Month: February 2014

Hubris in IT

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It would seem that “Pride cometh before a fall” is something that is lost on most people who work in IT.

 

As someone who has been working with computers from about the time Bill Gates was buying an operating system from some poor guy in Washington State, and Steve Jobs was phone phreaking; There is just not much that escapes me.

 

I was doing some consulting for a company that was simply put together with bailing wire and scotch tape.  They had a huge pipe to the internet and were getting a dribble through by the time it hit the desktop.

 

Loading WireShark (a free protocol analyzer) examining the broadcast packets it was easy to see why.  The OS was literally working with NetBIOS to route packets.

 

A quick examination of the “server room” found the switches all tied together with Fiber and, patch cords going from one switch to another causing untold amount of routing loops etc. While the picture above is a stock photo the room in question looked very much like this.

 

My job however was not to fix their networking issues as this was the task of the guy I was “helping.”  He was the System Administrator.  I sent e-mails to him alerting him to my findings so he could take the appropriate steps, which for some reason he discounted and did not do.

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The weeks went on and the problems persisted several times a day where people were kicked off of the network or files were corrupt or lost etc.  His response/fix was to release and renew the IP address.  Putting one band aid on the problem day after day I guess gave him a sense of accomplishment but the problems were looming and like the 500 pound gorilla in the closet, soon to get out.

 

One of the things that I learned many years ago is to work with VARS.  Value added resellers have years of experience to draw upon.  They know which products are buggy and to stay away from and which are tried and true.  If you are a business don’t try and save money via internet stores as you will get what others can’t sell for one reason or another.  They are on sale for a reason…

 

When I asked him for his vendor contact list to include in his DR plan, there were no VARS on the list.  Everything was from internet companies or local retail locations.  He in fact had no fallback plan if the $hit hit the fan.

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The hardware purchased looked as much.  There were no standards anywhere.  There were high end SANS tied to cheap switches.  The workstation of choice was whatever he got a good deal on making mass deployment of anything just about impossible.  Hardware was way past its lifecycle and the list just went on.  Because of his pride; he was not willing to listen to anyone regarding anything IT.  If he does not change it will be his undoing.

 

This is not my first rodeo and certainly not my first encounter with arrogance.  As a manager I can deal with it, as a consultant one must work around it and if it becomes too big of an impediment, bow out.  There is no reason to sully your name with a situation like this when the outcome will likely somehow be your fault.  

 

Always hire people smarter than you are and have the humility to acknowledge that you are not the end all be all.  There is simply too much information out there to know it all.  Wisdom is; knowing that you need help and to leverage VARS and consultants is simply smart.

 

-Best to you and those that you care about!

IT in a Nutshell

IT in a nutshell..

Most CEO’s or presidents of companies have no idea that the sword of Damocles’ is right over their head.  They don’t know because they are blissfully ignorant of the workings of their IT department.   Truth be told IT, is a cost center and frowned upon in most companies as they “don’t produce.”  This is true in the mindset of the upper echelon. They put up with the CIO or his people and equivocate when it comes to allowing them money for projects, as they really don’t have a clue.  Their job is to run the company, not IT.

There are three basics tenants of IT.

  • Provide the infrastructure for people to be productive.
  • Provide the security to safeguard the company’s assets both in intellectual property as well as physical property.
  • Provide mechanisms for future growth and have a robust enough environment to handle ad-hoc projects.

In working with most companies the infrastructure grew behind the power curve out of necessity. This of course is the most expensive way to grow your infrastructure in that many things are done to “temporarily” get them through the “event”.  Emergency projects are hardly ever well thought out, and hidden surprises are always lurking.  Remember that old axiom; there are never any good surprises in business.

One of the things that I talk about a lot is hardware management.  Each and every piece of hardware in your company has a life cycle.  Not unlike your car or home computer or cell phone.  Planning for the life cycle for equipment allows the company to budget for replacement of same and keeps the down time to a minimum as well as keeps the employees productive.

Down time is expensive both in hard and soft dollars.  If you have 300 people who can’t work because the server is down, you are loosing money.  If Sally can’t assist the outside sales people because her pc is moving at the speed of drying paint, they both are loosing time which is “MONEY!”

