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The Importance of Standards

Level 11

Throughout my career I have worked on a number of projects where standards where minimal. You have seen this type of shop—the servers may be named after superheros or rock bands. When the company has ten servers and two employees it’s not that big of a deal. However, when you scale up and suddenly become even a small enterprise, these things can become hugely important.

A good example is having the same file system layout for your database servers—without this it becomes hugely challenging to automate the RDBMS installation process. Do you really want to spend your time clicking next 10 times every time you need a new server?

One of my current projects has some issues with this—it is a massive virtualization effort, but the inconsistency of the installations, not following industry best practices, and the lack of common standards across the enterprise have led to many challenges in the migration process. Some of these challenges include inconsistent file system names, and even hard coded server names in application code. I did a very similar project at one of my former employers who had outstanding standards and everything went as smoothly as possible. 

What standards do you like to enforce? The big ones for me are file system layout (e.g. having data files and transaction/redo logs on the same volume every time, whether it is D:\ and L:\, or /data and /log) and server naming (having clearly defined names makes server location and identification easier). Some other standards I’ve worked with in the past include how to perform disaster recovery for different tiers of apps or which tier of application is eligible for high availability solutions.

43 Comments
Level 17

Without standards you get real big faster than you expect. Even with a small shop, not keeping things labeled the same way can create confusion and require double checking before you move a head with your current task.

Process and consistency go a long way in making the job a lot easier and manageable. Figure out what works or makes sense and keep to it, don't change it unless you change it across the board. It's a very bad experience to find once closet labeled in one fashion, and the next in a totally different.

Standard Issues : You will always offend someone with your standards. IT takes all kinds, IT doesn't matter what you call it or how you call it as long as it answers. The only way to make someone or something answer is call IT the same thing every time!!!

                           In naming schemes or ordering you will never think of it all. And when that anomaly pops up, don't take it personal. No one was thinking of you when they used vlan 666 for deadnet. And just because you were not at the meeting where they

                            decided to match up the Enterprise "K" notation to the end of your Wan Box does not mean your are one (+er, that is).

Personally I don't like getting alerts at 3pm, it cuts into my thwacking, but the 24/7 alerts I have to keep active helps notify and tell me when I need to do some work, or better deploy someone. So for this reason I don't take my buzzing mobile device as a personal slight.

Level 14

I work in an integration environment with multiple suites of gear for various states of development.  We have a naming convention in place to identify suite, purpose, physical or virtual, and sequential number.  We also use a standard naming convention for firewall rules so you can read the name of the rule and know, protocol, direction of data flow, firewall interfaces, and end points.

Level 9

I always try to create Standard Operating Procedures (SOP's) just so there is a written standard and process accessible to any of my co-workers. If someone is making changes incorrectly or does not know how to make the changes you can always point them to the SOP.

Level 14

Agreed!!  If it isn't in writing, it doesn't exist.

Level 17

Documentation beats Conversation... at least that is what they say around here.

Level 17

Having worked for several organizations I've seen what happens when there are Standards and when there are none.  Working for an IT Services company not too long ago, I was able to see how small and mid-size business have to limp through when there are multiple servers setup, but with no standards in name, role, or setup.  We would then have to take time and setup up a project to add this in.  While in the end, the companies are better off, the pain it takes to get to that endpoint can be stressful on all involved.  It's a bit comforting when you step into an environment where standards are used in order to make things run a bit smoother.  We are also working on not only a virtualization migration, but a full Solarwinds migration from physical to virtual hardware and having these standards has made proposing the new environment much easier.  It's better when others understand ahead of time that you are partitioning an OS drive, a data drive, and in terms of SQL, a log drive without having to get into a long drawn out discussion of why this needs to be done vs the shoot from the hip approach that was done in the past.

Level 15

I'm a HUGE fan of small startups and the 'geek culture' that results from a relaxed atmosphere and breeds innovation and a fun work environment. That being said, these same environments are generally the WORST when it comes to standards.

