In the early years of IT, data was stored on paper tapes

What did an IT position look like in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s? Far fewer mobile endpoints, for one thing. With respect to today, the history of information technology boasts some surprising differences in day-to-day tasks and the technology that was available. IT support has come a long way, folks.

How Far Back?

IT has been around almost as long as humans. If you think about it, hieroglyphics are just a script devs don’t use anymore. Mechanical devices such as the slide rule, the Difference Engine, Blaise Pascal’s Pascaline and other mechanical computers qualify as IT, too. But this particular journey begins well into the 20th century.

The 1970’s: Mainly Mainframes

Computers of this era were mostly mainframes and minicomputers, and a history of information technology wouldn’t be complete without mentioning them. IT job roles included manually running user batch tasks, performing printer backups, conducting system upgrades via lengthy procedures, keeping terminals stocked with paper and swapping out blown tubes. IT staff was relegated mainly to basements and other clean rooms that housed the big iron. System interconnectivity was minimal at the time, so people had to bridge those gaps themselves. This was the motivation behind the Internet (or the ARPANET, as it was known then).

The 1980’s: Say Hello to the PC

This decade saw the growth of the minicomputer (think DEC VAX computers) and the introduction of the PC. Sysadmins crawled out of the basement and into the hallways and computer rooms of schools, libraries and businesses that needed them onsite. The typical IT roles at this time consisted of installing and maintaining file and print servers to automate data storage, retrieval and printing. Other business roles included installing and upgrading DOS on PCs.

If you worked in a school, you saw the introduction of the Apple II, Commodore 64 and, eventually, the IBM PC. But the personal computer was more expensive, deemed for business use and not deployed in schools very much. It was the Apple II that propelled the education market forward and, if you worked support at a school in the ’80s, you knew all about floppy disks, daisy wheel printers and RS-232 cables.

The 1990’s: Cubicles, Windows and the Internet

This generation of IT worked in cubicles (think “Tron” or “Office Space“), often sharing that space alongside the users they supported. Most employees were using PCs with Windows by this time, and IT support was focused on networking, network maintenance, PC email support, Windows and Microsoft Office installations — and adding memory or graphics cards for those who needed them.

Toward the end of the decade, the Web’s contribution to Internet connectivity became arguably the most requested computing resource among growing businesses. Although there was no Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn yet (Friendster would kick off that trend in 2002), employers still worried about productivity and often limited Web access. Oh, and if you could go ahead and add modems to PCs, run phone lines for those who needed dial-up access and Internet-enable the business LAN, that would be great.

Today’s IT: Welcome to Apple, Patch Tuesday and BYOD

Today, recent IT job roles have included the rebirth of Mac support, the introduction of social media (and the blocking of its access at work), constant security patches (Patch Tuesday on Windows, for instance), the advent of BYOD and DevOps automation.

The continued consumerization of IT (essentially now BYOD) meant that IT pros had “that kind” of job where friends and family would ask for help without pause. The one common thread through the years? The growth of automation in the IT role — something that will continue to define tomorrow’s helpdesk.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Data loss isn’t something sysadmins like to think about, but just a few undetected faults can quickly snowball into a dilemma that takes the department days, weeks or even months to come back from — depending on your disaster recovery protocol. And although there are plenty of places a loss can occur, nearly three quarters of it is attributable to hard-drive failure in laptops or desktop computers as of 2014. SSDs comprise only 15 percent of reported failures, whereas RAID/virtual services come in third with 13 percent.

Cloud storage is growing in popularity, but hard-drive storage is still standard when it comes to storing an SMB’s most critical data. This means support needs to be ready for the following factors that can contribute to a loss that didn’t come from a remote endpoint.

Bring Your Own Malware

Even though antivirus software can reduce the risk of data loss via a breach, the threat of a company machine losing information to malware still looms large. In fact, CNN reports more than 317 million new pieces of malware were created in 2014. And while you might deem the department well prepared for most viral threats to user machines, broader thinking is usually required. Smartphones, tablets and other employee-owned BYOD equipment all serve as gateways for malicious software to enter the company’s coffers from outside the network if they have access to the VPN. If an employee’s device carries, say, a malicious app or attachment, the moment this device connects it puts every shared piece of data at risk of corruption or loss.

