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Archive for the ‘ Tips & Tricks ’ Category

By Azmi Jafarey

I was asked recently to speak on a panel entitled “What IT Skills/Roles Should Reside in the Business” Premier CIO Forum in Boston. The event, held earlier this week, was a well-attended and engaging event supported by SIM (Society for Information Management). There was an impressive roster of IT executives from across New England.

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Premier CIO Forum, Boston (March 25, 2014)

New technology is now requiring IT and the Business and to be extraordinary dancing partners” said Sharon Kaiser, CIO for ABIOMED, Inc., as she opened our session as moderator. My fellow panelists were Matthew Ferm, Managing Partner of Harvard Partners, and Hunter Smith, former CIO of Acadian Asset Management. We analyzed the “Dance between IT and the Business”. Who should lead? What are the right steps to follow? What’s the expected pace? It was a lively discussion, with a very participative audience.  Here are the highlights:

  • Speed, flexibility and leadership are key for today’s IT. Shadow IT, where pockets of a Business or go off on their own to buy, say cloud services or a product, is usually acting responsively to when an IT department is being unresponsive. Shadow IT also happens when individual employees download an application right onto their machine. The trouble with Shadow IT is that it also often silos IT. Many times the business will come back with a need to integrate a hastily purchased product, or even to get it to run.  The lesson here is to have a deep partnership between IT and the rest of the business, continually optimized, is needed. If IT is truly enabling, it will not be viewed just as a gate-keeper, but as a partner.
  • For engaging well with others you need skills in IT and the Business that complement each other.  Thus Business Analysis (BA) as a position residing in a Business is very helpful. It ensures requirements are vetted, understood and relatively fixed, and there will be ownership for what IT will be asked to do. But, IT also needs BA skills on their side, even if it may not be a job title. Most importantly, IT must understand business processes deeply so that the value of a project is understood, and where needed, valid input can be given on process simplification where warranted. The BA role in the Business must understand technology and how IT works for this to be a true partnership.
  • Security, Disaster Recovery, responsibility for LAN/WAN/server environments and access should all reside with IT.  Some roles, such as project management (PM) can be in either IT or the Business, since good PM will be driven by data and not by persuasion or vested interest.  Some roles, such as QA/Testing need to go beyond IT testing a technology developed to meet a business need. It must say, “yes, hit the requirements” to the Business testing out the actual use cases with a process workflow, so that base assumptions and expected value are actually vetted out.

These discussions showed that regardless of company size, the audience had similar experiences: rapidly increasing need for a close, agile relationship between IT and the Business, a huge technology wave of possibilities, and opportunity for re-thinking roles and responsibilities. One must experiment and evolve, as well as establish a strong communications and shared-goal mentality with the Business. I ended by noting, “If you treat IT as a commodity that is what you will get. If you treat it as the leading edge of your Business, you will have a weapon like no other.” The audience very much agreed.

— Azmi Jafarey, Chief Information Officer, Ipswitch

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By Sarah Meyer

A university network supports a broad population of students, faculty and others who all rely on a wireless network to do their work. Consider the user population. A big segment of it grew up with the Internet. And they have little patience for dead spots that don’t provide access to it.

A customer of ours works at a large university in Ohio. There are no less than 2,700 access points on his wireless network. Before he started using WhatsUp Gold from Ipswitch, his team had to physically check wireless network equipment around campus whenever there was a problem. It was wearing patience his patience thin. And the soles on his IT staffs’ sneakers. This meant long wait times to resolve issues, and way too many calls made and tickets opened by melodramatic students. student_hero20110208

The challenge was to support a group of vocal users who, in some respects, were causing the problems they complained about. There’s an average of three mobile devices per student attached to the network. Vimeo, torrents, and every other bandwidth hog you can imagine steams through the pipes. In other words, it was a BYOD free for all and the IT staff had to keep Internet wireless network connections going strong in light of the chaos.

When our customer decided enough was enough he looked for a product that provided the wireless network performance monitoring features he needed most, and it had to be affordable. He wanted a the ability to accurately map his wireless network, see individual bandwidth usage, check signal strength, and get real-time alerts whenever a problem flared up. After giving WhatsUp Gold a trial run along with a few other vendors’ software products, he chose Ipswitch because it met his criteria and his price point. Since using the product, the phone rings a lot less and sneakers last a lot longer.