For me, one of the best compromises I found was in the lab environment for one of the major ISPs I worked for a while back. In production, everything had a very detailed SOP and naming standard. In the lab, we were free to name things whatever we wanted, within certain rules. For instance, all servers must be named after Star Wars characters/places, and all network gear followed Star Trek characters/places.

Things like this allowed for a fairly seamless move into the lab whenever we needed to go in there after a month or so and refresh the setup. But it also allowed for the engineers to have fun in the lab, which ultimately allowed us to create some really amazing doohickies in there!

Level 12

+1 for firewall rule informative naming

Level 12

I'm stealing that cahunt, thank you !

Level 12

I agree that without a standard, there can be no compliance.  My main issue within most of the organizations I have worked with is not the standards, but the compliance!  How to get the team to do what they are supposed to before making a resource accessible????  Drive Lettering, Drive naming conventions, device naming conventions, etc. are just words on paper without compliance!  I'm just saying.... Without the "buy in" and follow up by your team and management, it's worthless rhetoric!

Level 11

Standards make everyone's life easier.  I like to see standards in all aspects of IT, from server naming conventions to firewall rule naming, switch and router interface descriptions.  You name it standards help clarify and organize a shop.  I once worked with a person who thought as long as the cat5  cable was terminated same way every time it was a good standard even though it didn't follow the TIA/EIA 568A or 568B.  Now that is a standard you don't want to follow.

Level 14

I agree with everyone else here that standards are a necessity.  There should be naming conventions for all gear, to include racks.  there should be IP Address schemes that are standardized for the placement of like machines in subnets.  There should also be standards the the acquisition of equipment.  Get like equipment when possible, to cut down on the differences in loads.

Level 13

I try to do the same thing for my rules and objects:  App name, layer (UI, app, DB, etc), segment name, data center name.

This makes it much easier to reuse objects from one firewall to the next.  Hopefully this will eventually also make it easier to integrate a common firewall rule management product.

Level 13

To put it simply, without standards how can you have any expectation of how things are supposed to be configured or operate?

Level 14

Standards are only as good as the measurement and enforcement of them.  My email signature at work contains the quote below.  You can have the beautifully written standards, the most well thought out processes and procedures but if there is no way to determine compliance with those standards then you are only marginally better than a team who has no standards and, if the only thing holding your team to the line are standards (and not work ethic or a drive to perform) then the lack of reporting will eventually degrade into dated standards that are never updated because nobody is following them anyway.

“When performance is measured, performance improves. 

When performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates.” 

     -- Thomas Spencer Monson


The very best standards are those that empower people to make faster, more intelligent, more insightful decisions and that grant autonomy in that process in a controlled way.  I read a great article by John Robb recently about the hiring practices at Netflix. Instead of hiring the very best talent they hired people who were "fully formed adults" and were able to function within an environment that had standards, accountability and autonomy.  I think that has worked out really well for them, wouldn't you say?!?

What's the secret sauce?  Talented and curious people + autonomous decision making + empowering standards + accountability.  No single element will suffice for success.

Level 10

We have a plethora of "how-to's", spreadsheets of Access Points, Vendor Static IP's, 300+ Store circuit ID's and IP addresses, not to mention the Visio's of each major outside connection that could be point-to-point, MPLS, or VPN. I am very happy with the documentation that my employer has in place. It made my transition to a very different environment (18 casinos to 300+ travel stops) much easier.

Level 11

Great commentary guys--I especially like the comments by JBiggley, about the importance of measurement in standards. One of my former employers, that was a very large cable provider on the East Coast (ahem), did a pretty solid job of implementing standards. However, on of my key roles as an infrastructure architect was to help build a system to enforce those standards. It took a combination of several tools (System Center Config Manager's Desired Configuration Manager, some custom code and a custom database), but we were able to present a dashboard to all of our users to show which systems were compliant, and how each business unit was doing. Introducing a new standard, meant implementing a new measure. While that firm has some customer service issues, I can tell you that their IT architecture is remarkably efficient.

