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Super Users to the Rescue!

You may not know it, but the first line of support in IT is not the help desk or Service Desk.  Instead it is a special group of users in your organization who have taken it upon themselves to help their fellow coworkers.  In ITIL, these special people have been given a formal designation - Super User.

Who are these Super Users and what have they been doing behind your back?  Let's take a look at what a super user is, and how they can help you out.

Disaster Recovery Planning: Know Your RTO and RPO

When working on a disaster recovery or business continuity plan, two essential points that must be agreed upon by all parties are the recovery time and recovery point objectives (RTO and RPO). Without these, it is impossible to correctly size your backup systems or recovery procedures.

Do you need clustered systems or off-site failover? How frequently should backups be performed? What about SQL transaction logs?

These questions can only be answered once you have an agreed upon RTO and RPO with the business units. So what exactly are they?

5 Ways to Improve Your IT Department's Reputation

Let's face it. We all know IT doesn't have the greatest reputation in many companies. We can be considered aloof, obstructive, or even rude. Most of the time that is simply due to a lack of resources (both time and money) or a difference in personalities. Despite that, here are five ways to improve the image and reputation of IT in your organization with just a little bit of time and patience.

How To Setup Home Directories on a Windows File Server

The concept of home directories is fairly universal across all organizations.  Essentially, it is a networked storage location for users to store their personal files instead of using a directory on a local drive (like the non-redirected "My Documents").  Despite this being a common configuration item, there seems to be little standardization on how to configure a Windows file server to support personal home directories.  Should permissions be set using NTFS or shares?  Should individual shares even be used?  What about the Home Folder Active Directory attribute?

My recommendation is to keep things as simple as possible with a single share and simple permissions only set at the NTFS level.

Responsible Disclosure

Update 6/15/2010: The security vulnerability in Windows reference in this article is now being actively exploited.  In this case, full disclosure is without a doubt leaving putting Windows users at risk.

Today, Microsoft confirmed that there is an unpatched remote execution exploit in Windows XP and Server 2003.  This vulnerability was first reported to Microsoft on June 5th by discoverer and Google employee Tavis Ormandy.  Microsoft had to confirm this unpatched vulnerability today because Ormandy decided to release the details of the exploit under the guise of Full Disclosure yesterday, five days after reporting his finding to Microsoft.

Now, I certainly do not consider myself to be an expert in the security field, but I am someone who is responsible for deploying vendor patches and monitoring the security of our systems.  I personally find Ormandy's actions in disclosing the details of this exploit before Microsoft could patch the issue to be suspect.  Now we are left in a situation where exploit code has been released by a security researcher a month or more before the vendor can analyze the details, develop, test and release a patch.  How does this situation improve our overall security?

Outlook Synchronization of SharePoint Document Library Results in 0x80004005 Error

We recently came across an issue when trying to connect a large document library in SharePoint 2007 to Outlook 2007.  Outlook would throw out the following error when attempting the sync:
Task 'SharePoint' reported error (0x80004005): 'An error occurred either in Outlook or SharePoint. Contact the SharePoint site administrator.'

After some additional troubleshooting, I determined that this only happened when trying to synchronize a sub-folder of the library (with the amount of data in this library, synchronizing sub-folders was the common practice). Eventually a call to Microsoft PSS was required to troubleshoot this further.

In the end, we determined that parts of the folder structure used characters that Outlook considered invalid for synchronization.  Specifically, Outlook would not sync a folder with "--" in the name or folder path (in our case, the root folders were all named "A---", "B---", etc.)  The support engineer did mention that there may be other characters which Outlook won't sychronize, but luckily we did not run into those.

If you are running in to this Outlook error when connecting to a SharePoint document library, try looking in to the folder names and see if something looks abnormal.

Implementing ITIL in Small IT Organizations

It my previous post, I described what ITIL® is, and from that you can see that it is not something you can just do.  Now, I am hardly an expert on ITIL, but I will try to use my understanding of the framework to see how it can be applied to smaller shops to improve their IT services.

I believe there are four mains areas that can be targeted for implementing ITIL in a smaller IT organization.  The four areas are best summarized by the questions they strive to answer - How are we doing? Where does the business want us to be? How do we get there? How do we keep improving?

What is ITIL?

I first ran across the term ITIL® several years ago when I was researching some competing help desk solutions for Liberum Help Desk.  After some quick googling, about all I was able to determine was that it was some UK standard for how help desk tickets should be processed.  Fast forward to last year and ITIL pops back into my head when our IT department is reviewing our policies and procedures for our auditors.  Could ITIL be beneficial to our small IT department?

If so, what is ITIL?

Ethics and Regulations for System Administrators

With the recent news of Bernie Madoff's programmers being indicted, it got me thinking about ethics in IT.  The SAGE/LOPSA System Administrators' Code of Ethics does a good job of outlining ethical concerns for system administrators, and related to the Madoff case it has this point:
Laws and Policies
I will educate myself and others on relevant laws, regulations, and policies regarding the performance of my duties.