Running A One Man IT Shop
About a year and a half ago, I thought I would change this site into an IT blog. That was before I knew just how much effort it takes when running a one man IT shop. Now I'm catching up.
Crawling Out Of The Stone Age
For the majority of my IT career, I worked for large corporations like General Mills, AT&T, Lucent Technologies, SunTrust and Lockheed Martin. Even smaller operations like the Greater Orlando Airport Authority or Career Education Corporation still had a team of people working on their Information Technology.
When I started working for an employer last year, I found myself running a one man IT shop. The business had new owners who wanted to grow the business. Unfortunately, the previous owners seemed to operate by the notion that every dollar they didn't spend was a dollar in their pocket. That meant the IT operations were run on less than a shoestring budget. Here's an example of what I initially discovered.
- The network routers at each location were LinkSys home-office style routers connected to cable modems
- There were no file servers, databases or web portals
- Active Directory existed only to support an Exchange server, but no computers were joined to the AD
- Internal and External DNS needs were all on the same DNS server
- Every user had administrative rights to the PC, which meant a plethora of unwanted malware spreading around the environment
At some sites, the network crashed multiple times per day. Quite simply, the LinkSys routers couldn't even operate at the speed of the cable modems in some places.
There was another factor crippling the network, too. There was no software update server of any kind. Each machine configuration downloaded its own software updates for Windows OS and applications. When dozens of computers started downloading updates simultaneously, it overwhelmed the network capacity. Sure, it kept running, but users couldn't do any work. From their point of view, the network “crashed.”
Let's add one more complicating factor. Each site has a couple dozen computers loaded with Faronics Deep Freeze software. That software keeps an image of the state of the computer at the moment you freeze it. When the computer reboots, everything resets to that point. Therefore, software updates aren't kept on the system if you fail to Thaw the computers, apply the updates, and then freeze the computer in the new state.
The previous owners never updated those computers, so the result was a constant battering of the network. Faronics Deep Freeze comes with a central management utility that works very well…if you use it. The previous owners didn't use it. Instead, you had to manage each computer individually. Add the daily issues of support along with these issues and you can see why I haven't written in such a long time. I was too busy crawling out of the stone age and I felt like this guy working on a telephone system in Havana.
Developing a Foundation
Fortunately, the new owners and management wanted a better environment and they approved some fundamental changes. I knew what needed to happen, and I also knew that I had no team to assist me. Everyone else in the company faced their own challenges and issues to correct. The key to running a one man IT shop is having an ability to learn anything. It's better to be a jack of all trades because you never know which issue you'll face next.
Learning complex technology while putting out fires can take time, though. That's why it's important to develop good vendor relationships to bring in experts in key areas at the moment you need them. Finding a good vendor is challenging. Some live off their brand reputation instead of their capabilities.
I found myself running into that problem with a major technology seller and finally had to cut them off. Fortunately, that change lead me to a smaller vendor on the other side of the country and they've been an excellent partner. Instead of keeping product specialists and AD experts on salary, I can draw on them as needed.
Another critical component of the foundation is management support. You simply cannot transform an IT environment without supportive management. I'm lucky to have a manager who told me that he trusts me and has allowed me to use my judgment to improve the IT environment for everyone in the company.
Finally, you have to want to do the work. Despite the frustrating problems, I really love what I do. One by one, I've watched the problems disappear. It could have happened faster with a team of people working on the issues without interruption, but the cost would have been outrageous for a small organization.
One good thing about running a one man IT shop is that it allowed me to develop a vision that suited the needs of the organization and gradually implement solutions that fit, rather than hiring a team who planted a cookie-cutter solution that wasn't designed for the business.
About Running A One Man IT Shop
If there's a benefit to the never ending task of running a one man IT shop, it's that you get a clarity of purpose. Everything is your responsibility, even some things that aren't really IT issues at all. It's an amazing opportunity to gain experience with a multitude of technologies and business processes.
I've also realized that this is far more common than my past experience would indicate. After all, there are plenty of small and medium sized businesses operating much the same way. That's what motivated me to return to writing on this site, particularly from the small and medium business IT perspective. I've been through a lot and hope to share what I've experienced along the way. With any luck, it'll help someone out there going through the same thing.
Even when you're running a one man IT shop, you are not alone.