Archive for the ‘Admin Tools and Tips’ Category

The Skills That Separate a Great IT Manager from Good Ones

Working in the IT industry means dealing with a rapid pace of change that impacts everything, right from operational practices to remunerations. Plus, the complexity of systems, applications, and processes is mindboggling. Then, systems and processes are so interlinked that managers can’t take a single decision without dealing with several little-known variables. Plus, clients are always pushing to shrink delivery teams and cut costs every year. Of course, there are cybersecurity and compliance risks to make life tough.

It’s commendable, then, that there are great IT leaders in most enterprises, driving progress, and enabling everyone around them. In this guide, we’ve covered some of the skills that separate a great IT manager from the merely good ones.

Understanding the People behind the Employees

Of course, understanding one’s people is a skill relevant to managers in every industry, and not particularly IT. However, IT presents specific challenges that make it crucial for a great manager to understand the people in his/her team.

In a typical IT team, there are people who are keen to learn the latest technologies and work using latest tools. Then, there are people who wish to grow their expertise within a specific technology and come closer to the business impacts of the technology. Put an employee in a role that’s in utter contrast to his/her key technology learning motivations, and you’ll have a might mess to manage very soon. Instead, great IT managers are always prepared to go to great lengths to understand their team and help them take up IT operations and delivery roles that match well with them.

 

Emotional Intelligence

It’s been suggested that emotional intelligence accounts for almost 90% of the difference between good and great managers in general. IT managers who take conscious efforts to upgrade their emotional intelligence reap the benefits in the form of respect from all related stakeholders, faster and better conflict resolution and even quicker and more valuable promotions. When pressures from all sides (clients, internal auditors, dissatisfied employees, and supervisors) mount, the great IT manager is able to exercise caution, care, and courage in dealing with situations. Emotional intelligence also helps IT managers understand the intrinsic feelings and desired of different players around them, further enabling them to frame their communication so as to appease, satisfy, and convince them. A keen sense of observation, coupled with high EQ, is the perfect recipe for success for an IT manager.

 

The Ability to Upgrade One’s Technical Knowledge

In a typical IT manager’s routine day, there are 2-4 meetings, several discussions on project KPIs, and brainstorming on new projects and campaigns. With an eternal stream of deadline bound deliverables to manage, it’s tough for IT managers to find out the time and desire to upgrade their technical knowledge. However, strong technical understanding is essential for managers to maneuver conversations with teams comprised mostly of IT engineers. Plus, employees are quick to identify IT managers who fail to account for the limitations and strong points of technologies and tools while devising plans and strategies.

 

The Ability to Delegate Extensively and Correctly

IT is an industry where the depth of subject matter knowledge is so much that it almost accepted that individuals won’t possess it. Thus, IT managers always need to rely on several people to take control of projects. This calls upon managers to showcase dexterity in delegating tasks to others (again, this links back to the skill of knowing your team). Developments in IT business sphere and operational management frameworks are so fast that IT managers always need to anticipate the need to keep their time free for proactive management. This is only possible if they delegate tasks like a pro.

 

Communication

A no-brainer, for sure. But why does an IT Manager need to be super strong in communication? The answer – because the very nature of the product or service is such that customers don’t exactly understand or appreciate the nuances unless somebody explains them in a language they are comfortable with. Only a strong communicator, hence, can detect unsaid emotions among client representatives and mold communications accordingly.

 

The Ability Of Being Decisive

Expect an IT manager to face several situations every day, wherein they are expected to make quick decisions. Whether it’s something short-term such as estimating resourcing needs for a new project to something with long-term consequences, such as deciding among a few equally potent vendors for a virtualization project – IT managers have to rely on their intuition, experience, data, advice, and heuristics to be able to manage such situations. Unremarkable IT managers fall into the trap of extracting data from different sources for every decision they need to make. Equally obnoxious, of course, is the practice of taking hasty decisions and letting your teams bear the brunt of the same. The great IT manager strikes the right balance.

 

Creating A Culture of Innovation

Considering the breakneck speed at which the dynamics of IT industry are changing, teams that fail to innovate will fail to exist in a few years. How does an IT manager, then, foster the spirit of innovation, particularly considering how important it is to also maintain operational discipline? Well, great IT managers do so by:

  • Ensuring innovators that they’ll find their leaders by their side, even if the innovators don’t deliver the desired results.
  • Connecting innovators with the right people, at the right time.
  • Explaining the value of innovation and experimental trials with different options to clients.

 

Calculated risks, taken consciously – that’s a good mantra to live by. It takes continued focus on extracting valuable lessons from failures, documenting them, and sharing them with the entire team, for IT managers to truly grow their people.

