiring exceptions due to their nature of memory usage (e.g. SQL or Microsoft Exchange), or as simple as monitoring of different server services depending on the installed application.  Continual refinement and repetition of the process ensure that your 3am infrastructure pages are real and require attention.


Concluding Thoughts

Server monitoring isn’t one size fits all and these projects are often large and time consuming.  Environment stability is critical to business success.  Poorly implemented server monitoring does impact the reputation of IT, so spending the appropriate amount of time ensuring the stability of your infrastructure becomes priceless.

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