Also, I agree about writing these things down, and making sure people follow them. The best thing you can do about that, is to build out automation as much as possible in your environment. This of course works best in virtual environment, but there are some tools and techniques to also do it with physical servers.

Level 9

Without standards, it makes it very difficult to troubleshoot sometimes. We recently audited our infrastructure and found that there were a lack of standards amongst our servers and network devices. SOPs have being created and a lot of clean up is required, all of which could have been prevented if we stuck to our standards.

Level 11

I believe in standardizing everything (well, pretty much).  People dont realize how important even something as simple as naming is concerned.  Just from a monitoring standpoint it is much easier to create reports and alerts with standard names.  Now we can use CPs and sure that is great but there will always be a case for a standard name.  Another area that makes life easier is to standardize your route/switch configs.  Less chance of mistake and when something is out of order, you know its probably a good place to look at as the issue.  NCM helps us with that.

Level 9

Standardizing is very important to me.  Working in a place where you have different groups managing different part of IT, you will need it standardize.  Have all system, DB, network devices, etc... naming and system files the same will make everybody's life much easier.

Standardization and documentation decrease downtime, provide effective troubleshooting, and allow for a more accurate projection of Tech Refresh requirements.

Level 11

I alluded to it in my last comment, but the other thing to consider is that if you want to automate things (I hate to use the term private cloud) the importance of standards becomes quickly evident. You just can't do large scale automation without standard environments.

Level 14

I should also point out that standards scratch my control-freak itch   Seriously though, in a complex environment proper standards, and the adherence to those standards, ensures that everyone can operate with a minimum level of assurance that things are in a specific state.  Deviations to standards means having to assess the knowns about an environment before starting to troubleshoot or design.  A flippant choice to ignore a standard (or being ignorant of the existence of standards) usually means hours of effort by one or more people at some point in the future to identify and remediate those issues.

When I cable up a new rack I am a little loopy about the details like labelling, as-built diagrams, cable colour coding, etc. etc.  The closer to the "perfect" standard I can get in a cabinet the easier my life is later on down the road.

(I call it dedication to excellence, my wife calls obsessive compulsive disorder.  Potatoes, potawtoes )

MVP
MVP

build standardization and working on change standardization as well

Level 14

I call it attention to detail.  Like minds.

Level 21

We manage many different environments for customers so standardization in our deployments is incredibly important.  When people occasionally deviate from our standards we end up with environments that are nearly unmanageable.  Standards and scale go hand-in-hand.

Level 12

Standards are a must for any company no matter the size this way when you do get bigger everything is set. also no one stays in one place forever with standards at least you know it will stay the same.

MVP
MVP

As most everybody has said, Standards are a must !!

Consistency across all of the enterprise makes everybodys job easier.

This even applies to something as simple as interfacing naming standards on switches to allow for standardized alerting so it scales.

Of course the challenge becomes enforcing the standards when things get real busy...especially with the newbies on the team that don't have them all down yet and are in a hurry to get a task done.

So one of the standards should be a peer check (I use this for coding and general purposes...) it reduces missing things or not being aware of a not fully documented feature in the monitored environment.

Level 21
Of course the challenge becomes enforcing the standards when things get real busy...especially with the newbies on the team that don't have them all down yet and are in a hurry to get a task done.

So one of the standards should be a peer check (I use this for coding and general purposes...) it reduces missing things or not being aware of a not fully documented feature in the monitored environment.

This is the biggest challenge we have as well.

Level 14

+1 for peer review.  That is especially powerful as we have a 100% remote work team with members in India (tier 1/2), the US and Canada (me!).  This peer review process keeps us all honest and on track.

Level 9

In my case I sure like to use standards for Network Node naming and also inside firewall configuration, object should always be named in a standarized way. This eases  the understanding and troubleshooting tasks when any engineer from the team has to do it.