 

Concluding Remarks

Amidst all the challenges of working in the IT industry, great IT managers manage to stay calm, deliver projects within deadlines, and grow their teams and themselves. This guide presents some of the skills that help them do so.

 

Author: Rahul Sharma

Is Network Monitoring System Worth the Investment?

Your business’ digital network is your most important operations-enablement asset. A network problem could bring mission-critical business applications to a grinding halt. Inaccessible websites, unusable ERP applications, excruciatingly slow loading application screens, the inability of one system to connect with and communicate with another – and the list goes on.

 

 

Network Monitoring Tools – A Solution

 

Network downtime costs you severely. Maintenance, hence, is not only better than cure, at least from a network management perspective, but also financially a much smarter option. To do so, network administrators need to measure the network’s performance regularly, in terms of important KPIs. These measures are compared to threshold values to detect possible issues or potential problems in the making. This is made possible by network monitoring tools. These tools keep a stern watch on the network performance, push real-time updates to administrators, and carry out automated tests on the network to detect and report anomalies.

 

Why Does the Question of Evaluating Usefulness Come Up?

Enterprises want reliable and power packed software for everything they manage. Network monitoring software must bring about seamless and total network visibility round the clock, equipment monitoring capabilities, automatic alert setup, reporting, etc. Of course, there are costs associated with these features.

However, it must also be understood that enterprises are almost always prepared for minor application outages, and even tolerate them to a great extent. A few minutes or a couple of hours of downtime doesn’t bring down a mountain. Then, IT managers are always under pressure to reduce costs, are anyways overwhelmed with complex projects, and not easy to convince to approve the budget for new tools.

 

 

Are These Tools Worthy Investments?

How does one make a case for network monitoring tools? Are they even worth the investment? Well, these questions don’t have easy answers.

For an e-commerce business, a remote education business, and a financial institution, for instance, even an hour of downtime could cause serious branding damage, sales loss, and customer attrition. For others, the odd outage of a few minutes or hours might not be such a showstopper.

One approach to finding answers, however, is to understand the value they add, the problems they solve, and calculating ROI accordingly.

 

The Costs of Network Monitoring Software

For any ROI analysis, you need to know the denominator, and that’s the cost of the network monitoring software. Here are the most important cost components:

  • Licensing costs of the software, particularly in case of enterprise level network monitoring tools
  • Maintenance and upkeep costs, particularly if the same is not included in the licensing deal
  • Salaries of internal IT consultants and network admins necessary to manage the tool
  • Costs of hardware and software storage for the tool
  • Cost of training users
  • Post-implementation consulting issues

 

Dedicated network management systems that include monitoring tools as a part of the larger suite are obviously more expensive than standalone monitoring systems. It can be challenging to apportion an appropriate cost percentage to the monitoring tool if an enterprise commissions a complete network management suite.

Even if you go for an open source network monitoring tool, there will be associated costs. Understand all of these costs to be able to calculate a realistic and representative ROI figure.

 

 

The Simplest Analysis – Damage Prevented versus Cost of Software

A quick (and often reliable) method of evaluating the investment worthiness of network monitoring systems is to compare their annual cost (annualize long-term costs over a 5-year period, let’s say) with the estimated annual damage caused by outages.

Annual damages = Damage via lost sales (DLS) + Damage to employee productivity (DEP)

 

DLS: Average sale value per hour x Average duration of each outage x Average number of outages per year

DEP: Average cost of employee hour x Average duration of each outage x Average number of outages per year x Number of employees affected

 

Add these up, and compare the cost of the software. Simple enough?

 

Sophisticated Analyses

Of course, there is such a thing as an oversimplification, and it could often lead to unnecessary and expensive purchases. So, we’re also going to cover some nuanced benefits of network monitoring systems which positively impact their ROIs.

 

Staff Salary Saving

If a network monitoring tool allows enterprises to cut down its night shift to half, and to reduce the monitoring staff strength to 50%, that’s a significant saving annually.

 

Early Detection Benefits

Network monitoring tools offer advanced reporting on network aspects such as utilization rates, transmit/receive stats (such as packets per second), error percentages, round trip times, and percentage availability. This helps network engineers and admins to prevent outages, reduce time to response and time to resolve in case of outages, and in general, improve network performance.

 

Reduced Support Incidents

Network issues easily result in a spate of support incidents raised by employees from affected teams. To close these calls, network engineers need time. Often, the need to close calls within the stipulated SLAs requires network teams to add resources. Sophisticated network monitoring tools, however, because of the advantages listed in the last section, allow admins and engineers to make corrective changes, and issue workaround practices to reduce these support calls.

