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Want systems management success? Train, train again

To be a tech wizard in a heterogeneous environment, you need more than a magic mouse. These tips from a multi-platform management and IT training guru can help make an IT manager a whiz, if not a wizard.

It's time to curb your IT staff's sloppiness before it festers and gets out of control. Systems administrators' time, however, can be severely crunched if expected to manage a multi-platform network. So, how can they be less sloppy and more effective? One answer is to keep training fresh, said Richard Spurlock. Even if Windows, Linux, Unix, and more are being run on one environment, headaches can be minimized if training is up-to-date. SearchWindowsManageability recently spoke to Spurlock, vice president of Starfire Engineering & Technologies, Inc. about managing multi-platform networks. We got some training tips and information on upgrading and migrating. We also found out why you may not need Active Directory at all. Lawrence, KS-based Starfire is the maker of Titan, which centralizes and automates the management of multi-platform environments.

sWM: What is the biggest challenge to managing a network running several different platforms?

The availability of IT skills is the biggest challenge. After that, each platform presents unique challenges. The challenge with Windows is keeping up on the security updates and the service packs that come out. With Linux, it's keeping up with the new kernel changes and all of the transport layer fixes, for example.

Keeping up-to-date on all of those things and keeping your systems current is key to being competitive. Yet, it's an extremely difficult, time consuming task without a quick or obvious return on investment. Organizations see it only as having to spend money. Their systems ran last week, they reason, so why aren't they going to run this week?

sWM: What are the key ways administrators can effectively manage multi-platform networks?

They can either hire an organization that knows how to manage the network or try to bump up the skill set internally. Some organizations do the former. They understand that turnover is going to be a cost, and that they will need to keep training. Others just do basic training and squeak through so that their people won't get too valuable and leave. That is absolutely the wrong thing to do.

A good approach is to maintain your investment and move it forward. Do not look at training as a one-time cost. Systems will be neglected that way.

sWM: Do you have some advice to help solve these problems?

Number one: step up and do training. Number two: invest in technologies that help you manage and maintain those systems. Honestly, if you can do those two things, you're in pretty good shape.

Organizations are overburdened with trying to get things done. They need the time to focus on the real tasks that will help them drive their business, rather than putting out fires all the time. Part of that is being able to separate which core of people will build and help maintain the infrastructure, while the second group of people will put out fires. Keep those groups focused on their tasks.

sWM: How do migrations or upgrades effect the management process of multi-platform networks?

They put a real wrench in the works. Administrators need to research and test before migrations or upgrades take place. Research and testing pays off because then the migration path or upgrade will be smooth and non-disruptive. Incomplete migration paths can result if not enough effort is put in.

What also happens is a decrease in value over time for the investment. After an upgrade, you must improve skills and the way the upgrade is leveraged as a business solution. For example, organizations can be three versions forward but still using the software as if it's the old version. Re-training the users, the management, and the administrators is key. Many times, solutions have been put in place that solve one problem but have also brought in three additional useful features. Management, however, did not know about them, so they went unused.

sWM: Do organizations running a part Windows 2000 network need to use Active Directory?

No, Active Directory is too complex and too Windows-specific to be of significant use to organizations truly running a multi-platform shop. To be honest, it's just a directory. It's just a card catalogue of what's in the system. If organizations are over 95% invested in Windows, it's a path for them to go on, if for no other reason, but because Microsoft is forcing them to do so. If you're running Windows 2000 and not AD, Microsoft considers you having a problem.

sWM: So, is there a directory product out there for multi-platform environments?

Yes, IBM's Directory Server can be used for multi-platform shops.


What are the problems you encounter when trying to keep your IT staff's training current? E-mail Assistant News Editor Meredith Derby.

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