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SysAdmin Day 2019: The Secret to Getting Ahead

Level 17

Looking back across the months since SysAdmin Day 2018, it’s obvious we’re all dealing with a remarkably different (in some ways exciting, in others, horrifying) IT landscape than the one we had a year ago.

Sure, all the familiar landmarks are there: routers still route, switches still switch, and servers still serve (even the serverless ones!). We continue to get pulled into way too many meetings and yet management continues to consult us far too little or far too late for us to effectively help and direct the business to make good technical choices. “123456” and “password” continue to be the most commonly used (and hacked) passwords.

But at the same time, the tools, techniques, and technologies shaping (and often interrupting) our days are different in ways that can catch us up short. Ransomware attacks have more than doubled since this time last year, targeting larger organizations and demanding significantly larger payouts. The inexorable push to the cloud is made more challenging by the continuously changing list of cloud providers, offerings, and options. And, while we don’t have to worry about being enslaved by our robot overlords (yet), the increasing sophistication (not to mention commoditization) of solutions leveraging machine learning mean we’re constantly having to reevaluate our vendors and solutions to ensure they’re keeping up with the latest business-enhancing capabilities.

Closer to home, our environments ain’t getting any simpler. Technologies both real (SDN, IoT), nascent (5G, AI), and imaginary (flying cars) vie for our attention. Vendor updates, upgrades, patches, and hotfixes continue to demand our attention. And I swear, if one more exec asks me if a problem could be solved by incorporating blockchain...

Speaking of executives, businesses are relying on IT more than ever—hoping and even demanding technology provide ever-greater lift to the bottom line. To be sure, we’ve seen how the proper application of IT wizardry can create incredible advantages in the marketplace, but “why can’t we do our own ‘Prime Day’-type thing” is becoming the new version of “but that’s how Netflix does it.”

Meanwhile, the users (remember them?) require more of our support—and system resources—than ever. I’m old enough* to remember when BYOD was a contentious issue. “How will we support every hardware platform and software configuration under the sun?” we asked. Little did we know we’d also be supporting anything with a screen.

I don’t say all this to make you feel worse, but to point out a simple reality: we SysAdmins need to (and, if we’re honest, have always had to) find ways to do a lot with a little. The only way it gets done is when we augment our individual abilities. At the end of the day, the two most effective ways to do this are with a team of like-minded SysAdmins, and with the very thing we provide to the rest of the organization: tools and technology.

Having a solid team (squad, posse, gang, etc.) gets a decent amount of press, so I’m going to leave that aside for a moment and focus on tools. No matter whether you’re blessed to be part of an amply staffed department, or if you’re an army of one, “y’all” (as we’re wont to say here at SolarWinds) are a finite resource. If you want to have a hope of wading through the pile of tickets in your queue, you’re going to have to find something that is, as the military puts it, a “force multiplier.”

Need to know what changed and when on all your switches? You can do the telnet-tango all night, or you can have automation rip through every router in an hour. Don’t have enough eyeballs to see when a server is sawtoothing? I bet there’s a server monitoring solution that’s got your back. And if you haven’t automated application restarts, you’ll be scheduling carpal tunnel surgery long before your list is down to even the low hundreds.

Whether the tools to fit your needs are free (“Free as in beer,” in the words of Richard Stallman), freemium, or full-price is up to you. What I’m offering is my humble opinion that, if you do a task more than once, you should already be thinking about how you’d automate it, and if a system fails the same way twice, you should already have a plan to monitor it.

Where do you find out how to do this? How to even get started? That brings us back to the topic of teams. Great news: the answer is (electronically) all around you, even if you’re a lone wolf in the data center. We SysAdmins are a worldwide community, a tribal affiliation transcending geography, culture, language, or operating system. You can find other members easily on social media and online forums. Jump on any of those, explain the work you’re trying to stop doing, and almost before you hit “send,” the suggestions will be rolling in. Yes, I even have a few of my own.

But WHICH tool you choose isn’t as important as this simple fact: when you find you’re falling behind, stuck on a process or issue, you should be asking yourself, “I wonder if there’s an app for that.”