 

Reduction in Time to Fix

Network technicians often find it challenging to locate sources of network problems, particularly when it’s linked to one or more devices in a geographically separated and distributed network. Because network monitoring systems offer geographic maps and live diagnostics data feeds, engineers can actually find these problem sources without leaving office. This can knock of several hours from the average problem fix times.

Understand all these benefits, evaluate their significance (as contextualized for your business), and factor them in your cost-benefit analysis for network monitoring tools.

 

Concluding Remarks

When IT budgets are tight, enterprise IT decision makers need to determine ROIs and perform accurate cost-benefit analyses to make a purchase decision. Network monitoring tools offer concrete benefits and come with concrete one time and recurring cost heads. This guide offers a framework to help you evaluate.

 

Author: Rahul Sharma

Top Alternatives to Team Viewer – Keeping the Remote Desktop Management Flame Lit

2016 was a tough year for Team Viewer and its users as the software company fell prey to one of the worst ransomware attacks in recent history. A significant number of people had their personal details exploited and their money was stolen, in many of these cases. It was, thus, quite natural that even after the company relaunched itself late in the year 2017, people were still afraid to install the software.

 

If you have been making things work with short-term alternatives, we’re sure you need better tools that are secure and guaranteed absolute confidentiality with regards to the privacy of their users.

 

 

 

How Remote Desktop Management Works?

The technology behind the process is simple enough. A remote desktop software is installed on the desktop that the user wishes to access, which allows the device to go online. The software provider’s server acts as the mediator between the user and the device, thus, nullifying the requirement for the two to be in physical proximity.

 

What The Hack Meant?

A cyber-attack of such huge proportions obviously had a number of implications and made SMB, as well as enterprise users, realize the consequences that lax online security can have on their operations, and those of their end users. Many Team Viewer accounts hacked also compromised key financial information of the affected users. The hackers, thus, hacked into not only the Team Viewer accounts but also those that gave them access to the users’ bank accounts. For a very long time, Team Viewer denied all accountability and blamed the spree of attacks on the users for not having sufficiently solid passwords and not keeping the passwords to themselves.

Note: Whichever remote desktop sharing software you use, make sure that the passwords you set for your accounts have different combinations of letters and numbers so as to appear random. Moreover, always keep these to yourselves and never use the same password for two different sites.

 

Here are 6 of the best software that you can install without hesitation, instead of Team Viewer:

 

Join.me

One of the biggest contenders in the field of remote access packages meant for web conferencing and meeting, Join.me was conceived by LogMeIn. The software is compatible with both Windows and Mac OS X. Join.me comes armed with a number of features, a few of them being meeting notifying and scheduling, international conferencing, and others. An extra $19 every month would also allow for advanced meetings and professional management. In terms of the security offered, the accounts are protected via double factor authentication systems, managed and overseen by LogMeIn.

 

Splashtop

Not only does Splashtop offer quite a user-friendly interface, it also allows users to access it from anywhere, thus, making web communications and conferencing much easier, thanks to its speedy connection. It is compatible with Windows, Android, iOS, Linux and OS X.

The cherry on the top is actually the first six months of free trial, and even after that, they charge a meager $1.99 monthly. Using the free package, you can connect to a maximum of 5 devices. Even more impressive is its streaming quality, which has garnered widespread acclaim all over the user community.

 

Ultra VNC

Ultra VNC is the remote desktop software usually recommended unanimously by experts. Of course, the fact that it costs absolutely nothing, and the procedure required for its installation and setup is easy, should be factored into the equation. However, the main reason is that this is, by far, the closest that VNC technology comes to following the strictest user security practices. This guarantees absolute security, thus, making it almost impossible to breach. Made solely for Windows, Ultra VNC ensures quick and easy transfers of data from one computer to another.

 

WebEx Free

Yet another remote desktop software that can be availed free, is WebEx Free, an initiative of Cisco. The software can be used on desktops as well as mobile phones. Live interaction is made possible with this nifty little tool. A recent addition to its functions was made when developers ensured that users could alter details regarding web meetings prior to their commencement. Certain users can also access its Corporate Directory feature. On the offside, however, quite a few Advanced Scheduler functions are not available on WebEx Free. For instance, it does not have the necessary provisions for sending its users copies of invitation emails or removing meetings from logs once they have been completed.

 

 

Chrome Remote Desktop

Chrome Remote Desktop gets the job done without the hassle of installation and setup. It can work just as well as an extension and is compatible with major operating systems. Its Chrome-based authentication and protected operations make it one of the most secure remote desktop software.

The Chrome Remote Desktop is perfectly cut out for businesses, what with file and folder transfers being a breeze using it. Moreover, users are permitted to operate on any desktop that is connected to the system without having to let go of the comforts of their favorite browser.

