10 Ways to Survive as an IT Manager

IT ManagerSo after five and a bit years of being an IT Manager here is some advice I have learned along the way in no particular order. On the whole I have enjoyed myself but it has been a real challenge at times.

1. Figure out what plates are still spinning

Being an IT Manager is all about keeping everything running all of the time. A bit like spinning 5 or 6 plates. You have plates for your servers and network infrastructure, you have plates for bespoke databases that you maintain, you have plates for your staff (including any external contractors), you have plates for any websites or apps that you develop. That is a lot of plates to keep spinning and that before you start thinking about what your boss wants you to deliver. Make sure you know what is happening with all these plates, which ones are happy, which ones are on the way to the floor and which ones you need to get the glue out and repair.

2. Make it someone else’s problem

If you can blame someone else do so. If your internet goes down it is your ISPs fault. If your website dies its your hosting company’s fault. Take responsibility for problems but if when something goes wrong you can pick up the phone and ask for help, it will make your life easier.

3. Hire good staff

Hiring poor staff wastes time and money and makes you look bad by others. Demand the highest salary band for new staff that you can afford and don’t agree to hiring anyone that you have doubts about. It is easy to bow to the pressure to get someone quickly but this will always result in worse problems in the long run. Once you have a good team do your best to keep them, and warn upper management of the problems if staff leaves (basically make it their problem not yours!).

4. Learn, Learn, Learn

You may or may not have the opportunity to go on training courses. Whatever your situation spend time learning new stuff that will benefit the company and yourself. You can learn a lot by reading online, you can petition for training from your managers, you can fund training yourself, you can ask for help from your different suppliers. The more you learn, the more you can do and the more useful you can be to the company, plus the more interesting you will find the job.

5. Say No!

Don’t be afraid to say no. You will always be asked to do the impossible and if something is impossible say so at the start. It wastes everyone’s time if you spend a lot of time trying to do the impossible. Always give your reasons for saying no, and if you always say no people will think you are unhelpful. A better way to say no is to come up with a better solution. No I can’t do it your way but here is a better solution.

6. Don’t give estimates

If you are asked how long something will take you don’t answer straight away or give an exaggerated estimate. Go away and spend some time thinking of everything that is involved before replying. There will always be something that you forgot to consider when first asked about it and looking at the different components will help plan out the work needed as well as provide an estimate.

7. Know what to tell your boss, and what not to

This is a hard one to get the balance right for. You need to tell your boss enough so that they appreciate all that you do, but too much and they will stop listening and accuse you of talking in technobabble. I have never got the balance right with this one. I have always aired on the side of not telling my boss enough, and hence they don’t realize that I saved the day on Sunday night as everything is working again on Monday. Do repeat yourself. If your server is running low on resources start asking for replacement hardware early, and increase the frequency and the panic in line with the problems it is causing.

8. Understand the problems of the business

bhrzpww6aehdx1wvrrug
Businesses need to make money. If the one you work for isn’t making enough money you will soon be looking for another. If you work for IT you will quickly start to see the problems of the business, think about what simple changes IT could make to improve things that would benefit the whole company. Some of your suggestions won’t go anywhere, but some may have a massive impact. I can think of a few changes that IT have spearheaded that I am very proud of, upgrading our internet connection, simplifying or automating processes and delivering new versions of software.

9. Ask for help

Don’t be afraid of asking for help. There are lots of places to look for help. Other departments could take more on, you could recruit extra help, you could hire external contractors. You can ask questions on support forums like ServerFault or StackOverflow, many software re-sellers or other suppliers are a good point of contact for questions about things they supply. Microsoft Support was also invaluable for a server issue.

10. Think about disasters

Write a disaster recovery plan or backup policy. Yes there will always be something more important that needs doing, but just stop for a moment to think how you would feel if everything died on your watch. The one thing you can rely on with technology is that it will fail at some point. A back of the envelope plan of action is better than no plan at all, even better is a detailed plan of what to do when each and every service you rely on fails. Plan additional services with an idea of adding extra redundancy. Always have multiple Domain Controllers, think about what data you could run from the Cloud. VMs could be replicated to the Cloud, and servers could be run from there.

How to upgrade to Windows 10

Microsoft are releasing a new operating system on July 29th called Windows 10.

If you have questions about Windows 10 watch this video by Scott Hansleman. He explains how to upgrade from Windows 7 and 8 to Windows 10 and what to expect after you upgrade.

My advice to everyone is that you backup your devices before you upgrade, this is good practice before you install any software or updates.

Microsoft are offering Windows 10 for free for a whole year, so don’t panic. Take your time, backup all your important files and when you are ready install Windows 10. Nothing is going to stop working after July 29th if you don’t have the latest operating system on your machine.

I hope this helps answer some of your questions about what to do at the end of the month. If not feel free to write a comment or contact me with your questions.

Runaway SQL Log growth

Today is my day off, but I wake up and have a quick look at nagios to see if there is anything I need to worry about. Yes there is, SQL Server has run out of disk space on its data disk.

I race downstairs and VPN onto the server to find out what has happened. One of my monitoring databases has had runaway log growth and is over 80Gb is size.

BACKUP LOG [DBName] WITH TRUNCATE_ONLY
DBCC SHRINKFILE(‘DBName_Log’)

Free disk space is back to normal, all users will be unaware of the problem and everything is fine again. I create a daily job that runs the above code, that way it should stay a manageable size.

Next I need to find out why it happened and to prevent it happening again in the future (Next time I have a day off I want to lie in!)