Orion Node naming is a must!

MVP
MVP

Relevant XKCD.

I like standards that are practical, pragmatic, founded on sound reasoning, and functional. Standards for arbitrary reasons are awful; the comic book superheroes one rings true with me (primarily because I've never been a comic book geek). The challenge I see often is that, in a crisis, standards are thrown aside in the sake of speed. When systems are down, no one wants to spend time ensuring that the naming convention is followed for the new systems. "We'll worry about that later."

And later = never.

Level 21

michael stump I can't agree more with you on this.  I find myself constantly trying to explain that there is no such thing as a "temporary" solution.

Level 17

I have to agree with both michael stump and byrona.  I've been in situations where this has happened and when/if the time comes to get things back in sync with the standards, you end up running into more obstacles.

Level 9

Not following standards and best practice is a recipe for disaster. Standards allow for smoother processes and level setting expectations. When you don't follow best practice and run into an issue, in our experience, vendors have simply not been able to assist or when we have an engagement, it adds to the timeline (always) as they have to learn the customized intricacies of the environment or have to open tickets for integration points that they have never seen before, etc. Best practice is called 'best' for a reason! It's been proven and found to work!

Level 17

OK, gang. So for the record, so far the score is:
Standards? Who needs em? - zero

Standards? Bring 'em on!  - infinity

I'm now going to play the role of the devious but pointy-haired boss.

(shakes out hands, closes eyes to focus, smacks head soundly on the desk to disrupt regular neural processing, and...GO!)

While there exist (and from the comments, we can see that we've all worked with) people who have "reasons" for skipping a particular standard, even THEY would probably tell you that standards are A Good Thing (tm), just not for them, just not right now, just wait until I get this one thing done, just...

I think "good" is when you come into a company or situation that is just starting <something>, and you have standards in your back pocket or take the time to work as a team to develop them, and then you roll merrily along.

But what about when you have hundreds (or horror! thousands!) of devices already and the team has finally come to the shocking realization that Life Is Bad (tm)?

  • How (technically) do you get from the wild wild west to standards heaven?
  • How (politically) do you get there?
    • How do you call the old baby ugly?
    • How do you pitch the time and resources it's going to take?
  • How far do you force standards compliance?
    • To that old Windows NT 4.0 box?
    • To the 48 port switch in the remote site with 10 users?
    • To the 800 Mandrake Linux boxes that no config management tool can touch?
    • To the iSeries systems that run the Fortune 20's entire ERP and the manager is saying "I will CUT you!"?

And how about when you discover that your old standard (yup, it existed) has simply been outgrown? You had a 2-digit location code and you just set up your 100th site.

Or when you realize you need a unified standard across vendors or device types, but the original implementation teams had their own ideas?

Remember, we all agree that life is better with standards, and that organizations need them to be effective and grow.

But I don't think that's the point that gets most companies. I think it's the sheer effort of getting from here to there which overwhelms both individuals and entire departments.

Making systems compliant - especially if that's a large effort that will take staff hours and possibly create risk

I agree with syldra that +1 for firewall rule descriptions, but what if that means a restart? And what if something (important) stops working right after that restart?

The next words you are likely to hear are "Just leave them the hell alone!"

I just finished at 8 month project for a client where they had no standards, varying degrees of access/distribution layer configurations, and many devices still have vendor defaults.  This project covered 1500+ devices and their solarwinds was maybe 35% correct.  Basically, I had to start from scratch.  So I began coming up with a basic list of configuration line items that could be cut and paste from notepad to an SSH session on the device.  Once this basic configuration was approved I went through the laborious task of logging into each device, discovering other devices, and mapping out the entire nationwide enterprise.

Once I have discovered the network, created diagrams, and built Network Atlas Maps, I could reliably use NCM Configuration Templates to fire off configurations to a selected group of devices.  I was able to select devices based on Make, Model, City, State, Address, Function, Department, or Specialty Code.  These variables configured into NPM Custom Properties gave me the flexibility and diversity to pin point configuration issues. 