 

Windows Remote Desktop Connection

Windows Remote Desktop Connection has been incorporated into Ultimate and Business variants of Microsoft Windows, free of cost. The access granted to users over other remote systems is quick and absolute.

This is the perfect match for those who are not too experienced with remote desktop management since it is rather simple to install and requires very little time to be set up. A negative aspect of it, however, is the fact that it cannot operate too many desktops in one go.

 

Concluding Remarks

Since the Team Viewer scandal, new and improved alternatives have come up in the market for remote desktop sharing software. The existing remote computing tools have also been re-developed with more focus on user safety concerns. However, fact remains that users should be safe too, from their ends, by researching about their remote desktop management software and taking care to abide by standard security protocols.

 

Author: Rahul Sharma

Microsoft Word Productivity Hacks Every IT Manager Needs to Know

A Forrester report suggested that more than 90% businesses offer Office to their employees. This stat alone captures the essence of the kind of stronghold that MS Office has in terms of enterprise document management and productivity software. Among all Office sub-products, MS Word and MS Excel, without a doubt, are applications that most office employees use at least once a day. These applications have become the mainstays of how ‘text’ and ‘table’ formats of data are essentially interacted with, by end users. MS Word, specifically, is a pillar of office productivity.

 

Here’s Something Interesting about MS Word

 

So, almost everyone who’s anybody thinks he/she knows MS Word. Maybe you are, but maybe you’re not. That’s because Microsoft keeps on adding more features to its Word application, and not many users realize how much value these lesser known features can add. Microsoft has recently acquired a startup called Intentional Software, to ramp up its abilities around automation and simplifying programming for collaborative Office 365 products. Emails, reports, proposals, and letters – you name it, and there’s MS Word involved. It’s surprising how even the busiest and smartest IT managers don’t do the effort of understanding lesser known Word features to get the most out of the software.

With this guide, there’s no looking back; here are some super cool productivity hacks for MS Word.

 

Extracting All Images from an MS Word Document

Stuck with a product manual with 100+ screenshots, and tasked with creating a new guide, re-using the old pictures? How do you copy and paste so many images separately without losing a lot of valuable time? Here’s a trick.

  • Use the Save As the option to save the Word document.
  • Select Web Page as the target format.
  • Once you save it, Word creates a .html file, along with a folder that contains all the embedded images.
  • Now, all you need is to go to this folder, and you have your images waiting for you.

 

Copying Multiple Sections from a Long Document

For IT manager who needs to go through long reports, and is tasked with creating executive summaries, MS Word’s Clipboard feature is a godsend.

Using this feature, you can quickly review the last 24 selections of text and images you copied from the document! All you need to do is to go to the Home tab, look for the Clipboard button, and click on it.

This saves you vital time as you can visit the Clipboard anytime to take a quick look at whatever you selected and copied. This, for obvious reasons, proves invaluable particularly when you are trying to mark important content sections, to review them or collate them later.

 

Real-Time Co-Authoring

For IT managers hard pressed for deadlines, and those working closely with other managers and executives to prepare proposals and review documents, co-authoring is a tremendous productivity hack. This is the equivalent of co-authors sitting next to each other and working on the same content.

Co-authoring enables users to see everyone’s changes as they happen in the document, facilitating super quick feedback. MS Office support guides explain co-authoring as a 3-step process.

  • Save your document to SharePoint Online, or OneDrive.
  • Send out invites to people to edit the document along with you.
  • When this shared document is opened, each invitee will see the work that was done by others (supported by MS Word 2016, Word Android, and Word Online).

 

View Documents Side By Side

Pressing ALT + Tab to switch between two simultaneously opened Word documents can be disorienting. It certainly isn’t the best way to compare documents. If you don’t want to use the ‘Compare’ feature in the ‘Review’ tab of MS Word, and only want to go through two documents side by side, there’s an option.

  • Open the two documents you wish to view side by side.
  • Go to the View tab.
  • In the ‘Windows’ section, click on ‘View Side by Side’ option
  • If you also want the two documents to scroll simultaneously, you can click on the ‘Synchronous Scrolling’ button.

 

Pin Files to ‘Recently Used’

Ask an IT manager who needs to prepare daily, weekly, and monthly reports, as to what a mess it can be to maintain basic templates, which you can edit and repurpose into newer reports. No more ‘search’ hassles, because you can keep your trusted and ready-reckoner files pinned to the ‘recently used’ tab.

