When trying to trim any IT budget, the cost of hardware and software support often stands out. Depending on the vendor, level of support and your IT staff skill set, support can be a very costly budget expense. However, investing in your IT staff can help reduce overhead IT costs.
In a perfect world, the IT staff would be able to handle any failure or disruption and hardware would never break down. The laws of nature, however, tell us that hardware will ultimately fail. When a Windows environment fails, there are lots of ways an IT staff can restore an environment -- but only if the team is properly trained to handle it internally.
Of course there will be times when you do need to log a support call, but that should be the exception, not the rule.
Here are some training options, so your company's IT staff can handle most problems themselves and keep your costs down.
Note: These recommendations assume that your IT staff can successfully learn on their own and don't need a formal class.
- Microsoft webcasts: The company's webcasts are relatively easy to find, and they review new and not-so-new products and technology. You'll also find white papers, webcasts and other informal training options.
- Microsoft step-by-step guides: These documents are perfect for learning new technologies. Some popular ones for 2008 include instructions for read-only domain controllers, Server Core, Directory Services, Windows deployment services, and fine-grained password policies.
- Microsoft TechNet: If you want to learn about any Windows technology, check out TechNet. This site has myriad troubleshooting and informational articles that you won't find on support.microsoft.com. There are also many "team blogs" that are excellent. The Directory Services team has a blog that I visit frequently.
- Virtual Lab: Since using virtualization software is so inexpensive, it makes providing a Virtual Lab for your staff a very powerful and cost effective way for them to test beta versions of Windows OSes and applications, experiment with a product or technology and even download labs stored on Microsoft's website. Even a laptop with 1 GB to 2 GB of RAM can use VMware Workstation or Microsoft's Virtual Server to load up a virtual server for testing or training. I configure these machines with few resources and I can actually load up to five virtual servers in two Active Directory domains on my 1 GB laptop. To be clear, it's not for production purposes, but it works for testing and training. Admins can share the virtual machine files so others can use them as well.
- Microsoft Knowledgebase (KB): You can go to http://support.microsoft.com for the official site, but you can find KB articles faster on Google. Just use the event ID and some actual text from the error to find a particular article. The important point is to spend time looking. Too many people give up and make the support call. Note that Google is a good place to find articles that have tips for broken KBs and you can also use Google Groups to find Microsoft articles.
- EventID.net: This is excellent for finding resources about Windows Event log events. It is a collection of experiences from the public with details about the problem and how they solved a Windows event. It is a good place to get some direction. While there's a subscription fee to get to some information, for the most part, it's free.
- www.gpanswers.com: Jeremy Moskowitz, Microsoft MVP and a leading authority on Group Policy runs this site. Here users will find a forum where they can ask questions and search for other questions, answers and tips.
- Joeware.net: Joe Richards, a Microsoft MVP and a colleague runs this site about cool utilities. Having a good set of tools is invaluable for gathering data, troubleshooting and fixing problems on a large scale. My favorite tools include ADFind, AdMod, GetUserInfo and SidToName to resolve those nasty SIDs in error messages.
- Sysinternals: Microsoft may have bought Sysinternals, but Mark Russinovich is still active with these excellent tools. Very powerful free tools like Process Monitor, Registry Monitor and others offer advanced diagnostic and repair functions that have become the industry standard in troubleshooting. It's still easiest to find them by going to the old site at.
- Petri: Microsoft MVP Daniel Petri created this site, which has valuable troubleshooting articles and techniques as well as informational articles on new products and betas.
- Driver guides: Two good sites -- http://http://www.driverguide.com/" and www.windrivers.com -- provide a quick and easy way to find updated and legacy drivers for those nasty crashes, hardware failures and install problems.
- Experts Exchange: Unfortunately, it isn't free, but it offers a free trial and corporate accounts. Consider joining this site, as it may help reduce your support costs, which would be worth the money.
- TechTarget (of course, a plug) SearchWinIT.com and SearchWindowsServer.com: There really is a profusion of troubleshooting tips from many knowledgeable people, including myself.
So there you have it, 13 of my favorite resources. There are others, of course. Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC) courses teach the basics of technology and provide hands-on labs to reinforce learning. They also presumably prepare individuals to gain various levels of Microsoft certifications. However, there are self-study courses and books that not only cost less but also help with certification. So I say save your money – unless you can justify the expense.
Regardless of the training resources you use, taking advantage of webcasts and white papers and playing in a test environment can help IT staffers gain skills at minimal cost. By using troubleshooting websites like the ones mentioned here, IT staffers will not only solve many of the problems that they typically log, but also greatly reduce IT costs.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gary Olsen is a systems software engineer for Hewlett-Packard in Global Solutions Engineering. He authored Windows 2000: Active Directory Design and Deployment and co-authored Windows Server 2003 on HP ProLiant Servers. Gary is a Microsoft MVP for Directory Services and formerly for Windows File Systems.
This was first published in April 2009