*To be fair, my high-school-aged son is old enough to remember this too. Mostly because there was a point in time when I’d come home from work and complain about it almost nightly.

42 Comments
Level 12

If you needed to hear from a motivation speaker to face reality, gain a better perspective, and gain some hope then read this article. (Which if you are reading this comment then you probably already have! )

Level 16

Thanks for the write up Leon.

Now I can't remember if I used 'forgotit', 'forgetit', 'password', '123456'  or 'abcdef' last time I changed it

Level 14

I've just been given my SysAdmin Day gift.  The CapEx has been signed off on ............  

SOLARWINDS.

YeeeeHaaaaaaa

Goodbye Nagios.

And the guys have just gone out on a beer run (beers on a Friday afternoon in work are mandatory here)   

Level 14

Keeping the barbarians from the gate is always top of the list... Then there is the ever changing chase by non-IT folks after the latest buzzword. It's never dull or boring and very often humorous!

Keep smiling!  Thanks Leon!

Level 12

If it wasn't for users our jobs would be so much easier!  

Truly, though, thwack and other sites like it are an invaluable resource.  Almost any problem we encounter has occurred at one or more other locations first and so we can rely on our peers' experience and knowledge.  Of course, that also means that if I am the first person to encounter something it behooves me to publish it and its solution, with care toward potential security risks naturally.

Amazing article, Leon, and thank you!  One of the topics you mentioned, about being enslaved by robot overlords, cuts to the quick when it comes to "Workforce Of Tomorrow".  Workers nowadays are finding themselves staring down the business end of a "pink slip" because companies are in an all-fired hurry to reduce headcount by implementing the "tools and technologies" that we, yes we, use on a daily basis.  The new "cool factor" in using IT is not the latest cloud-based gizmodic thingamabob, it's "How can I use technology to make people's jobs obsolete?" (Notice I didn't say "better"!) Shareholders are constantly demanding more return for their investment dollar, and companies are having to come up with new and more "creative" ways of making that happen.

I overheard someone talking about having a person with a cell phone standing in front of a multi-million dollar piece of equipment (being untrained in how to repair it), talking/FaceTiming with an SME on the other end (who is, most likely, hundreds if not thousands of miles away from the problem) and being told how to fix the problem.  I mean, TeleDoc is one thing because we all have the right to prescribe for ourselves, but IMO, this borders on recklessness.  And the old saying of "Everything works...until it doesn't" applies here, and I just hope that no life or limb is lost (literally!) by companies moving at breakneck speeds to be leaner, smaller, more "agile".

OK, I'll get off my soapbox, now.

Level 9

Next time try something complex but easy to remember like 'hard24get!'

Level 14

Thanks adatole​!  I think this needs to be on posters and plastered on walls:

"we SysAdmins need to (and, if we’re honest, have always had to) find ways to do a lot with a little. The only way it gets done is when we augment our individual abilities. At the end of the day, the two most effective ways to do this are with a team of like-minded SysAdmins, and with the very thing we provide to the rest of the organization: tools and technology."

You're always so great with valuable inspirational quotes!

Level 12

"Everybody guesses password or password1, so I know I am safe with password2. Nobody's gonna guess that!"

"Alex, the question is: what is the dumbest thing I've heard a user say?"

What if a person is already ahead and trying to go further? Or perhaps trying to go sideways? Meaning... take their IT career path in a different direction. A title that has gained traction on LinkedIn over the past 5+ years or so to where it has become something official is, "Technology Evangelist." I have to imagine something that bold was self-promoted and not created by some stodgy HR department. Entrepreneurship is a great way to break out on your own and make your mark. #headgeeks are great examples of this. All of you are highly technical and knowledgeable of current and new trends, but you also write, present, travel, interact... and so much more.

I for one would be interested in some of this type of Thwack mentoring as I have taken my career sideways.

IT is constant change, I see the first clients moving back from cloud email services to their own on premise messaging servers. We all have seen the transition from terminal clients to “full clients” and now back to terminal services. I guess BYOD will be also coming and going in the next decades.

but like Leon said, we have to stay ahead of the game. Thanks for your article adatole

I know you weren't specifically asking this Alex, but I'm going to answer anyway.