If your work involves managing wireless access on a network in higher education, or anywhere else for that matter, please register and join our webinar this Thursday, February 6. During the 30 minute webinar you’ll learn how to best manage the high traffic tides, quickly and easily identify bandwidth hogs and the offending applications, and receive notifications when access points approach capacity.

Hope to see you there. If you can’t make it, we’ll be sharing the replay afterwards.

Title: How to Overcome Challenges of Campus Wireless Network Performance
Date:
February 6, 2014
Show Time: 2:00 pm EST
Duration: 30 Minutes
Register Here

 

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By David Seuss

Halloween represents the time of year that we embrace ghouls and ghosts, celebrate the macabre, and eat too much candy. This coming Thursday I’ll be greeted at my front door by trick or treat’ers, lined up for their packaged sugar rushes. In between trips to the check out the little ghosts and ghouls, I’ll be watching one of my favorite horror movies. For me, being scared is part of the fun.

Click for full image.

Click for full image.

However, for sysadmins and network managers, Halloween plays itself out every day of the year. So what better time to visit the issues that turn your server rooms into your own personal house of horrors?

We know no two networks are exactly alike, so we focused on 13 network nightmares that represent the common hauntings of every server room. The number alone signifies something to be wary of. Some buildings don’t have a 13th floor. Any Friday that falls on the 13th day of the month can give even non-believers a moment of pause. These 13 network nightmares highlight the type of problems that keep many IT folks awake at night, while fearing the unspeakable network terrors that may face them at work the next day.

Even though Halloween may be a lot of fun, mention any of these 13 nightmares to a network manager and you are likely to see a look of true horror.

Here’s the fleshed-out list of network nightmares, and some tips on how they can get solved in the real world. Have an evil glance, if you like:

1.  The Zombies: Only Zombies should be slow, not your network.  Slowdowns can make it nearly impossible to keep systems and applications up and running at peak levels. With better insight, you can move fast to solve problems before they start to negatively impact business operations and users.

2.  The Vampires: Don’t let network vampires suck the life out of your wireless network. These creatures can take a bite out of network performance with the use of satellite radio and streaming video. Once you track them down, put your stake in the ground and kindly share IT policy so they can listen to Pandora back at the crypt, and not in the office.

3.  The Skeletons: Dealing with bare bones budgets is a constant problem for IT professionals, who are expected to provide higher levels of service to users, with fewer dollars. IT folks should be able to face the skeletons in their closets and monitor their networks, applications and systems affordably.

4.  The Frankensteins: A whole bunch of disjointed pieces and parts can yield monster network monitoring problems. Network administrators should not have to play the mad scientist. Trying to make the nuts and bolts and random wires of their network play nice together shouldn’t look like a scientific experiment gone wrong.

5.  The Spiked Maces: Spikes in network performance can make anyone nervous. Be prepared for high levels of traffic on days when Apple offers a download your users cannot resist. When you can be proactive, the spikes on the network won’t come swinging at you like a medieval mace.

6.  The Ghosts: What problems are haunting your network? Network administrators can be effective ghost hunters and find the spectres, including slowdowns and frightening downtime.

7.  The Chucky (Knife-Wielding Dolls): What may seem like a small threat can actually instigate big problems. What little monster is wiggling their way down into deep layers of the network to compromise security? Unchecked small problems can quickly turn into a network breach if it takes weeks before you find the culprit, especially if the problem is intermittent. Small problems are not “child’s play.”

8.  The Jasons (Scary Intruders): Don’t let software and applications lurk in the shadows. Network administrators need to know which users have downloaded unauthorized applications onto their networked laptops. Turn on the light so you don’t get lost in shadow IT.

9.  The Mummies: Are you continuously wrapped up in the same problems that keep returning? Finding the source of an issue shouldn’t be as hard as digging into an ancient Egyptian crypt.

10.  The Devils: No cost shortcuts like free open source products can tempt you with big promises, but can steal your soul if you depend on them to monitor your network. Listen to the haloed, winged creature on your other shoulder and invest in an affordable solution that gets the little devils out of the network.