It’s impossible to keep an eye on every device that connects to your network, but support can curb the spread of malware from a BYOD device by looking for bandwidth irregularities. Network monitoring software designed to identify the affected device(s) can stop the damage before it retrieves or corrupts more information.

OS Issues

Malware is easy to track, but what about threats from operating systems? Strange, maybe, but there are several scenarios wherein data is compromised as a direct result of a new OS. For instance, iOS users who upgraded to IOS 9 earlier this year without backing up their device lost all messaging, email, photo and contact data. Similarly, users who have devices that run unlicensed versions of Windows can have all their data deleted by Symantec when plugged into a workplace computer.

Though IT pros might know better than to upgrade phone operating systems without backing up or connecting computers with unlicensed content installed, the fact is many employees don’t. In this case, employee education can go a long way. So, when a new operating system is slated for release, reminding employees to back up their data before upgrading will go a long way toward preventing data loss due to lack of compatibility.

Power Failure

Though it’s unlikely with a proper UPS, power failure can cause data losses as well. Specifically, files being written at the time of outage might find some of their data missing or corrupted when your machines turn back on. Even more rare, but if a computer happens to be creating business-critical data when the power goes out, peripheral system information can become lost as well. Protecting all electronics with surge protectors and powering down during storms can help prevent this from happening.

Data loss is a consistently scary thing to think about, but there are some practical things you can do to protect the team along with the office at large from losing data that lives in the hard drive.

CTA-BANNERS-downgrade

Every morning, HR manager Jane arrives at the office ready to work. After her 10 a.m. meeting, she streams her (still-growing) playlist on Spotify until lunch. Although she leaves at noon to eat, she’s always back early to watch some clips from her favorite late-night personality on Hulu before getting back to work. Then, in the afternoon, she streams a YouTube playlist filled with similar music before leaving for the day.

This behavior sounds pretty normal, but for us in the IT department, Jane’s routine is a network usage nightmare; she burns through resources, slows Wi-Fi speeds to a crawl and creates workflow delay for her coworkers — who subsequently flood your department with ticket after ticket wondering why they can’t upload or share files as quickly as they were able to previously. A fictitious scenario, sure, but employees like Jane are as common as they are unaware — they are complaining about the slow internet speed, but they are actually causing the issue.

The Power of Network Monitoring Software

A survey by the International Data Corporation found 30 to 40 percent of on-the-job Internet use isn’t work-related. Luckily, in order to pinpoint which users are draining company bandwidth, you can use WhatsUp Gold’s network flow monitoring feature to monitor, alert, and report on interface traffic and bandwidth utilization.

Network flow monitoring provides detailed and actionable data on the top senders, receivers, conversations, applications, and protocols consuming network bandwidth. This gives enough information for the network admin to know who is consuming too much bandwidth, using RTSP (a streaming protocol), or showing inordinately heavy use of HTTP (web traffic).

The fact of the matter is that you should always be sensitive to your users’ needs, but knowing where the bandwidth hogs are coming from are essential to implementing proactive policies. You can use network monitoring software to pinpoint where large spikes are occurring and what’s causing them. From there, you can examine overall trends comparing necessary heavy usage to superfluous usage, reveal areas for improvement and create further plans to optimize the firm’s most congested networks. Most importantly, educate your users on the consumption of bandwidth and how this affects others in the organization.

Working With Your Team

While some workplaces expressly forbid the use of data-intensive apps, and use enhanced security and firewalls to block employee access to related content, this approach should be carefully balanced against the cultural and open workplace policies of the company. The last thing you want is to create friction between the IT department and the rest of the office.

It may be more effective to call a meeting and educate your office mates about how their behavior affects network performance, offering suggestions about how they can ensure everyone has access to the speed they need to complete their most critical tasks without restricting the rest of the Web. If initial collaborative efforts are unsuccessful though, try working with the “heaviest” users to figure out a usage strategy that works for you without being too restrictive.

Planning for the Future

Alas, despite a concerned effort from your employees to curb unnecessary usage, your network may still incur issues during heavy traffic periods. In this case, it may be time to look ahead and start planning for increased bandwidth capacity. Although such a progressive measure will undoubtedly require budget modifications, planning in advance to improve network capacity before it grinds the business to a halt will help keep things running smoothly and prevent even bigger speedbumps down the road.

