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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Things that help me be a better Sysadmin

Things that help me be a better Sysadmin

So I'm a network admin, and I have about 300 people and 500 devices to manage. Over time, our IT team has cultivated a very stable environment, and the following software/hardware has really helped me to do my job better:

  • Large monitors - I have 2 24" LCD monitors on my desk. I now have enough screen real estate to watch my system monitoring client, my email, and my IM client while still being able to actually work on things.
  • Heavy duty computer - I'm running a quad-core Intel chip with 8GB of Ram and multiple hard drives. We built them ourselves. My employer also sprang for VMware Workstation, so if I need to get my hands dirty on something I can always create my own domain internal to my system and play around. 
  • VMware Lab - The team shares a 3 host VMware environment on its own network as a heavier-duty lab environment. When we want to test something, we replicate our core infrastructure (Domain controllers, mail server, etc) to the lab and test as if we were doing it in production. It's really nice to be able to test a rollout or an update and document the process from start to finish so that there are no surprises later on.
  • ScriptLogic Desktop Authority - This is a management system that is basically a much better version of Windows Group Policy. It's so much more granular - if one person needs a certain setting, or registry entry I can change it for that one user without having to worry about OU inheritance and whatnot. You can use conditional validation (multiple entries allowed, with And/Or logic), so a setting only gets updated if some condition exists (for example, if the computer is running Windows 7 and 'file.exe' exists in a specific directory). We also have an add-on that allows people to reset their own Windows passwords by answering a few security questions that they create the answers to.
  • SpiceWorks - This crawls our network every day. We use it to find out what's installed where. We also use it as our helpdesk system.
  • Dameware Mini Remote Control - Implementing this cut down on our team's response time drastically. When someone has an issue, we remote in and fix the problem without having to trudge all over the building.
  • PRTG Network Monitor - This monitors our infrastructure. It alerts us when things go down, and also tracks historical metrics like disk space usage so we can plan better.
  • Beyond Compare - This program allows you to compare things, like registry files, text files, or folder structures. Mainly we use this to identify what changes when we configure something a certain way. Once we identify registry values that change, we can make the change on every computer with ScriptLogic (or Powershell even).
  • Veeam Backup and Recovery - We use this to back up our virtual machines. When a server dies we have the ability to restore the entire server from backup just as it was. This also gives us the capability to restore our production servers into our lab environment so we can test and tinker with a clone of our production infrastructure.
  • Royal-TS - this is a Remote Desktop Protocol app that keeps track of all of my servers. It will also auto-fill credentials for me. It's so nice to be able to log in to a server in a matter of seconds to fix a problem.
  •  Folder2ISO - This handy software converts any folder I choose into an ISO file, which I can then mount in VMware. 
  •  SYDI - When I first started, I loved doing system documentation. Over time this grew tedious and time-consuming, so I created an automated process using this software to document the configurations on all of our servers. I still have to document things, of course, but there is less to do manually.

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