System Administrators in Visual Studio .NET

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The most important people to the long-term successful operations of your computer systems are your SAs. System administration, especially in the Unix world, is learned almost entirely through on-the-job experience and by making mistakes (often one and the same). There is very little formal training in how to be a system administrator. There are lots of courses and books that teach the various skills required to administer systems, but there are so many varied skills involved that it is very difficult to become a totally well-rounded SA without doing it for a while first. The skills, obvious and otherwise, required by a good SA include the following: Backup engineer. Must be able to take and administer backups, and locate and retrieve tapes easily and quickly. Must also arrange for offsite storage of copies of the tapes, and quick and easy retrieval in an emergency. Evaluator of equipment and software. Must be able to examine new products, both hardware and software, cut through the marketing double-talk, and determine what products will adequately meet requirements. Hardware engineer. The first line of defense for swapping bad disks may be your system administrator; CPU and memory module replacement may be handled by your hardware service provider or by your own staff if you ve chosen break-and-fix self-service.
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People and Processes
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Software developer. SAs are always writing bits of code to automate key tasks. Help desk. An SA is the first line of defense when users run into any sort of problems, and depending on the enterprise they work in, they are often on call 24 7. Chameleon. To properly support users, an SA must understand the business that their users are in, whether they re involved in equities trading, manufacturing, e-commerce, software development, or physical warehousing. Deputy fire inspector. The SA is ultimately responsible to make sure that the cables running under or on the floor, above or near the ceiling, and up and down the elevator shafts and stairwells are up to local fire codes. Security expert. The SA must maintain firewall machines at a proper level of security (strict enough to keep intruders out, but loose enough to let valid data and users pass through unimpeded), ensure that highquality passwords are chosen, and ensure that departing employees files are purged from systems promptly. Windows administrators must make sure that antivirus software is up-to-date. Technical writer. The SA is ultimately responsible for documentation that must be written for future SAs and for the current staff (if any), who cover for him during vacations and training. Quality assurance engineer. Before new applications can be rolled out, they must be tested. Unless there are dedicated QA engineers on staff, this task falls to the SA staff too. Technical trainer. When the user community needs to understand a new work-related technology, it falls to the system administrators to make sure the users are adequately trained. New technology expert. When some new whizzy high-tech toy comes along, even one that is unrelated to the systems he maintains or the business, the SA is expected to understand it and to explain it to her users, whether it be programming language, operating system, palmtop computer, video game, DVD player, or new computer hardware paradigm. World Wide Web whiz. The SA is expected to know about all the new and cool web sites, and web languages, and be able to answer her users questions about them. Town crier. Bad news (such as system outages) must be reported to his user community.
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Diplomat. Bad news (such as system outages) must be reported to his user community in such a way as to not make the users attack him with pitchforks and torches. Detective. When system problems occur, it is up to the SA to track them down and solve them. Network technician. In general, the SA is responsible for maintaining and troubleshooting networks and associated hardware. Salesperson. Once the SA has decided on a particular product or technology, he must then go and make the case to management in order to get the project funded. Relationship builder. To be successful, a good SA needs to develop relationships with the support and local sales teams from all key vendors, his users, management, customers, the local help desk, and his peers in other departments. Night owl. A large percentage of the work an SA is responsible for must be done at night or on weekends, and usually after working a full day and week. (Is it any wonder that most SAs have a very hard time explaining to nontechnical friends and relatives, never mind their user community and their management, exactly what it is they do for a living ) Every site, and often every system, has different methods for maintaining their systems. Every time an SA changes jobs, he needs to learn the new model and combine that with preexisting skills and experience in order to become truly useful in the new environment. Since system administrators are the people who have to implement all of the stuff we discuss in this book, along with countless other technologies, you don t want to be replacing your people all the time. Keep your system administrators: Happy. Give them interesting work. Don t micromanage. Ask them what makes them happy, and try to deliver it. Let them decorate their cubes. Keep some simple food and drink around for late-night work. Don t make them dress up. Relaxed. As long as the systems are running well, there s nothing wrong with letting them occasionally surf the Web or maintain a personal web page during the day if they want to. (Remember all those late nights and weekends!) In 5 we talked about the six computing environments you might need, with the last one being the playground. Don t be afraid to let your system staff run free in the playground, because they may just come up with the next big process improvement.
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