11.  The Gravestones: Downtime? More like Rest-in-Panic. Finding the source of a problem on the network shouldn’t bury you  six feet deep.

12.  The Fog: When the fog sets in and bats come out to play, viewing the network can become eerie and impeded. If network administrators can’t get a complete view of their network, they won’t be able to clearly see through the fog and find the source of a slowdown or stoppage.

13.  The Werewolves: Don’t get bitten by the unexpected. Having the proper policies in place can be the silver bullet for dealing with bandwidth-hungry users.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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By David Seuss

 

Ipswitch customer engagement engineers and members of our WUGspace community have been sharing their stories from the IT front lines. These brief vignettes cover a network-related problem that was solved using one or more of our products.

These stories aren’t meant to be commercials (we have plenty of room elsewhere on our website for that) but more of an insider view into the day to day challenges faced by IT pros and how they can make their jobs easier to do.  

Today’s edition stems from an engagement with a fast food franchise where our folks came to help with a network Internet bandwidth issue.

For those of you who are WUGspace community members, share your own story from the front lines and immediately earn 100 WUGspace points and a $25 gift card. If you aren’t a member, we’d love to have you join in the dialogue.

 

True Stories from the Front Lines of Network Performance Monitoring: How a Fast-Food Franchise Closed the Lid on Pandora’s Box

Pandora: "she who sends up gifts". (and serves up music)

Pandora: “she who sends up gifts” (and music).

We recently worked with folks from the corporate office of a national fast-food franchise who were very concerned over their Internet bandwidth costs.  They were considering purchasing additional bandwidth to keep up with demand. 

They came to Ipswitch to help understand the source of their growing internet bandwidth consumption so they could address the issue and gauge how to solve it.

Using our Flow Monitor software, we were able to identify the source of the problem in minutes. The culprits were users streaming Pandora from the desks.

Turns out a little satellite radio can really chew into the bandwidth that others need in order to do their jobs. If the franchise had bought more bandwidth they’d be doing so in order to support an unauthorized application. 

Using Flow Monitor, they were able to enforce bandwidth usage policies and detect the use of unauthorized applications – and lowered the bill from the ISP. 

160098884_reserved-parking-swiss-hip-hop-music-fan-parking-sign-

By the way, we’re music fans.

Just wanted to put that out there in case we were giving the wrong impression.

 

 

 

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By Ennio Carboni

The IT life was simpler when employees each had one desktop computer and one landline phone. Technology did not move. It was stationary. Nowadays we have laptops, smart phones, and tablets that are both mobile and connected. And they have no wires. You are told that applications are mission critical,  expected to be accessible by people at a speed that optimizes productivity, and available to people inside and outside the organization. And who else wants access all the time? Hackers and other online criminals. As if you had enough to worry about.

Pictured: the Upbeat dancers from the television show “Upbeat” that aired from 1964-1971. Source: www.upbeatdancers.com.

On top of all of this, your IT budget might be flat or lower than last year. It is not an easy situation to manage. Fortunately there ways to face these challenges in a way that makes your life easier without paying a high price.

Network monitoring systems for IT operations do not need to come from a Big IT Company to provide what you need. Ask yourself the following questions when determining the most efficient and affordable IT monitoring technologies:

Are you distracted?
If you spend hours, days or even weeks trying to chase down the source of a problem, your to-do list will get dusty and important tasks will get delayed. Many organizations accumulate multiple monitoring products over time and those products can’t generally “talk” to each other. As a result, you cannot see all the pieces and parts of your network infrastructure as they relate to one another — from database applications all the way down to individual network components. Pesky intermittent problems can sometimes go unresolved for months. This is all way too much of a distraction.

Are you over-licensed?
There are products designed for networks with millions of devices that cost millions of dollars. You don’t have to spend like a Fortune 100 company in order to get the functionality you require. Buy a license based upon the number of devices you need to monitor, regardless of the number of interfaces, volumes or applications per device. If you have license based upon elements – such as nodes, interfaces and volumes – you may pay less upfront but you will pay more in the long run.