"Will you please reboot the Internet?"

Now I know what they're asking me to do: fix their computer because they can't get to Pintrest and Facebook.  But I have sometimes gotten a little snarky with folks who ask me that and said something to the effect of:

"Hmm, restart several hundred million devices that make up the Internet?  Boy, I better get cracking!"

They usually give me the "Ha, ha. Very funny" look and move along.  As they part, though, I always say to them "And please put in a ticket for that!", about which I am quite serious but again, I hear the "Yeah, yeah, whatever" snickers...And then they have the nerve to call me a week later asking why I haven't been by to fix their computer, to which I reply, "And what is the ticket number for that?" to which they reply with a few choice expletives and a <CLICK>.  Will these users never learn?  "No ticket, no problem!"  😄

MVP
MVP

We seem to be playing catch up on the cloud front, it's a bit worrying to hear some people are moving back we we're just about to take the plunge.

Anyway, this clip sums up what every SysAdmin needs to know

IT Crowd - Have You Tried Turning It Off And On Again? - YouTube

Level 12

Nagios, Nagios, Naaaagiiioooooosssss...

Wasn't that the evil snake in the Harry Potter books?

Level 14

Oh sssso closssse (Nagini).

It is the evil snake that sits in the corner sending out alerts at random. 

Level 8

Thank you Leon for reminding us (end users like me) that SysAdmins are more important that we give credit. Even here at Loop1 we have our stellar, rockstar SysAdmin bennyp, but Ben is our sole SysAdmin. He does a looooot of stuff, like alot.
This SysAdmin Day we ordered him some Tiffs Treats and wrote something for our blog to give credit where credit is due: https://loop1.com/blog/happy-sysadminday-a-sit-down-with-our-in-house-sysadmin/.

Needless to say, after sitting down and interviewing Ben for this blog post, I have a whole new respect for SysAdmins.

So, thank you SysAdmins for being there to always fix everything and to make my job easier.

Level 20

Security is the one thing that's not going away anytime soon.  Like you said... patches.

Level 11

so when do we got our flying car?

Level 12

Any car can fly.  Once.

Level 17

^^^^^THIS^^^^^

If you want just ONE reason - and a compelling one at that - for IT folks to take more seriously the task of learning to speak the language of business, to frame our important tech work in language our know-nothing non-technical managers can understand, it's THIS.

If we continue to fail to learn (or worse, avoid learning) this skill, we'll continue to allow managers to make bad business decisions which directly impact our employment.

Imagine being able to show - with numbers - the negative business impact that IT staff reduction (or offshoring, or replacement by "the latest cloud-based gizmodic thingamabob") would have?

Imagine being able to pre-emptively show - again, with numbers that these folks believe and consider important - the positive business impact you and your team have?

</soapbox> (for now, but watch for my THWACKcamp keynote for more.)

Level 17

Nope. All cars can fly several times. It's the landing that usually ruins the chances of second flight.

Level 17

In the next 2 years. Just like it's been since about 1960.

Level 12

Should we start taking bets on which will come first... Flying Cars, or the Thwack store re-opening?

Level 17

Oh, *I'LL* take that bet. Because I know how hard DanielleH​ and team are working on the latter.

I.T. Worker sees/hear management problem/blocker/nay-sayer/closed-minded-individual and thinks to himself "Hmm, I wonder if there's an app for correcting business leadership?"

MVP
MVP

Preach it, Brother Leon!!!  And I totally agree that people need to learn how to speak "Corporate".  I spent several years as a business analyst and I can tell you that the various factions (and I use that term only a bit lightly) of the company speak very different languages.  I've expounded on that in other fora but it was fun learning to speak in the varying tongues of "Corporate Amurka". 

And, of course, I love your shameless plug for SolarWinds products:

Imagine being able to show - with numbers - the negative business impact that IT staff reduction (or offshoring, or replacement by "the latest cloud-based gizmodic thingamabob") would have?

Imagine being able to pre-emptively show - again, with numbers that these folks believe and consider important - the positive business impact you and your team have?

We don't have to "imagine"!  It's a reality...TODAY!!  Like the old Apple commercial used to say, "There's an app for that!"