At the end of the project, the client was not able to manage all devices in their network, has several configuration templates for baseline configuration, improved security with removal of vendor defaults, and Tier I has accurate information to begin troubleshooting outages.

Level 17

You probably meant:

"At the end of the project, the client was NOW able to manage all devices in their network"

Level 9

I am quickly learning that especially when implementing NPM and NCM that a common management vlan across the enterprise makes discovery and organizational management much more streamlined. Far fewer production hours will be spent in initial setup and user training if this can be accomplished as a network standard prior to SolarWinds integration.

Level 8

Rapid growth of relational databases, networks, and  computer hardware can all be attributed to standards.  I believe that process related standards can learn from the technology standards we rely on every day. 

I have seen the fallout caused by a lack of ubiquitous standards in entire industries like Robotics and 3D computer geometry.   Neither of these  have been able to grow at a rate that was predicted years ago.  A fact that can be attributed at least partially attributed to the lack of wide spread adoption of  any standards.  In these cases, the great thing about standards is there were so many to choose from    I recall a Robotics Industries Association (RIA) meeting where customers from large manufacturing companies (Ford and Boeing to name a few), were demanding standards.  The robot manufactures response was if we adhere to standards our competitive advantage will diminish and we will be left as nothing more than a commodity supplier.  The end result is that now robots are  commodities AND the industry has never experienced hyper growth. 

Fortunately I have also had the privilege to work in two industries with strong  foundational standards like the language spec for SQL (ISO 9075) and CNC (RS-274d) the programming language used for metal cutting machines.  Both databases and the CNC machine tool markets  ascertained rapid growth that would not have been possible without these standards.  It is also noteworthy that both of these languages have been extended while still holding true to the base level syntax.   For SQL two examples are Microsoft/Sybase T-SQL  and Oracle's PL/SQL both of which which are extensions on top of the ISO 9075 standard.  For CNC there are Type II statements which are extensions on top of RS-274d.  

Standards are crucial for  rapid growth, but they do need to be extended to meet new challenges and innovation.  Even the words and letters used to contribute on Thwack are based on standards. Without standards things never emerge from the initial state of chaos and disorder, but without extension and improvement any stanandard will quickly become obsolete. 

Level 13

My exposure is on the network side, but I'm pretty insistent about labeling WAN interface ports with the vendor name and circuit ID. It took a while to get traction on that with the people who right the configs, but we got there.

Level 12

I believe that standards are necessary, but have to be re-evaluated for relevance, flexibility, and exactness. There will always be those proprietary "one-offs" that a vendor brought in and no one knew who it belongs to and who supports, and then it becomes your orphan.

Standards should have some enforcement policy that is attached to it. But as long as everyone supports it - it is effective!

Level 15

I'm part of a growth environment that has expanded over time.  Multiple administrators with no real consistency between them.  No direct standards just some generalities.  I have spent the last year mostly on the network side as part of a network equipment refresh making switch configuration, and WAN interface configuration uniform and most importantly creating detailed documentation to match the changes made.  That way, there is some consistency. 

About the Author
I Started in my early days (1996), while I was still at college, in the Technical Support area of the Direccion de Sistemas e Informatica of the  UANL (Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon) which is one of the biggest public universities of Mexico. There, I grew from a total novice in the IT world to a Jr Network Engineer and eventually as the Engineer in charge of the management and operation of RedUANL (Thats what we called the university's network) That's where I suffered the pains and enjoyed the pleasures for the first time, of being the network manager of a big, and complex network. Currently I'm with the best Latin American Solarwinds Channel Partner, Iscor Soluciones, as the Sr Pre- and Post-Sales Engineer in charge of the Solarwinds Brand, inside Iscor. At Iscor, we've been partners with solarwinds since 2001 and growing every day with new challenges and new projects that make our day-to-day work a fun and enriching.