S.A.M. or software asset management is also something that the IT department seems to ignore and this is really something that should grab at least the attention of the CFO.  Does each and every person need a full copy of office or do they simply need Word or Outlook.  I was in one account where each and every machine had a full version of office on it.  40% of these were used as a terminal: that was it!  Five hundred dollars times 120 machines is $60K wasted!  Can you tell me one company that could not use an extra $60K?

Now, add to this scenario that this guy was installing this software on machines that were already past their life cycle.  I don’t profess to be an attorney or a legal scholar on EULA but, it is conceivable that when that machine dies, that license will die with it.  There may be hoops that you can jump through to get Microsoft to allow a transfer of the license but, what are the odds that this guy will do it.  It is not his money after all.

There was one company who had 300 locations with 2.5 machines per location.  These were servers so each had a copy of Microsoft “flavor of the day” server on it.

The application that was on there was a home grown point of sale.  It was compiled to run on the Microsoft platform.

When I ask why they had not considered LINUX as an alternative I was laughed at.  Here are the scissors that will cut the thread.

There support desk was equipped with PcAnywhere and each and every call for help meant that a remote session would be placed to assist the person with their machine.  Push come to shove the machine was sent to the Depot where another was sent out as a replacement.  As the hardware evolved some locations had newer equipment.  The variables were mind numbing.

Had they used LINUX a simple telnet session would have allowed the help desk to terminate a daemon and restart it all behind the scene.  Licenses for server software, remote connection software, anti virus software would have been avoided.  The other thing about LINUX is that it is more forgiving of hardware platforms in that they could have used their equipment until it died vs. replacing it when the software dictated it.  This particular CIO had no technical background other than he knew some programming.  He did not embrace technology at all and did not have a computer at his home until his kids wore him down.  Any CIO that does not embrace technology ought not be a CIO.  Oh yes, LINUX is free and the kernel can be hardened so it can be very secure.

How is it that these two people were in the place that they were in?  They were likable! The failure here cleary sits on the CEO or the person they report to.  If I am hiring someone for a position, I don’t care if I like them or not.  They must be able to perform the job that they are being hired for and, if I like them it is a plus, not mandatory!

Ethical hacking is becoming more and more in vogue. The bad guys are out there doing their thing and we simply buy anti virus software and hope for the best.  Some of us don’t do that, we use something that is free or not at all.  Free is not worth what you pay for it when it comes to anti virus software!  Do your homework and see who is touting what and why.

As another add on to the cost center and depending upon your desire to be safe, I would consider hiring a security person who has been around the block a few times.  This is not some kid fresh out of college who is academically savvy but, someone who has the scars on their back to prove that they have been there.

In a nutshell, any connection to the outside world is a portal for the bad guy to get in.  Even if you have a secure firewall you have people on the inside who may be working for the competition.  There are many products that allow a PC to be remote controlled from outside the building.  Some are actually viruses and others are installed by an unwitting employee or worse, a spy.  Software audits are a necessity; not something you do if you have time.  Speaking of which; the anti piracy folks are at it again offering huge rewards if you report someone using business software without a license. Another reason for SAM.

While you may think that I am paranoid (a little paranoia is a good thing btw) I assure you that industrial espionage is real and there are those that do it for a living.  Your security person would be actively monitoring the traffic coming in and leaving the building, looking for anything on ports that are typically used for such things.  Activity during off hours should be a red flag.  There is something called SYSLOG which is basically a service that talks with a server and creates logs of events.  Along with server logs this log should be monitored for unusual activity.

One way a person might gain access to your stuff is to drop a thumb drive or dvd in the parking lot.  Label the dvd X pics or have bunny rabbit ears on the thumb drive.  I would be surprised if someone did not pick it up and stick it into their machine to see what was one it.  Of course it would contain a program that would install a remote control host and the person would never know as he would be too busy looking for pictures.

Physical security is also a must. Keycards with picture ID’s on them would be ideal.  Cheap and effective.  With this you can track employees movements through the day / night.  Along with security cameras if things turned up missing one could read the keycard report and know who it was and where they were and then look at the footage with that timestamp to see if they were carrying anything.

Biometrics are becoming in fashion as well.  While I would want to stay with tried and true I would definitely be monitoring this to see when and if it made sense to move that way.

This scratches the surface and as you can see, security is physical, it is Cyber and it is employee education along with policies.   Any configuration of a user’s machine should be done by IT.  Users should not have any more rights than they need to function.  That allows for protection of your data, declines viruses administrative rights as they usually assume the rights of the user and, protects the machine from being altered making more work for the IT department when it breaks or more often than not broken.