Are you unified?
Can you view your IT infrastructure in a way that unifies the status of all physical and virtual attributes? If there is trouble coming your way, you probably want to see it quickly. If you are away from your desk, you might like to get a notification to check things out. Unify IT operations management under one interface and you can stop hunting and start solving.

Are you up?
A unified management screen helps maintain uptime because it will uncover the downtime culprit in the chain of technologies linked to any particular application. When the speed of access to applications starts to crawl, a unified system can identify the traffic jam by gathering information from every point on the network — including virtual, physical and private cloud environments. Imagine identifying the root cause of a problem in minutes instead of hours,  and fixing it quickly enough that your users’ experience remains unchanged.

That might be the kind of simplicity that makes the rest of your tough job a little easier to manage.

At the end of the day, a unified, simple and affordable network monitoring and management system will provide more uptime for your network — and more upbeat moods from those who rely upon you to do their jobs.

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By David Seuss

 

 

 

By Matt Cline, Senior Systems Administrator at Optim Healthcare, a network of hospitals and orthopedic medical practices based in Savannah, Georgia.

Stethoscope on a Computer Keyboard

The ultimate goal for our business – IT included – is to deliver the best care and experience for every patient and community we serve.  And this all depends on two key IT resources:

  1. The electronic health record (EHR) system that our 1,400 internal users access to track and update patient records. When this system is unavailable, the staff must revert back to paper records and update the EHR system later. If that happens, patient information could get lost in transition.
  2. Our website and patient portals are also a critical component of our success – much like any company’s websites. Current and prospective patients expect 24/7 access to our portals, whether they want to pay a bill or research our services, and it’s our job to ensure that need is met.

The quicker we can diagnose an application performance monitoring problem – before it impacts our staff or patients – the better.

I use WhatsUp Gold Application Performance Monitor from Ipswitch. In this post I will cover some highlights from the first phase of its implementation. At that time I created and then began using profiles for:

We first tested the Ipswitch IIS profile on a production server and immediately discovered the unknown: 3-4 major deficiencies were the root causes of slowdowns in our database. We found a similar problem in our Microsoft SQL server.  If we hadn’t run the test, we wouldn’t have found these deficiencies issues until a significant slowdown or, even worse, downtime.

The unified dashboard is the best interface I’ve used for these types of tasks. I get a single view at a highly granular level and am getting the data I need to proactively fix problems and eliminate downtime.

I’d be glad to hear about your experiences managing application performance. Feel free to post a comment.

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By Brian M. Jacobs

Did you know that the NSA made its first appearance at DefCon this year, looking for help from the “world’s best cybersecurity community”?  Even though the BlackHat and DefCon conferences are now over, I would like to continue to focus on security.  Specifically, let’s briefly discuss some best practices you can follow to ensure that your WhatsUp Gold system, and all the devices it monitors, are secure and safe from malicious hackers.  Here are some tips for how you can increase the security of your network monitoring infrastructure:

  • Run WhatsUp Gold behind a firewall.  Design your firewall rules to only allow legitimate traffic from known destinations and filter out all random protocols or unknown hosts.
  • Block SNMP at the network borders.  SNMP should never traverse the public Internet.
  • Utilize strong, secure SNMP community strings and SNMPv3 whenever possible.  Don’t use default or guessable SNMP community strings (like your company name).  SNMPv3 packets are encrypted, which decreases the possibility of inadvertent disclosure of community strings and other sensitive data.
  • Configure SNMP agents to only respond to the IP addresses of WhatsUp Gold servers.  Most SNMP agents have the ability to limit hosts from which requests are accepted — don’t just rely on your firewall!
  • Limit console access to the WhatsUp Gold server to secure hosts.  Allowing RDP sessions from any IP address increases the chance that a hacker can access an unprotected or poorly secured system.
  • Run WhatsUp Gold with reduced database privileges.  Limiting database privileges minimizes the likelihood that an exploited vulnerability is leveraged to gain privileged access.  See the WhatsUp Gold Database Guide for further details.

By following these steps you’ll be able to increase the security of your monitored network, and decrease the attack surface available to would-be attackers.