I check the SQL logs and notice

BACKUP LOG WITH TRUNCATE_ONLY or WITH NO_LOG is deprecated. The simple recovery model should be used to automatically truncate the transaction log.

Then I remember what I have done to cause this issue. I have a separate disk for my backup files and earlier in the week I noticed this disk was filling up, a large amount of space was taken up by transactional backup files. I thought I don’t need to backup the transactions for this non critical database, I will just do a full backup at the start of everyday.

However what I forgot is that a transactional backup keeps the log file under control, once this backup was stopped the log file grew uncontrollably. The answer, change the database from FULL mode to SIMPLE.image002

This is my understanding of how backups work in FULL mode. A full backup is done at the start of the day which resets the log file, then changes in the database are stored in the log file, this is backed up into a transactional backup and the log file gets reset. If you have regular transactional backups throughout the day the log file doesn’t grow too much, however with no transactional backups your log file contains an entire days worth of changes and so for a monitoring database this could be quite large.

In SIMPLE mode you can’t do transactional backups and the log doesn’t grow uncontrollably. This shouldn’t be used for production databases as if there is a problem you could loose data.

 

As A Service

In Cloud Computing there are a lot of terms that end aas or As a Service. Most of these I hadn’t heard of until I started writing this list.

Any service that is delivered over the internet instead of hosted locally on your network or PC could in theory be described as an As a Service.

19656eePaaS Platform As a Service

This is one of the big ones. Microsoft Azure provides a Platform as a Service which I am familiar with. Platform as a Service is where a provider provides a platform where you can build apps or websites.

SaaS Software As a Service

Another popular one. Software as a Service can be as simple as a website that runs a service that a customer wants to use, I work for a company that provides a SaaS product.

IaaS Infrastructure As a Service

The last of the big ones. A good example of IaaS is a Virtual Machine which can either be hosted on a server somewhere (a private cloud) or on the internet via a company such as Azure (public cloud) The Pizza as a Service diagram illustrates the differences between Saas, PaaS and Iaas.

NaaS Network As a Service

This is just a type of IaaS that specializes in providing networking. Anything that provides network connectivity could be included in this category.

CaaS Communications As a Service

Another subtype of IaaS this time specializing in communications, this could include Voice over IP or other similar technologies.

MONaaS Monitoring As a Service

If you have a SaaS, PaaS or IaaS you will most likely want to monitor that it is working, I certainly do. This is something that is often included in your IaaS or PaaS package. Azure has various tools for monitoring and this could be included in this category.

BaaS Backup As a Service

With the growth of cloud storage and the decrease in its cost, backing up to the cloud is a very attractive option. Any service that allows you to backup and restore from the internet can be included in this category. Your provider needs to manage your backups for it to be truly BaaS rather than just another place to store your files.

DaaS Desktop As a Service

This is where your desktop is visualized and stored in the cloud. I know very little about this as I have never used it, but I would imagine you need a strong internet connection for it to work reliably.

DBaaS Database As a Service

This is a simple one if your database is stored in the cloud like Azure SQL Database then it fits into this category. If you run your own sql server install on a VM then it doesn’t fit in this category as you are still managing it yourself and is IaaS

HaaS Hardware As a Service

HaaS this is another subcategory of IaaS which concentrates on hardware.

IDaaS Identity As a Service

This is where the management of who you are is managed in the cloud. Single Sign-On could be achieved if a website redirected determining if you are who you say you are to a particular IDaaS. Azure Active Directory is an example of this.

SaaS Storage As a Service

You get the idea now, storing files on a remote cloud product is an example of Storage as a Service. DropBox or OneDrive are good examples of this.

FoaaS F Off As a Service

.NetRocks mentioned this a few weeks ago and is a joke As a Service. http://foaas.herokuapp.com/ The idea is that you can use this service to tell people to F off.

Writing this blog post has given me a better understanding of all the aaS that are out there. I am sure I haven’t explained some of these very well and no doubt missed some off.

Laziness

I am lazy, I won’t try and deny that. When my alarm goes off in the morning, I will snooze it for twenty minutes or so before getting out of bed.

bill-gates-quoteIn my work my laziness continues. Remote Desktop (or RDP) is probably my number one laziness tool. For those that don’t know RDP allows you to connect to another computer and access it like you were sat in front of it. So I can be sat at my desk and RDP into any other computer in the office including any server. However this laziness tool does sometimes require a bit of effort sometimes, powering on the target computer, logging on locally, making sure the user account you are using is allowed to use RDP.

Writing a script is another example of a laziness tool. I often get asked to do tedious and long-winded task, because I am lazy I will go out of my way to learn how to write a script to do this, so that I can run this script and do this long-winded task in a matter of seconds. There are loads of different types of scripts from database SQL scripts, to PowerShell scripts that can do almost anything on your server.

PowerShell is something Microsoft are really pushing at the moment, you can even write scripts to create new user accounts, so no longer will you have to remember to tick that tickbox for every new user account. And because PowerShell is part of almost all MS technologies you can link Exchange to Active Directory and you don’t even have to remember the right syntax as PowerShell has a built-in help command to tell you how to run that useful command.

As I am now moving into a more developer role can I continue to be lazy? I sure can. Code should be written once and reused as often as possible and this is one of the features of OOP (Object Oriented Programming).

It can be as simple as creating a master page so you don’t need to recreate the same code on every one of your webpages. Or every time you find yourself rewriting the same code again, you plug it into a method so it can be called again and again.

But of course the ultimate way to be lazy is of course get yourself some staff and spend all day getting them to do everything. If you are lucky they may even try and adopt some of these lazy ideas.