A little forethought and planning on the IT department can help them to run lean on employees as well as protect the company’s assets.

The statement is an excellent ingress into the last thing that needs addressing.

More times than I can write about I find that data centers are a cobbled together disaster waiting for some event to push them over the edge.  There is a web site dedicated to such things and if I had had a mind to, I could have created such a site like that with just what I have seen.

Along with hardware management and software management a strong dialogue needs to exist between the CEO and the CIO.  Business needs and or possible needs to be accounted for and anticipated.   Looking back at the past one could extrapolate what may be needed into the future and at least make plans for growth.  A robust well thought out network that is well managed and maintained is a crucial starting point.

I could write on entire book on what that means but, what it does not mean are knee jerk throw it together solutions “because we needed it yesterday!”  Any change might effect some other part of the business and or company or have unintended side effects.  If they don’t have one I stress the importance of change management.  This is crucial to the success of just about any company with technology.

Proper consideration should be given to each and every device and or software that is to be installed.

Parting thoughts:

There is no room for emotions in Information systems. Emotions cloud judgment and, judgment is crucial for success.

You do not hire or fire someone because you find them likable or distasteful. Either they are well qualified and have a well defined track record or they don’t.  The rest does not matter unless they are insubordinate or are deemed unfit. They are not your friend and don’t think that they are.

Never hire anyone that you cannot fire.  Family and friends even if the company is ok with it are a liability as employees. At best they will be a burden upon yourself, and at worst you will loose them as friends and they might compromise your job.

Surround yourself with people that are smarter than you, you will be well served.

Keep your ego in check as it will defeat you.  Humility will allow you to “hear” from those that probably know what you are seeking.

When you get in too deep, call for help; admitting trouble is always preferable than suffering defeat because of pride.

There is never any case for listening to or passing on rumors.  Small people talk about people, others talk about ideas and things.

Your employees and vendors job is to make you look good; your job is to make them look good.

-Best to you and those that you care about!

The American Dream.. Ha!

Home Foundations

 

I find it amazing what “greed” will cause man to do.

 

Here in Texas we have hot summers and of course cold winters.  Not as cold as some of you, but we get our fair share of cold weather.  The difference between our cold and some of you folks up north is ours last a few days and then we are back to 80 degrees.  The snow and ice that we get generally is here just long enough to cause pot holes large enough to loose small cars in and serves as a constant reminder of just how ill equipped people are regarding their skills for driving in same.

 

During the summer months we are asked to conserve water.  The lawn suffers, landscaping suffers, and worst of all the foundations suffer as we have a type of soil where I live that has high levels of clay content.  As it dries it shrinks causing the homes to move not only up and down but, sideways or back and forth as well.  Homes in the area can sink as much as a quarter inch per year and not recover fully during the wet season “spring” as gravity works.

 

It is expensive to build homes the way that they should be built, on piers, so they just don’t do it.  Piers driven to the bedrock with a house built on top of them will survive the harsh summers here much better allowing one to plant drought resistant landscaping and actually conserve water.  Not rocket science just common sense.  As the home ages and the doors start sticking etc the foundation repair specialist are called and then they install the piers at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars and depending upon where they install them they may bore through interior floors.  As you might guess they make a huge mess which the homeowner must contend with for several days.  Installing piers after the home is built is always more expensive than before it is built and if you live here, your home will at some time need piers!

 

Some of these foundation experts are college kids with a small amount of training and are tantamount to used car salesman.  The goal is to scare you enough to get you to sign on the dotted line.  One of these companies hired this gorgeous young lady.  By day she sold foundation work and I would bet that by night she worked as an exotic dancer! She looked more like a Bambi than a Gloria; if you catch my drift.  I knew more than she did and she was clearly there to simply get a signature.

 

After calling many foundation people for estimates you will get all kinds of “engineers” to give you all kinds of solutions with different prices all over the map.  Cement piers vs. Steel etc.  Unless you yourself are an engineer, you need to have many come out and take notes as to what they say and look for common qualities or solutions in what they are proposing.  Then talk to others in your area for information regarding who they used and why, how long ago and are they still happy.  It is an arduous process but it musts be adhered to as this is a lot of money that you are spending and it is on your home which, for most people their most valuable asset.

