I started a new job this year – once again taking on the title of Director of Information Technology. This seems like a good time to focus my attention and develop an IT blog.
This started as a consulting job last year. A former boss joined the new company, an educational provider with six schools and a corporate office. He needed an impartial evaluation of the information technology and I agreed to perform an audit of the school’s resources.
Quite bluntly, the resources are pathetically inadequate and out of date. Many of the computers acting as servers are hand-me-down desktop workstations from the 1990’s. The previous owners never considered IT to be business critical and everything was run on a cash basis. There was no three year depreciation of assets that lead to another rotation of current equipment. In fact, I’ve since learned that many of the existing assets were cast-off computers from other businesses that were obtained for free.
Although that sounds irresponsibly to many of us, the other side of the coin is that they ran a profitable business. They may have been cheap about it, but they weren’t in debt and the owners ran things their own way to make a profit.
The Down Side of Being Cheap
By focusing solely on the bottom line, they actually left themselves quite vulnerable. There is no evidence of data loss of access to confidential information, but the potential exists. Among the problems:
- Outdated servers are on the brink of failure
- No monitoring of network activity or system performance
- No private network separating users from the Internet
- Active Directory only used to support Exchange
- No file sharing resources
- No backups
- No documented IT policy to guide users
- No documentation of IT assets
- No documentation of IT servers, routers, software configuration
- No <insert anything you can imagine here>
I’m stunned that this place could operate as it exists. Actually, it can’t. The primary domain controller failed most of the days that I’ve worked here, and the Exchange server has gone down twice due to a plethora of problems and a lack of disk space. It’s not much of a stretch to say that the IT infrastructure is held together with spit and bailing wire.
The Impact on Users
If it sounds like I’m feeling sorry for my own position taking over this mess, I actually feel worse for our users. They don’t have the resources they need to do their job. Some have found ways around the system, using Google Docs or Dropbox to share files since the previous owners didn’t provide any file sharing resources. That brings up all sorts of issues surrounding the care of confidential information, though.
Many of the sites complain of poor network performance, yet they run streaming music from Pandora without any thought of the resources they’re consuming. One person told me she had the slowest computer in the world. That’s because she was running ten programs simultaneously on a machine with only 2GB of RAM. These resources could perform better, but nobody ever taught the users how to get the most from what they were given.
I don’t blame the users for what they don’t know. It’s also not entirely their fault for running streaming services or doing other actions that reduce their performance. It’s an IT fault for not implementing switches that can separate traffic, or packet shaping tools that give priority to business applications while limiting frivolous uses of the network. When I asked for the passwords to get into the routers and switches, the previous administrator honestly didn’t know. Once he set things up, he never bothered to write down the passwords or anything that could help him get access inside the network devices again.
Not that these are reliable devices in the first place. Instead of business switches and routers, the business gave each site a 5-port router designed for home office use. When user’s complained that “the Internet isn’t fast enough”, they bought a larger bandwidth service – never considering that the bottleneck was inside their equipment. All of that additional bandwidth was wasted because the systems in place were incapable of using it.
Starting My IT Blog with a Clean Slate
If this environment sounds like a disaster, there’s one good thing about it. People clean up after disasters. That’s my job now. I get to analyze the business needs and implement IT systems that can actually work properly. Systems that can enhance user performance, protect confidential information and reduce the failures that rob everyone of productivity.
It means that I have the ability to look at modern resources and develop my own strategy. It also means I’ll have my hands in every piece of IT technology and strategy that affects a business with remote sites, but I’m blessed that I don’t have layers of corporate beauracracy in my way. You know the types. The one who are more interested in protecting their little fiefdom than doing what’s best for the business. It also puts all of the responsibility for a cohesive strategy and operation right on my shoulders – as it should be.
This seemed like the perfect time to launch an IT blog as I re-invent this data center. I’ve been evaluating vendors and technologies. I’m looking at the existing Active Directory and realizing that its structure won’t fit our plans for future growth. I’m measuring the pros and cons of virtualization vs. off-site hosting. Although I can’t reduce cost beyond the limited budget of free server hardware of the past, I know that I can help develop new opportunities for the business to generate additional revenue. There’s money on the table if we only put the resources in place to get it.
I’ve let this blog languish for a long time without much of a purpose as I put most of my effort into my photography blogs. Now I’m looking forward to sharing my new adventure and the insights that come with it on my IT blog. Stay tuned.