Discovering which data employees access at work can be a touchy undertaking, but you don’t have to risk pitting the IT department against other employees. With a little advance planning, special software and an eye toward cooperation, your office doesn’t have to be so divisive. Curb undesired network usage and ensure everyone is able to enjoy a fast, reliable network connection without the office drama.

Capturefff

The IPv6 protocol has consistently made it into top-10 and tech-prediction lists for years now but, as noted by Wired, IPv4 addresses are finally drying up.

When the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) ran out in 2011, it submitted a substantial amount of unclaimed addresses to regional providers like the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN). But as of September 2015, ARIN is also nearing a saturation point, so companies have a limited amount of time before the IPv6 vs. IPv4 debate settles on the former. With the big switch incoming, here’s an IPv6 survivor’s kit to help keep your sanity in a hexadecimal future.

Benefits of IPv6 Outweigh Complications of Switching

The transition hasn’t come out of nowhere; experts have known for years that device adoption would exceed the finite number of IPv4 addresses available. The world’s total connected devices passed the critical 4-billion mark back in 2011, as Network World points out, but using the network address translation (NAT) protocol, it was possible to “reuse” addresses and prolong the usable life of IPv4.

Nonetheless, with ARIN fully depleted and the benefits of IPv6 now outweighing the complications of switching — 340 trillion, trillion, trillion 128-bit hexadecimal addresses, all of which leave out the extraneous header information found in IPv4 — adoption is on the rise. You can even test your readiness online. IPv6 is coming for your business, and you need to be prepared.

IT’s Resistance to IPv6 Adoption

In spite of the U.K. government’s efforts to encourage IPv6 adoption, according to IT Pro, 80 percent of departments aren’t using the technology, instead relying on middle-man services like NAT to ensure that IPv6 users can still access IPv4-only content. Federal agencies in the United States don’t fare much better: NIST reports that fewer than 450 Web-based IPv6 operational service interfaces were deployed by the federal government as of October 18, 2015 — not nearly enough to meet the needs of a majority (or even large minority) of public-facing agencies that should have already made the switch.

What’s the holdup? If IPv6 is so great, why are government departments dragging their feet? Part of the problem is expected resistance to IT change. In the same way they initially spurned cloud computing for its disruption to current storage methods, many organizations prefer to avoid the problem of IP switchover until there’s no alternative. Along with simple avoidance, however, there are a number of legitimate concerns about the technology’s impact on file security and transmission efficacy.

Windows and MTUs

IPv6 isn’t perfect. As noted by Tech Unboxed, a number of users have reported conflicts between IPv6 and Windows 10; the current workaround involves adding a registry key that completely disables IPv6 in Windows. It isn’t something users can do on their own, and it comes with the risk of permanently damaging a Windows installation. Meanwhile, the Internet Engineering Task Force suggests IPv6 can also cause problems when it comes to maximum transmission unit (MTU) size. Although the bigger default MTU of IPv6 — 1,280 bytes as opposed to 536 in IPv4 — is more efficient since greater amounts of usable data are transmitted (while header and other attachment sizes remain the same), IPv6 routers do not naturally fragment these packets. As a result, the source must properly fragment and then establish the correct MTU size. Failure to do so can lead to dropped packets and network delays.

Securing the Network

Of course, these firms are also concerned about security under IPv6. Ideally, the new protocol should encrypt traffic by default and check packet integrity as a matter of course, Tech Republic explains. But some VPN providers making the switch to IPv6 are ignoring a critical security loophole — IPv6 “leakage” — if they only manipulate the IPv4 routing table and ignore the IPv6 counterpart. Your worst-case scenario? All IPv6 traffic bypasses the VPN tunnel, and is ultimately unprotected.

There’s a clear victor in the IPv6 vs. IPv4 battle, but the mandate for now is survival, not comfort. Not all governments are ready for the switch, not all enterprise apps play well with IPv6 and security isn’t a promise. With prep time, though, it can be.

webinar-banner-tweet-dec8

iStock_000057228426_Small

Leading up to Ipswitch Innovate 2015, we were fortunate enough to survey the presenters at our upcoming virtual conference. We asked each of them several questions about their pain points as IT professionals.