Here’s how you can add a document here:

  • Go to the File tab
  • Click on Open to see a list of files that have been only recently used
  • Click on the ‘Pin this item to the list’ button

 

Make Your Documents Easier to Read

If your supervisor or boss keeps on requesting re-work on documents because of ‘readability’ issues, you know how much time can be lost in attending to the ambiguous feedback. No need to put up with any of it any longer, because MS Word brings you two globally trusted readability tests, built right into the tool. These tests are:

  • Flesch Reading Ease test
  • Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test

Here’s how you can use this feature:

  • Go to File, and click on Options.
  • Go to Mail > Compose Messages > Spelling and AutoCorrect
  • Select Proofing.
  • Look for an option called ‘When correcting spelling in Outlook’; under this, check the ‘Check grammar with spelling’ box.
  • Check the ‘Show readability statistics’ box.

 

More Productivity Hacks

Apart from all the nifty tricks we covered above, there’s a lot more you can do with MS Word. For instance:

  • Transferring ODT files with Microsoft Word Online and Google Docs (useful while you’re working with startups and vendors that use open source document management software, saving files in ODT format)
  • Keyboard shortcuts, such as Ctrl + Alt + V, to access formatting options while pasting content from one section to another.
  • Press ALT, see how shortcut indications pop up at the top of the menu bar, telling you which key you can press to access the associated action quickly.

 

Concluding Remarks

Chances are that it will still take time before you get your personalized AI-powered robot assistant to take away your Office applications work. Till then, trust the kind of productivity hacks as presented in this guide to make work quicker, better, and more fun.

 

 

Author: Rahul Sharma

 

Must-Have Windows System Admin Tools in 2018

Open source applications and tools simplify the lives of Windows system administrators considerably. You will find plenty of open source system admin tools that improve the performance and efficiency of system administrators. While some automate the basic administration functions, others help with troubleshooting and maintenance.

 

Thanks to the introduction of new technologies and web services, system administrators are keeping busy nowadays. Not only must they configure, upkeep, and ensure smooth operations of computer systems within a limited budget, but they must also contend with the growing number of digital threats, changing security policies, training, and technical support. No wonder these individuals need all the support they can get!

Thankfully, we’ve compiled a list of open source tools that will not only serve this purpose in 2018 but for the next few years as well.

 

  1. Git

 

System administrators will find it easier to handle projects of varying sizes with Git, an open source distributed version control tool. This free system is not only easy to use but fast and efficient. You get access to lots of handy features, such as staging areas, different workflows, enhanced GPG signing for commits and tags, colour controls, etc. for a more powerful performance. Thanks to Git, you don’t have to spend the whole day creating a test setup; you can simply develop a branch and then clone it. And thanks to the Change history option, the configuration changes can easily be monitored.

System administrators can now maintain numerous independent local branches due to Git’s branching model. Developing, merging, and deleting a particular takes just a few seconds. Plus, users can form a branch whenever they wish to test out a new idea, and delete it quickly in case it doesn’t live up to expectations. Perhaps the most surprising aspect is, Git’s internal data formatting is capable of supporting dates beyond 2100.

 

  1. Kubernetes

Google’s Kubernetes is an incredibly powerful system offering horizontal scaling features to Windows system admins. Now, depending on the CPU usage, they can control a user interface to scale the app up and down with a single command. Kubernetes is capable of automating functions like scaling, deployment, and management of containerized apps. Thanks to this tool, sysadmins can place containers as per their infrastructure and other requirements automatically without losing any of their availability.

Nodes are servers in Kubernetes that configure container networking and take care of assigned workloads. Using the Kubernetes, the nodes stay connected to the cluster group. When a container fails to respond to the user-defined source, it gets removed. And if a particular container fails, it is immediately restarted. Upon the death of nodes, they are replaced and rescheduled.

 

 

A unique IP address is assigned to containers with Kubernetes, while a set of containers gets one DNS name. So, creating clusters only requires two commands.

 

  1. Eclipse

One of the most commonly used integrated development environments (IDEs), Eclipse started off as a Java development tool but soon evolved into something that could be used to create apps in other programming languages, such as Perl, PHP, Python, C/C++. Eclipse’s cloud versions support web technologies, like HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. And system administrators are benefitted from the support of more than 250 open source projects, most of which are connected to development tools.

 

  1. Docker

 

 

Developed using open source technology, Docker addresses different kinds of infrastructure and applications for both developers and system administrators. Now, apps can be created easily, deployed, and then run in virtual containers with Linux servers. Due to the low overhead and small footprint, sysadmins enjoy plenty of flexibility and require fewer systems. If you are moderately skilled in developing software, Docker can be used to create Linux container easily. All that is required is a working Dockerfile and Docker setup.

 

There are two editions of Docker available – the Community Edition and the Enterprise Edition. While the former provides developers with the tools necessary to create applications, the latter offers multi-architecture operations to IT. Many big tech companies like Microsoft and Red Hat use Docker in collaboration with their services.

