Wednesday, January 25, 2012

IT Purchasing and career ambitions

Lately I've been pondering exactly how those of us decide what to buy for our IT departments. I imagine there are the usual biases including brand reputation and past platform use, but also there may be a more career oriented bias that is sometimes overlooked: the resume.

Let's imagine that you are tasked with a project that involves building up an entirely new infrastructure set, without worry of any current platforms being used. How are you going to make your purchasing decisions? Obviously you'll have a budget and so a bang for your buck calculation will have to be made. But if all platforms are equally affordable, what is the chance that you'll pick something that will look good for your future endeavors? For example, will you use VMware ESXi and vSphere knowing that yet further experience in designing and maintaining such a platform will provide benefits to your professional development? I am finding lately that a significant number of the administrators I maintain contact with are actually taking this factor into consideration.There is actually a rather nice and short article on TechRepublic talking about what they expect to be the top skills for 2012 ( and it is certainly worth a read.

What is interesting about this observation is that one will find that the effect starts to diminish the larger the organization in question becomes. As the decision making process drifts from being about one individual, and the expertise of a large group is brought into play you end up with a sort of 'sum of its parts' situation. The career desires and past experiences of the entire group, plus vendor relationships and technical support needs all begin to pull in different directions until a middle ground is created or found. It would appear to me however that careerism doesn't completely disappear from the decision, but instead shows faintly through the ambitions of each individual member of the decision making process. Each opinion and proposal will reflect not only current opinion, but in some way the future plans of the person in question and where they see the organization traveling.

For management knowing that this tendency may exist opens a new way to understand their IT staff. By getting recommendations on a regular basis one can actually tell how the group views the future of the IT department, as well as a hint as to what each of them would like to be doing in the long term with their career personally. For the staff being self aware of the tendency would allow them to embrace the concept and attempt to further both business and personal development goals. I suppose truly the factor that is at play is that even though we're IT workers, engineers, and administrators constantly surrounded by machines, we are still quite considerably human in what influences our decisions. So now I ask you, what drives your decision making process?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

NTFS USN Journal and 3X backup

A problem I saw crop up a couple days with some of my customers using 3X Appliances is an issue where their USN journal fills up and causes their backup set to crash and burn. The good news with this is that there is actually a relatively easy fix that just requires the use of the fsutil utility from Microsoft.

Generally the USN journal max size is set fairly low, and this can be a problem depending on the number of files that exist in your file system. The journal's purpose is to add resiliency to the file system by providing a persistent log of changes being made to the file system. We generally suggest changing your journal max size to something along the lines of 512MB if you aren't tight for space. Generally for every 400,000 files you have you will want to add 128MB to the journal. The following technet article below discusses the command to change the journal in detail: Making this adjustment will avoid problems our backup solution, as well as any others that make use of the journal.

This particular post is to remain rather short, however this week will have a second post to make up for it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Disaster Recovery planning for your small business

As promised we're going to discuss some options for the small business disaster recovery (DR) situation. For a small business a significant problem with any sort of IT project is cost. This makes it tempting to start off using home brew type solutions, but eventually you will find yourself wanting something more polished and reliable. For instance my client KTDID, LLC has an ESXi infrastructure that I maintain off site backups of at my residence. To start off with I scripted out the backups using some cmdlets, but am in the process of looking for something more professional. But where should we turn?

The first thing we need to consider is what exactly we need to backup. In my case I have to worry about several server VMs and a couple of user physical machines. At this time you'd want to ask yourself if you want to back up files, the entire system or perhaps even both.As far as the virtual machines go one attractive solution would be Veeam Backup and Replication as they have taken what would have been painstaking to script and maintain and made it possible with mouse clicks. The software isn't cheap, but if you have a sizable virtual environment with your small business its worth the investment. For file level backups it's preferred to use something the 3X Backup Appliance or a software product such as Arconis, Backup Exec or the countless other competitors. One thing that I consider to be of the greatest import however is to keep ownership of your data, and especially so if you are in a field that deal with sensitive information. In my scenario I have a 3TB NAS that I use to keep backups on site and then also have backups off site at my residence as an additional layer of contingency. One of the reason's the 3X Backup Appliance makes the list of considerations for this is that with a couple simple port forwards you can place the device any where with an internet connection, and the client devices pick up the new location automatically. The device is good for file level and some limited use for system level backups, though it does not quite yet suit the bill for VM level backups for VMware (though if you have Hyper-V it does pretty well with that). So I find myself needing two products more or less if I want to maintain ownership and get a total solution. At this point it looks like once the funding is available we'll be looking at an implementation of Veeam, and perhaps a 3X Backup Appliance to compliment.

Looking a bit into the other issues of DR planning I find that as a small business there are some pretty simple things we can do. For example since we use my residence as a basic DR site and that location is in a completely different city I can bring services up at some level without too much downtime or risk of both sites being eliminated at once. Also, the infrastructure is set in such a way that once I bring everything up again the users in question shouldn't have too much trouble working either from home, or another location until the original site's functionality is restored. When you are making your plan do not overlook the users in the effort to plan your technological recovery to your hearts content. Without their ability to work, the rest of the infrastructure has little use.

My next project is to research the best method for backing up Zimbra that allows for item level restore without a tremendous amount of difficulty. If I come up with something before next week I will most assuredly make the post.