 

Do not be tempted by the cheapest solution as it is most probably the solution that will need to be “adjusted” the most in years to come.  Keep in mind that if you home sinks on one side or back or front and the other does not this damages not only your foundation but the structure of the home.  Let’s say your home sinks 2 inches on one side but not on the other.  The 2 inch difference on the floor translated to what is happening in the attic could be 8 or more inches depending upon the size of your home.  That pulls things apart in the attic which of course most builders put together with as few nails and boards as possible.

 

I am reminded of the American Airline proposition to save money.  They found if they removed one olive from each salad they would save some astronomical amount of money.  Of course they went several steps beyond the olive and just cut out salads all together unless you are in first class.

 

One note about the repair process is this; they will never get the home to level again.  They do what is acceptable to them and cosmetic, meaning an inch or so of slope is acceptable.

 

A word about “future adjustments”:   Companies will sell you a solution that says that they will install the piers to X amount of pounds of resistance.  They will tell you that if the home shifts X inches they will come adjust it for free for the lifetime transferrable warrantee.  Here is the gotcha, the shifting will not have anything to do with their piers already installed or if it does it will be negligible. They will tell you that now you need more piers in other parts of the house and give a quote including discounts for customer loyalty or some such non-sense. If you are victim of this, call a few more companies to make certain that what they are telling you is the truth and get it in writing.  Some of these folks are nothing more than opportunist, much like roofers that flock to a city after a bad storm.  Use people that are listed with the BBB, that are in the yellow pages and have been in the area for some time.

 

After the foundation repair folks finish you are cautioned not to repair the cracks in the walls for at least a year as the house may settle some more on the new piers.

 

One of the last aspects of foundation repair is, people don’t think about plumbing. As the house shifts it can cause plumbing to become pulled apart causing a leak under the slab.  Depending upon if that leak is on the supply side or not will give the homeowner a chance to determine that A they have a leak and B how bad is it.  The supply side will alert the homeowner either with high water bills or standing water where there should not be any.  It could manifest itself in other ways as well but, most probably will be detectable before it does too much damage.  On the sewer side of the plumbing, a slow leak will cause the ground underneath the home to become saturated over time and cause a lifting effect under the home.  While this too is easily detectable it happens over time and because of that may be ignored as normal movement until the damage is significant.

 

A monthly walk around your home looking for cracks in the brick may clue you in that there are issues.  For those of you without a brick veneer keep on the lookout for sticking doors or windows or, doors that open or shut themselves as the house is no longer level.

 

A plumbing test before and after a foundation repair is not only a good idea but should be mandatory by state law.  If not, insist on one, call your own plumber and have it done.

 

Moral of this story is this.  If you are building a home, see about having it built on piers.  Yes it will raise the cost of your home but the issues down the road will be lessened and the resale value of your home will be increased.

 

Currently there is a new neighborhood being created not far from here.  This was farm land for some time.  The people prepping the soil have removed all of the vegetation and leveled the land with huge equipment.  Now they are going to poor slabs on it and the dirt will settle over time and those folks will have issues.  There was also a stream that went through that land into a pond.  That too is filled in and houses will go on top of that.  The stream although not on the surface will still be there under the homes.  The pond that was filled in will still collect water underground.  Not an expert in this area but, that water comes from a huge lake not too far away.  Just because its surface path has been covered up; I am doubtful that it will just stop to exist.

 

So, if you own your home already, place soaker hoses around the foundation and do your best to keep the area around your home hydrated.  You should not see cracks in the soil around your home.  By the way, a sprinkler system is not enough.

 

As we continue to place homes and businesses on every square inch that the city owns or has control over, with insufficient resources to handle what we already have, the problems will only get worse.  The City does this for more tax revenue and could care less if you are inconvenienced “once you are here.”  I would guess that the state is the same way, once you are here; you are a revenue stream for them as well.  If you can’t water your yard or fill your pool they don’t care.  If there is not enough electricity to go around on cold or hot days, they don’t care.  They cater to business at that point as they pay a larger part of the taxes.

 

Case in point, we have been under water restrictions for the last few summers.  Stage 1 or 2 or what have you.  Recently a large spa with pools and all sorts of water using amenities was built.  It is owned by Koreans and in their culture one must remove all of their clothing and shower before getting in the pool, hot tub etc.  This is a public shower and this again is part of their culture.  No issues there however; how many thousands or tens of thousands of gallons of water go down the drain daily!  Yet the homeowners are asked to conserve…  If it were truly about our resources, that permit would never have made it through the city approval process.