 

  1. PowerShell

This is a task-based scripting language and command-line shell developed by Microsoft and built using the .NET framework. System administrators use PowerShell to control and automate Windows administration. Loaded with amazing features, like Get-Module, Get-Help, remote management, among others, PowerShell allows system administrators to remotely manage and run Windows PCs, Windows Server, and PowerShell commands or access complete PowerShell sessions on Windows.

 

To use this remote management tool, you must download Remove Server Administration Tools Active Directory PowerShell module on your system along with the WinRM tool. Due to the Filter parameter, you can apply filters in PowerShell and locate what you’re searching for easily.

 

  1. NetBeans

A well-known open source IDE, NetBeans allows system administrators to develop mobile, web, and desktop applications quickly and easily. The major features include code generating, code editing, debugging tools, a GUI builder, etc. NetBeans supports JavaScript, HTML5, Java, PHP, and C/C++. The small size of this admin tool makes installation simple and convenient; all you need to do is download the program and install it. The IDE features are all fully-integrated, which means you won’t have to hunt anymore for plug-ins. Plus, all the features work simultaneously upon launching NetBeans.

  1. Vim

 

 

Vi Improved, popularly known as Vim, is an open source text editing app that supports command-line interface, and apps in a graphical user interface (GUI). Vim offers plugin support and system for numerous file formats and programming languages. It is quite speedy and works great on its own as the tool relies less on Cntrl/Alt sequences, enabling you to focus more on the modes. Vim also boasts of great keyboard macro facility for automating editing tasks. Developers might take a while to get the hang of this tool, but once they do, they will realize just how versatile Vim is.

 

  1. Bootstrap

Earlier known as Twitter Blueprint, the Bootstrap framework was developed by Twitter developers to improve reliability throughout open source toolkits. Thanks to Bootstrap, you can develop CSS, HTML, and JavaScript-based apps quickly and efficiently. The framework features a 12-column grid system and a responsive layout for dynamically adjusting the site to a compatible screen resolution. The results work consistently across different browsers and the output is uniform.  A lot of customization options are present, and if you encounter any issues, you can seek help from the extended support community.

 

  1. Cordova

This free Apache-sponsored open source tool can be used for developing mobile apps with JS, CSS, and HTML. Cordova wraps the application into a native container so it can access system functions across different platforms. The best part is, moderately-skilled web developers don’t need to learn any new programming languages. Prototyping can also be done fairly quickly. Apart from the various library options, you can create vector graphics to design specifications.

 

 

Any system administrator worth his salt will know that certain tools are important for the job as well as peace of mind since they make him more agile and efficient. The more you become familiar with those tools, the more you can improve upon your OS’ default set of tools and perform various functions.

 

 

Author: Rahul Sharma

Top Free VDI System Administration Tools to Have In Your Kitty

Successful implementation of virtual desktop infrastructure in your enterprise means you need to invest in sophisticated VDI tools. Also, to manage the VDI implementation, you need several related tools. The costs can truly be inhibitory for several businesses. However, it doesn’t mean you need to wait before VDI becomes significantly cheaper than what it costs today. And that’s because you can use open source VDI solutions, as well as network monitoring and performance optimization tools you need alongside. Some of these tools are so good that they’re used by system admins even in enterprises where they’d get premium tools without any budgetary constraints to impede their requests. In this guide, we’ve covered a variety of VDI implementation and management tools; so read on.

 

 

Xen Project

Many commercial server virtualizations are based on Xen Project. Also, several hardware appliances and cloud-based solution use Xen Project as a base. Citrix XenDesktop, for instance, is XEN based. The platform typically hosts Linux guests, although you can find drivers for other operating systems.

 

Setting up Xen is easy, hassle-free, and quick. There were times when ‘virtual server’ was almost synonymous with Xen. The key to Xen’s success is that it is separated from the OS, and hence delivers tremendous security. It also means that using Xen, system admins can run any OS in the virtualized environment.

 

With Xen, you can allocate dedicated resources to each virtual machine, and fire up several VMs simultaneously. Different VMs can have different OS and configuration settings.

 

Process Monitor (ProcMon)

Process Monitor is amongst the most popular process level monitoring tool for Windows. It shows real-time registry and process level activity, file system information, and thread activity. The best of two well-known system utilities – Regmon and Filemon – come together in a single package in the form of ProcMon.

If you need deep insights into the processes running on your virtual machines, servers, and computers, trust Process Monitor. It helps VDI system admins identify the files accessed when a report is generated, the registry keys added when an application kicks into action, and the network traffic generated by each process.