In his upcoming Innovate presentation; Steve Rogacki, Manager of Technology Services at Universal Health Services (UHS) discusses how he provides maximum uptime and performance for mission critical systems, such as monitors and medical coding. Steve also was able to answer a few questions pertaining to his general IT pain points.

What new tool would you like to invent to make your job easier and what would it do?

“A magic installation tool that can install and configure things with the flip of a switch. I would use it to configure servers and install different applications quickly.”

What are the top IT challenges you most commonly face?

“Interruptions, meetings, and fires that pop up.”

If your users could do one thing to make your job easier, what would it be?

“Pay more attention to what their fingers are doing on the keyboard. Stop hitting the Delete key so much.”

What job related apps do you have on your smartphone?

“Concur to approve expenses, that’s one big one. Text messaging plays a big part, because of the number alerts that come in. Email because I get close to 200-300 emails a day that I have to sort through.”

What communities, blogs, people do you follow to stay informed?

“On my iPad I use a new app called News and inside news you can configure it to go out and look at multiple different news feeds and pull it all into one dashboard.

A lot of times we have vendors come in who want to talk to us. Probably out of those 200-300 emails per day, about 150 are from vendors. We do lunch and learns with vendors and we also branch that out to our facilities. So when a vendor comes in to talk to me about something, I like to get all of UHS involved. We do a webinar and broadcast that out to the rest of the facilities, because each one of those hospitals acts independently IT-wise. They have their own IT staff. When I want to look at a different Dell server or WhatsUpGold, they might be interested in that too, so that they can see it and be educated on it as well.”

What social media channels (such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, etc.) do you follow to stay current?

“I’m on LinkedIn, there are a few groups I’m on. But I have to be honest, I don’t’ pay as much attention to LinkedIn groups as much as I pay attention to Facebook groups. A lot of the most common vendors like Cisco and Ipswitch, Dell, they’re all up on Twitter and Facebook, so you can pull in your normal stuff and see their stuff too.”

Do you still read Dilbert?

“No.”

Do you think that Jon Snow will come back in Season 6 of Game of Thrones?

“Absolutely.” :)

Where will you be on December 18, 2015, the day that Star Wars: The Force Awakens comes out?

“I will be in line with my kids ready to watch it.”

What does innovation mean to you?

“Innovation means delivering things outside the box. Being able to find solutions and come up with ideas that are sometimes outside the box that solve a common problem.”

Register for Ipswitch Innovate 2015 to Watch Steve Rogacki’s Presentation

You can check out healthcare IT pro, Steve Rogacki’s presentation, Proactive Management of Mission Critical Servers, at Ipswitch Innovate this week. He will dive into the IT environment at UHS and much more, so don’t miss out.innovate-IT-pros-580x360

 

vintage retro microphone on stage. Vector illustration

Leading up to Ipswitch Innovate 2015, we were fortunate enough to survey the presenters at our upcoming virtual conference. We asked each of them several questions about their pain points as IT professionals.

Samuel Egbaiyelo is the Security and Business Application Officer at NNPC Retail Limited.  We had the chance to ask him some general IT questions before his presentation Monitoring of Node Components at Ipswitch Innovate next week. His answers are below.

What new tool would you like to invent to make your job easier and what would it do?

“Basically, invent a tool that can tell me that my network is fine no matter where my location is, which is what WhatsUpGold already does for me. Because if your network is fine then your business is fine. Managing connectivity is also important.”

What are the top IT challenges you most commonly face?

“Challenges I face everyday is from the business user end. Because most users are not well educated or not well trained, they do not know how to communicate well to IT.  So most times we get to spend more time trying to address as to what they are trying to communicate and finding ways to understand them. We get a lot of calls because one or two things is down, and particularly it’s because they could have pulled out the cable. But we now have the ability to monitor whether or not if it is power related from our location, rather than going to their location to find out exactly what the problem is. If it’s a printer issue, I know if it’s a paper jam and if it’s solved.”

If your users could do one thing to make your job easier, what would it be?

“They could find ways to help themselves before escalating an issue to IT. If they can’t solve the issue on their own with the help of the materials we’ve provided them, then they can escalate to IT.”