 

Maybe I am old fashioned and possibly delusional but I happen to believe that the Citizen comes first, before the needs of business.  When decisions are called fore, someone should be asking “will this help or hurt the citizens of this city?” And that my friend is why it is important to vote in local elections.

 

-Best to you and those that you care about!

 

 

 

Buying a car….

I finally decided it was time to replace the 12 year old mini-van with something newer.  Started shopping at the place where I purchased my last 3 vehicles.

 Upon parking I was greeted by two sales people.  My guess is that they were taking turns.  The weather was a balmy 33 degrees with a strong wind out of the north with scattered drizzle;  so it was probably not the best day to be walking all over a car lot. 

 I test drove a couple of vehicles; the first one was a two seater so the sales guy could not go with us.  The next was larger, four seats so he hopped into the back.  Immediately I noticed an odor from the back, this guy either had really bad breath, or whatever his diet consist of came right through his pores.  The issue with this is that I was not so much focused on the car as I was getting it parked so we could get out of that smell!  I digress…

 I really liked the second vehicle and the price was within my budget.  As a returning customer I expected a little better treatment than someone off the street.  He assured us that he would make us a great deal!  While he cajoled us and said we were part of the family, the numbers did not reflect any discount what so ever.  As the matter of fact the final price is what was on the sticker with an interest rate of 6.9% . 

 We thanked him and left.  Talking about it; we felt as if that was a slap in the face as this would have been the fourth automobile we had purchased through this dealer.

 We then went to a different dealer this time, to look at another brand.  Found a vehicle with 9 thousand miles on it via the internet and the price was less than the first.  The sales guy was nice enough and he was a “top performer.”  We spent about two hours there.  The vehicle we were looking at was in “like new” condition.  The difference in price between that vehicle with 9000 miles on it and a new one was 3000.  The color options were limited and there were no whistles or bells to speak of.

 We thanked him for his time and were about to call it quits for the day until we decided to try the place where I had purchased 4 cars before.

 Once there we asked to see the vehicle that we found on the internet.  There was some sort of pending deal however; we managed to get the keys as there was some issue with their credit.  After just looking at the car I noticed that it was really in great shape.  The factory tires had been replaced with new Michelins (about $800  worth)  The inside was pristine and the outside was the same.

 

While there was no navigation package there were enough whistles and bells to interest me.  The original driver had purchased it there 3 years prior and put 22K on it.  The depreciation on the car was $15k for 22 thousand miles and three years.  That is not counting the extras that he had included.

 

Normally I buy new cars however; I know that the depreciation is horrific so I decided to save a few $$.  The people were very nice, answered all of my questions and I did not have to haggle the price, as the internet price is what it is.  They discount them on the internet to the rock bottom to get people to come to the dealership.  A quick look at Edmonds and Kelly’s and a call to my trusted mechanic, I knew that I was being treated right.  Easiest purchase of a car in my life!

 

The point to this diatribe is this.  There is much information on the internet regarding what the car cost, what it should sell for, and interest rates that you should expect to pay.  Pushy sales people are a sign of desperation and the “game sucks!”  Each and every time we had to wait several minutes while the sales person went to talk with his manager “under the guise of getting us his card.”  My time is valuable so playing games is not my thing.  Some people enjoy it however; you are on their turf, they have all of the Ace’s and unless you do your research you will be getting screwed.  With the prices and information available to you today, you have a fighting chance of not getting taking advantage of.

 

This was my fifth vehicle purchased from these folks and I would imagine that it won’t be my last.  In retrospect I think that the day of the car salesman may be coming to an end.  I am not sure that this is a bad thing as up until this purchase I have always left with a bad taste in my mouth knowing that I had been screwed.  I don’t mind someone making a living for what they do however; taking advantage of people to the point of obscene is, well… obscene.

 

One of the reasons that I shop for my techie stuff at Best Buy is they are not commissioned, they are straight salary.  I don’t want to be directed to something that they make more money on, I want to be directed to something that fits my needs the closest and is in my price range.

 

Do your research whether it is houses, cars, or computer equipment.

 

Best to you and those that you care about!