Multi-platform management dos and don'ts

You don't have to be a superhero to manage an environment that consists of multiple operating systems. You may have to a bit crafty, though. In this story, you'll find some tips to mastering a heterogeneous network.

Okay, maybe your heterogeneous enterprise isn't as hard to tame as Cerebus, the mythical multi-headed dog that guards the gates of hell. Even so, managing multiple operating systems isn't a heavenly experience. However, it can be less hellish if IT managers are doggedly determined to practice what Richard Spurlock preaches.

In this story, Spurlock, vice president of Starfire Engineering & Technologies, Inc., shares tips learned during his work in taming heterogeneous networks. Lawrence, KS-based Starfire is the maker of Titan, which centralizes and automates the management of multi-platform environments.

Do keep on top of IT staff training. If your IT managers' knowledge isn't current, your systems won't be either. "Do not look at training as a one-time cost. Systems will be neglected that way," said Spurlock.

Do identify system experts. If you run Linux, get a Linux expert. Similarly, get a Windows expert. Get a Solaris expert. "If you don't have an expert on the platform, it's just going to wither up." Or, Spurlock said, it will cost you loads of money later when it breaks. "You need somebody babysitting that system."

Do keep your staff focused. "Separate which core of people will build and help maintain the infrastructure, while the second group of people will put out fires."

Don't ignore your investments. "Don't put your servers in a closet and forget about them," said Spurlock. Move your investments forward by maintaining them.

Do regular maintenance and upgrades. Backup, backup, backup! "How many times can I say backup and still not have it done?"

Do improve skills after an upgrade. Leverage the upgrade as a business solution. "Organizations can be three versions forward but still using the software as if it's the old version," Spurlock said.

So, do re-train users, management, and administrators after upgrading. Further, don't neglect other useful features the upgrade makes available, even if it means more training has to be done. In the long run, your business will benefit from the new features.

Do stay current and consistent. Keeping up-to-date is key to being competitive. Run the most current versions of the particular platforms you run. You'll be "bleeding from the eyes" if you don't, said Spurlock. For example, running Windows NT, 2000, and XP, versions three and four and a convenience pack of OS/2, and different distributions and versions of Linux is too confusing. Use Windows 2000 for everything on Windows, or run only the latest Linux kernel.

Do recognize that staying current is an extremely difficult, time consuming task. There is no quick or obvious return on investment, Spurlock said. But, don't only look at it as having to spend money.

So, do recommit to putting in the investment to get everything current. "Refocus. Get things current and then run it all at the same time."

To do this, do build a release strategy. Platforms change quickly, so you need a solid plan. For example, in the next six months, go to all Windows 2000. "Then, don't touch anything in the following six months unless you have to," Spurlock said. Have a new release plan for another upgrade six months after that. Thus, "within a reasonable amount of time, everything gets to the most current version."

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