It was interesting, I just had a rather lively conversation with a friend of mine at work and we were debating the issue of people taking company IP (Intellectual Property, not Internet Protocol) with them as they leave, whether from being fired or quitting.  It made me think of SEM's ability to deny USB drive insertion, and how that might help in preventing information walking out the door.  Sadly, we do not have SEM right now - and probably won't - and I hope that does not come back to haunt us (or anyone, for that matter).

To paraphrase "Blazing Saddles"

"Patches?  We ain't got no patches!  We don't need no patches! I don't have to show you any stinking patches!"

...is what you're NOT supposed to say to your CIO 😉

Level 17

The interesting thing was that I wasn't plugging anything in those comments. I actually meant the ability of IT folks to think in terms of the business. To do the translation from tech to revenue-cost-risk. To be comfortable with both the language and the culture of business interactions.

But sure, SolarWinds can help with collecting the data for that, too!

Thanks for the comments, and for the support! Good luck in your quest to bring SEM into the org.

Maybe not an app, Rick, but an ancient set of keystrokes: CTRL+ALT+DEL!  That is, of course, back when the "Three-finger salute" actually did something significant.  How many companies in Corporate Amurka could stand a good, hard reboot?

Level 14

Try a three fingered salute on a Linux box.  Instant reboot, no "Are you sure".  We have one guy who keeps forgetting.  Problem is, he keeps doing it on the phone system.    

"The General Lee" was one of the few exceptions.

Level 16
Level 14

Allegedly between 256 and 321 Dodge Chargers were created and mostly destroyed in the making of The Dukes of Hazard.

OK at flying, not so great at landing.

The Dukes of Hazzard (TV Series 1979–1985) - Trivia - IMDb

Level 13

Thanks good article.

My inner pessimist went straight to the autonomous drone being hacked or interfered with by some outside entity or person with less-than-honorable intent.  It's bad enough when a mini-drone can interfere with your peace and quiet and privacy, or can cause disruptions at a major airport.

It's quite another thing when you are inside an autonomous flying drone and someone uses it without your expectation or permission to do something you 'd rather not occur.

Level 14

There is this mad French bloke who just flew over the English Channel on a jet powered hoverboard.

Watch: Frenchman successfully crosses Channel on 'hoverboard' in second attempt | Euronews

Sorry, I had to go to the literal when I reread the topic of this page.

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Carry a nice sling and a few smooth river rocks.  You're sure to get a head.

Interesting, Rick...I thought you might have gone the "mythical" route:

Image result for perseus medusa

Or the ole..."Henery The Eighth I Am I Am" route:

Image result for henry the 8th wife beheaded

They say that the definition of a great leader is one who keeps their head while everyone around them is losing theirs...OK, sorry, very bad joke.  But you started it, rschroeder​... 😉

I considered both of those images, and others, but went with David & Goliath's sculpture simply for being more easily recognizable, and for convenience, and for being (slightly) less graphic.

Level 11

I have been outsources, downsized and I can tell you the language of business can be critical but is not always enough.  several managers "battled" for a liong time to avoid outsourcing and in the end we all got packages or picked up by the outsourcer.

About the Author
In my sordid career, I have been an actor, bug exterminator and wild-animal remover (nothing crazy like pumas or wildebeasts. Just skunks and raccoons.), electrician, carpenter, stage-combat instructor, American Sign Language interpreter, and Sunday school teacher. Oh, and I work with computers. Since 1989 (when you got a free copy of Windows 286 on twelve 5¼” floppies when you bought a copy of Excel 1.0) I have worked as a classroom instructor, courseware designer, desktop support tech, server support engineer, and software distribution expert. Then about 14 years ago I got involved with systems monitoring. I've worked with a wide range of tools: Tivoli, Nagios, Patrol, ZenOss, OpenView, SiteScope, and of course SolarWinds. I've designed solutions for companies that were extremely modest (~10 systems) to those that were mind-bogglingly large (250,000 systems in 5,000 locations). During that time, I've had to chance to learn about monitoring all types of systems – routers, switches, load-balancers, and SAN fabric as well as windows, linux, and unix servers running on physical and virtual platforms.