What job related apps do you have on your smartphone?

“I actually monitor my network with WhatsUpGold. I can ping to any device to see if it’s up or down.”

What communities, blogs, people do you follow to stay informed?

“Basically, I constantly go online to Google. I want to see what is different, what is happening in the markets, what new innovations are out there.”

What social media channels (such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, etc.) do you follow to stay current?

“I use LinkedIn. I use it particularly to communicate to my peers in IT, so that we can share our experiences and collaborate. If I fins a solution I will share it with my colleagues and help them so they can share with their colleagues.”

Do you still read Dilbert?

“Yes.”

Do you think that Jon Snow will come back in Season 6 of Game of Thrones?

“Yes.”

Where will you be on December 18, 2015, the day that Star Wars: The Force Awakens comes out?

“Houston, Texas.”

What does innovation mean to you?

“Innovation is change that comes with a significant impact.”

Register for Ipswitch Innovate 2015 to Watch Samuel Egbaiyelo’s Presentation

Learn more from Samuel Egbaiyelo at Ipswitch Innovate next week, where he will discuss ways to minimize business disruption, planning bandwidth, optimizing network reliability, and decreasing operation costs.

At a recent CIOboston event by CIOsynergy, I met two folks from Apprenda: Chris Gaun, Senior Product Marketing Manager, and Dave Cohn who heads Northeast Sales for the company.  Apprenda is a ‘Private Platform as a Service’ company that sponsored the event with Microsoft. Both made the remark that IT needs to transition from being a cost center to being a profit center and do so by developing more customer-facing software for the business.

An intriguing concept and one that got the conversation flowing between the three of us and Al Ingram, Director of Operations in my IT department. And it got me thinking.  At Ipswitch, IT worked with R&D on our Licensing System within our products to communicate with an IT-created back-end for product fulfillment and activation. That project certainly would fit the bill. We also manage ecommerce. Plus, as one of the leaders in Salesforce implementation, we have developed many tools and processes that could be shared/sold in the Salesforce ecosystem. sd

But I think this view of IT and what is needed is too narrow. Traditional P&L models, with their roots in manufacturing, assign IT as a cost center. But the way out is to question whether the model needs to be updated, rather than insist that IT produce traditional products that can be sold to customers. There is a value-add to the business from today’s IT that goes beyond viewing it as a sequence of projects or as simply ‘support’ resources. There is sustained return for the business, beyond just the savings that IT may have delivered vs. doing a project using more expensive outside consultants.

Measuring the Impact IT has on Business ROI

Business ROI must have an associated IT fraction that indicates long term value that IT created – it is a shared benefit. I am not suggesting that modeling IT as a profit center will be easy.  Certainly, measuring just IT’s contribution to business productivity has been fraught with difficulty and controversy. But at a time when most IT departments can feel in their bones that they are making a difference to the business and every project is tagged as a business project rather than an IT project (as in the old days) we need these new models to evolve. Such measurement will lead to better valuation of IT: better funding, greater confidence by the business in IT spend, and expanded use of IT as a vital business leader.

Yesterday I read an article entitled Minutes Matter And How To Avoid Screwing Up Our Productivity posted on Project Management Tools That Work. The author of the piece works hard to point out that when automating processes it’s important to understand the effect that one or more extra clicks might have. project_management

In reference to implementing a patient records system, a doctor claims:

“If you add literally one minute per patient to my work, you’ve added 40 minutes to my day,” he says.  “If you add five minutes per patient, you have now certainly just hit me with a 20 to 30 percent productivity loss.”

Good point, and certainly something to keep in mind. On the other hand, though, the goal of a patient records system isn’t just about the physician’s and nurse’s time.

It’s also about the quality of the information gathered, and the value that information has to improving future heath care decisions and improving other downstream processes.

Achieving all of a project’s goals might include asking someone to do something that adds to their total task effort (in as efficient a manner as possible, of course). If it does add to their effort, then it is important that they understand that their task has changed and why.

 

The article “Why Do Big IT Projects Fail So Often?” by Jim Ditmore on the Information Week Global CIO website is a commentary on the Affordable Care Act’s healthcare.gov website implementation.