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By Kaitlyn Myers

WhatsUp Gold’s free Syslog Server provides you with a feature rich tool to help you manage your syslog needs, including enhanced export capabilities. View the messages in real-time or filter results data the way you need to see it. Take charge of your network by understanding the data your devices are giving you.

Would you like to:
  • Automatically collect both Syslog and Windows event logs across your network?
  • Store your log files for as long as you need (e.g. HIPAA mandates log data retention for 6 years)?
  • Prevent tampering with your archived log files?
  • Receive real-time alerts for key events (e.g. access and permission changes to files, folders, and objects containing employee or financial records, patient information and any other critical information).
  • Generate and automatically distribute compliance or security-centric reports to key stakeholders such as auditors, security personnel or upper management?

Get the Syslog Server today for free (or, if you answered yes to any of the above questions, consider checking out WhatsUp Event Log Management Suite)

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By Sean Barry

IT Automation

Each year sees an increase in the amount of IT tasks and operations that can be automated. 2011 will be no different, according to Ennio Carboni:

As the number of networked devices inside and outside the enterprise continue to explode – both in infrastructure (e.g. routers, switches and systems infrastructure supporting video, and wireless app delivery) and end point devices (especially mobile handhelds, tablets, and netbooks) – higher automation is necessary to maintain control of management costs. Equipment vendors, software publishers and end user IT organizations are embracing automation in many ways – building and deploying more intelligent network devices, using virtualization-led dynamic provisioning and configuration to meet variable demand profiles and attempting to build closed loop management systems that can react to infrastructure changes. We’ve seen this coming: technology replacing humans in the workplace – case-in-point, HP laying off 9000 workers from their datacenter services unit.

Configuration Management and IT Security

However, the rapid growth in the number and complexity of network devices does have its drawbacks. As networks grow, so do the vulnerabilities associated with their configuration and security. Analysts estimate that more than 60% of network outages are caused by manual configuration errors at an annual average rate of 30+ errors per device. This has tremendous impact on maintaining IT security and compliance with internal and external regulatory policies. As a consequence, analysts predict that configuration management and IT security tools will continue to see robust growth in 2011 (Check out slide 4.)

If your network is undergoing the growth now found across the board and you don’t already have a configuration management tool in place, 2011 is the year to change that. A good configuration management tool allows you to automate the process and reduce your chances of an outage, while also notifying you when and where an outage occurs so it can be rectified quickly with little downtime.

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By Sean Barry

You may have thought you had taken all the right steps in planning the bandwidth requirements for your business. You even went the extra mile and set up Quality of Service (QoS) for high-priority traffic. Still you are faced with complaints that claim site access and critical order uploads are too slow. What is going on with the network utilization?

What you are missing is a way to gain visibility into the flow of traffic coming in and out of your network. A network flow is technically defined as a “unidirectional sequence of packets” all sharing the following values:

  • Source IP address
  • Destination IP address
  • Source port
  • Destination port
  • IP
  • Ingress interface
  • IP type of service

By utilizing automated classification of network traffic flows by type and protocol, you can begin to build a picture of bandwidth utilization without painstakingly reviewing individual network packets. Broad support for vendor network flow records such as NetFlow, JFlow, and SFlow records from Cisco, Juniper, and HP provide you with visibility into real-time usage as well as historical network trends.

Consider layering flow classification with identification of top talkers and top listeners to narrow in on who is over-subscribing the use of the network. Top talkers represent the outbound—devices sending the most data over the network. Top listeners inbound—source hosts that are receiving the most data. By analyzing top type reports, you can build detailed top conversation views of which endpoints are taking up the most network bandwidth.

Many times, top type reports will also provide a wealth of information into unauthorized applications, spyware, and non-business-related Internet usage. For example, in the Top Conversations report below, high bandwidth utilization is observed between the iTunes site and an accounting PC.

With this information in hand, you can begin to address the performance issues by updating your Web filtering tool or enabling additional blocked categories to minimize the use of bandwidth for non-business traffic.

Real-time flow visibility allows you to determine the mystery behind bandwidth utilization. Continued review of traffic flow data across your network at regular intervals in conjunction with well-planned threshold alerts will help you quickly detect traffic anomalies, which are often a sign of computer virus outbreaks or malicious software.

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