Expert system admins accomplish a lot more with process monitor, right from identifying applications that pose significant resource demands, to identifying unauthorized and malware-initiated processes. Trust Process Manager to serve as a core utility for the purpose of systems troubleshooting.

 

 

WinDirStat

Since you’re here looking for free tools, we assume you’d also want to delay storage purchases, and hence need a tool to view disk usage stats and clean up disk space. WinDirStat does all this for you, and some more.

On starting up, this software reads the entire directory tree once and presents it in 3 intuitive views.

  • Directory list: Tree view of Windows Explorer, sorted on the basis of file/sub-tree sizes
  • Treemap: Whole contents of the directory in plain view
  • Extension list: A sort of a legend shows stats related to different file types

The color-coded representation of files and directories, arranged as per file types, helps you quickly identify culprit files, followed by their quick and easy clean up from the directory.

 

iPerf

Here’s a popular tool that network and system admins can use to measure User Datagram Protocol bandwidth and TCP bandwidth performance. Basic iPerf commands help network admins find tremendous insights into the network’s bandwidth availability. Also, you get useful information related to network delays, jitters, and data loss.

IPerf helps system admins find out maximum TCP bandwidth, issues reports on maximum segment size and the maximum transmission units. IPerf can work in multithreaded mode, for several connections, simultaneously. Also, it can help report delay jitter, packet loss, and can create very specific UDP bandwidth streams.

System admins find it highly useful to remember or keep a list of iPerf commands. With these commands, you can set any computer as a server, and the other as a server. This lets admins find out information such as network switch capacity, wireless router capacity, etc. In this manner, iPerf helps you understand the practical performance of your network devices.

 

 

VMware OS Optimization Tool

Windows continues to be among the more widely used Oss for enterprise IT across the globe. Windows settings can have a massive impact on the VDI environment for your company. The system performance, as well as maximum capacity limits, can be enhanced or disrupted because of the different Windows settings.

This is where OS Optimization Tool comes to the fore. This tool lets you use Windows Horizon View to optimize Windows 7 and subsequent versions. The tool brings to you some customizable templates for enabling and disabling Windows services and features as per the best practices and recommendations relevant for VMware. For instance, this will help you disable unnecessary services, and that can go a long way in improving system performance.

Among Its many features are local analysis and optimization, remote analysis, template management, and optimization history. Also, you’ll be able to find public templates that could help you quickly experiment with different configurations, and see which suits your needs the best.

 

Microsoft and Amazon’s Free Solutions

Apart from the free solutions discussed above, there are some other options too, which are for free, but only for a limited time, or with feature limitations. For instance, there’s a free version of Hyper-V that lets system admins set up fully functional host servers without the need to pay any license fees. However, they can’t host Windows accounts, although Linux Guest can be hosted. Amazon Workspaces is another option, considering it offers a free package wherein users get two bundled workspaces with usage rights of up to 40 hours a month. The offer, however, remains for two months, after which you need to upgrade.

 

Concluding Remarks

Implementation and management of VDI in your business don’t always mean you need to spend a lot of money. With the kind of free tools discussed in this guide, you can knock off a large chunk of the costs involved, and experience the benefits of VDI without upturning your IT budget for the year.

Open Source Tools worth the Attention of Every Windows System Admin

Windows system admins need a lot of tools to manage network and infrastructure. For startups and SMBs, it’s often required that system admins work using open source tools.

Of course, open source system admin tools are free of cost. That, however, is not all, because you need these tools to fulfill at least these basic criteria:

 

  • Must fulfill the basic operational performance criteria
  • Must be intuitive and easy to learn, preferably with a lot of web-based knowledge bases, such as online communities and forums
  • Should be super secure
  • Must have regular upgrades (check the number of upgrades and releases in the last 12 months)
  • Should work with a large number of Internet protocols

 

Next, let’s tell you about some of the must-have open source tools for system admins.

 

 

 

WireShark

Among the most popular and widely used network protocol analyzers, WireShark began as a project in 1998 and has continued to blossom because of contributions of networking experts from across the globe. WireShark is, in fact, the preferred system admins tool for government agencies, educational institutes, and non-profit institutions in several countries.

The kind of microscopic insights that this software offers system admins is essentially unmatched. It supports hundreds of protocols already, and the support set is constantly expanding. With offline analysis and live capturing, multi-platform compatibility, rich VoIP analyses, decryption support for most protocols, industry benchmark display filters, and a GUI to help you browse network traffic data, WireShark is all that system admin can ask for, and then some.

To make analyses quicker and more intuitive, you can apply color codes to packet lists and can export outputs to XML, plain text, CSV, and PostScript.