It offers some good points for any project. “Enterprises of all types can track large IT project failures to several key reasons:

  • Poor or ambiguous sponsorship
  • Confusing or changing requirements
  • Inadequate skills or resources
  • Poor design or inappropriate use of new technology”

Take these factors and add the politics and cumbersomeness of the federal government and it’s not difficult to see the challenges.

obamacare

 

 

 

 

Rapid business expansion is great for the profit margin, but usually a trial by fire for departments like IT. As a group, IT can have a hard time moving fast enough to keep up in an atmosphere of fast change and new demands, particularly when IT practices and monitoring tools that worked fine in the past just can’t be stretched any further.

When a London auto-parts company decided to go national, they didn’t anticipate just how much strain this growth would create for IT – or how much time IT might need to develop a new way of operating.

Petit Le MansAccording to one long-time IT staffer: “Too much information was in human memory, and that reliance on tradition stopped being effective at some point. And it took a while for us even to see that ‘business as usual’ was hurting us. It turns out the network has no respect for the IT admin’s day off or his expectation that you can’t call him 24/7. This really hadn’t been a problem until we had dozens of sites and the company was doing more business online. By the time we went over 100 stores, it was bedlam

…for one thing, troubleshooting network issues had become a lot harder. It’s one thing to suffer through manually searching router configurations, device logs, etc., to try to get to the bottom of an issue when your network isn’t all that big. But when you are supporting hundreds of users and more remote sites than you can keep track of mentally, you need some serious software to do that for you.”

So after one very long night and one very painful network crash, the company got serious about upgrading both the policies and products they used to ensure the health of the network, everything on it, and every way it could be accessed.

The IT department decided to use WhatsUp Gold and Flow Monitor from Ipswitch: “We evaluated some options. Picking WhatsUpGold was a no-brainer because it made it so easy for us to monitor of all our remote sites and track down small anomalies that in the past would probably have led to downtime, phone calls, and a fire drill in IT. We also needed Flow Monitor, the plug-in lets us keep on top of exactly how traffic is flowing at our most important offices. Now we’re not out of breath all the time, we don’t angry calls all the time, and we are so much better able to get in front of issues and plan for what’s ahead of us.

The WhatsUp Gold team is thrilled to announce that we have signed our 100th reseller in the UK – Edinburgh-based Grant McGregor, provider of corporate-quality IT expertise and network computer support services!

Grant McGregor joins the Ipswitch Network Management channel programme as a silver partner and will bolster the line up of seven Gold, 15 Silver and 78 Authorised partners. Grant McGregor is capable of serving as its client’s entire IT department with support, project and IT consultancy services. The addition of WhatsUp Gold to its range of products enables Grant McGregor to provide technical prowess in delivering enterprise level service, regardless of the organisation size.

“Ipswitch Network Management Division’s suite of solutions was something that we felt would perfectly complement our existing portfolio of products. This accompanied by the comprehensive and mature approach of the programme made it really attractive to us,” says Grant McGregor director Jon Towers. “WhatsUp Gold delivers real, tangible benefits to the end user and is capable of monitoring the physical network as well as the virtualised environment through the various plug-ins. We are delighted to be working with Ipswitch Network Management Division and will look to introduce WhatsUp Gold to our ever expanding customer base.”

To read the full press release about this exciting announcement, click here.

Want to prove you have what it takes to get the job done? Ready to become a WhatsUp Gold Certified Professional and take your career to the next level?

Join the ranks of WhatsUp Gold Certified Professionals and show certified proof on your business card, on your office wall, in your email signature, in your online profile, and on your resume. Purchase any WhatsUp Gold Training and receive a WhatsUp Gold Certified Professional Exam, a $99 value, FREE.

Ipswitch’s WhatsUp Gold Training provides 33 practical, hands-on lab exercises in a cloud-hosted network environment. Delivered live by the same experts that created WhatsUp Gold, instructors are ready to answer your questions and respond to your requests in a personal and interactive setting.

To register for classes or get more information, simply:

Sign up for hands-on training today. Seating is limited. You must purchase by June 30th to take advantage of the free WhatsUp Gold Certified Professional Exam (a $99 value)! (You must purchase training before June 30 to take advantage of promotion, but may take training later.)