Friday, 11 July 2008

Systems are down ... our technicians like to "tinker" with the server

How many of us are running our shops solo? I am sure that there are many out there who are.

How many of us are running a solo shop with a couple of contract technicians that are on call for busy times? This is the category we fall in right now.

And, how many of us are running a shop with at least one to three dedicated part or full time technicians? This is the direction we are going to step into very soon.

Why the questions?

Here is a paraphrase of a conversation I just had with one of our high volume ultra low margin local computer stores when they were called to check stock on a QX9770 that we may need today:
Computer Store (CS), how can I help you?

ME: I need to know your price and ETA on the QX9770 please?

CS: I think it is around $1,200 and I don't think we have any right now.

ME: You don't know?

CS: Our systems are down right now, so I am not able to get that information.

ME: What happened?

CS: Our technicians like to tinker with the server, so we end up without our systems.
"Tinkering" with the in-house server or servers or a client's server should be anathema (#3 in the definition) for us. In other words: An absolute NO-NO.

If we don't have a couple of systems setup for the techs to get their creative juices flowing, then we are in a vary precarious position indeed.

We all know what happens when a technician gets curious, right? ;) We gotta try it out or it drives us bonkers.

By having some decent hardware, not some client throwaways, that the technicians can use for direct OS installs, configuration testing, and "Project Blowup" we are facilitating our technician's abilities to augment their skill set without killing our in-house or client systems.

By having some decent hardware, think at least Quad Core with 6-8GB RAM and RAID, to host virtual machines on that are not sitting there waiting for CPU cycles ... thus causing extreme boredom to set in ... we can have our techs setup some pretty complicated network infrastructure based on client setups. Or, we can base the setup on client's restored to VM or hardware ShadowProtect images (with permission) to facilitate the technician's ability to test that GP or patch or update change based on actual production servers and workstations.

Given the size of the above mentioned computer store, having their systems down for the hour or two during business hours could probably pay for a very decent lab setup.

And that is the mindset we need to have: Having $5-10K worth of hardware sitting on a dedicated lab bench is not an unnecessary expense. It is absolutely imperative to have that lab setup today.

We have so many new products coming down the pipe all the time. We need to invest the money and the time in getting to know these new products.

We also have client systems we can swing into the virtual environment to test patches on. It is not difficult to obtain permission to use their images on our lab systems as they realize that we are testing for their own good. We need only keep in mind the security of the data in their images which are encrypted, and the VMs or hardware those images will be installed on.

Think Windows XP Service Pack 3: We were able to swing a client's XP Pro setup into a VM and test their Line of Business applications with the service pack. Things seemed to run as they should, so after a week of using the VM as a regular desktop, the service pack was released to that client.

As an example for a small I.T. business lab setup:
  • Intel Xeon X3220 server:
    • Intel S3210SHLX
    • Intel Xeon X3220 2.4GHz Quad Core
    • 8GB ECC Kingston
    • 320GB RAID 1
    • SC5299DP
    • $1,500
  • Add a RAID controller such as the SRCSASRB and a couple more drives to enable RAID 10 to reduce the storage bottleneck: $700
There you have it. $4,000 and we have two decent rigs to run 4-6 VMs on that will not cause the techs to loose interest due to VM performance issues. Remember, we can probably count on our techs having a system, or systems, at home worth the cost of a small car. Developing and keeping a technician's interest in being trained or learning to properly utilize the technology our clients use is critical for our I.T. businesses! We need to have that small car technology sitting in our labs!

TechNet Plus ($349 for download only and $599 for DVD - we are on the DVD subscription) can provide an unlimited access to the software needed to run the lab setup.

Having the lab setup in place, the software licensing, and any other elements needed to keep the lab properly equipped, such as a ShadowProtect I.T. Edition subscription, should be considered a part of the Cost of Doing Business today.

If not, "The writing is on the wall folks".

Philip Elder
Microsoft Small Business Specialists

*All Mac on SBS posts are posted on our in-house iMac via the Safari Web browser.

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