 

 

 

Putty

Ever since it became available for system admins in 1999, Putty has been the go-to terminal application for Windows systems. With Putty, you can access other terminals via command line interface. The interface allows you to connect to routers using telnet, SSH, and also serial connections. Also, it offers secure file transfer via SCP and SFTP.

 

Though there’s no scripting option, Putty can be customized to suit the system admins specific requirements, and that’s one of its special features. If you need to connect to remote systems on a regular basis, go for Putty. This open source software continues to enjoy a lot of popularity in the system admin community because there are fairly regular upgrades and a lot of online communities and forums that act as knowledge bases.

 

 

Mail Archiva

 

Email compliance has a visually impressive face, and that’s courtesy Mail Archiva, which has undergone a major facelift in its most recent version. You can push emails from Exchange to Mail Archiva, or use IMAP to retrieve emails from Exchange. You can access Mail Archiva in one of three configurations – cloud, ISP, and on-premise.

Among its most value adding features is predictive coding to automate the process of finding important documents from a larger mix, synonym search, finding similar documents and attachments, drag and drop of export files from desktop on to the export dialog box, and quick attachment peek (to check the contents of the attachment without downloading it.

The latest version of Mail Archiva offers impressive analytics, and the console now comes with icons, which makes the user experience all the more enriched.

 

Exchange 2013 RBAC Manager

For system admins working with role-based access control and Exchange, Exchange 2013 RBAC Manager is a must-have. Also called RBAC Editor GUI, this tool essentially works to overcome the absence of a GUI that system admins could use to work with the new role-based admin side of Exchange. Exchange 2013 RBAC Manager is built using C#; it uses Powershell in the backend to let you create roles in Exchange 2013 and manage your role related activities. RBAC administration doesn’t get any simpler than this. The RBAC support community is growing strong, which has made it all the most popular with system admins.

 

Performance Analysis of Logs (PAL) tool

Expect PAL to be your best friend if you need to read performance monitor counter logs. PAL analyzes them using known thresholds relating to majority popular Windows products such as Active Directory, Exchange, and Share Point. The intuitive GUI of PAL helps you create batch files for the PAL script. You can easily generate HTML reports which are easy to copy and paste into other applications. The tool has been developed using Powershell script.

 

Squiggle

System admins need intuitive and feature-rich communication tools to be able to collaborate among themselves. Squiggle is growing in popularity, particularly for system admins in small businesses that don’t use Microsoft Lync or Skype. With Squiggle, system admins can even connect two LANs across different sub-networks. Group chat, broadcast chat, private chat – you name it, and the tool has it.

You don’t even need to install Squiggle; it’s basically a serverless peer to peer chat. Trust Squiggle to manage multiple high-speed transfers simultaneously. Squiggle offers you emoticons, spell checker, and audio alerts; it’s as good a text messaging tool as you’d ask for. You can even use it for voice chat, show pictures in it, access contact groups, and see chat history.

 

NTOP

This open source network traffic monitoring tool helps system admins understand network usage in real time. Much like UNIX top command, it helps system admins identify big bandwidth consumers by preparing intuitive network utilization graphs such as MRTG and Cacti. You can use NetFlow and Flow data as input for analysis. Operating system sniffing and user identity indications come in very handy for system admins. System admins trust Ntop for network planning and optimization, and for the detection of network security violations. Ntop works with most Internet protocols provides RRD support for the purpose of storing traffic information per host and supports multiple network interfaces.

 

Concluding Remarks

All the open source tools discussed in this guide are among the best in their categories, are regularly upgraded, have ample online documentation and knowledge bases, and secure. Start using them today.

 

 

Author: Rahul Sharma

Install and Upgrade FileCloud in Linux With A Single Script

 

Installing software works differently on Linux. Instead of visiting a website, you will need to get it from repositories with its package manager. This sounds complicated but is actually simpler. FileCloud made it much more simple to install/upgrade it on your Linux system. All you have to do is run a script and the script will automatically fetch the OS disregard of Debian or rpm version and will install/upgrade the FileCloud instance.

Installer

This Installation will include
1. Supports from Ubuntu 16.04 LTS, RHEL 7 and CentOS 7, Debian 8(Jessie)
2. EOF in Ubuntu Trusty 14.04 and Below
3. Comes with GUI
4. Automatic Installation of SOLR, PREVIEW, CRONJOB(Only GUI Configuration is Required)
5. Includes LibreOffice version 6.0.2.1
8. The script logs the output to /var/log
9. Installs PHP7.1 and IONCUBE v10.2
10. Introduction of FileCloud CLI

Upgrader

1. Single Script upgrader
2. Logging Enabled
3. Database backup and Webroot Backup
4. Comes with GUI Upgrader
5. Automatically installs FileCloud CLI if not present
6. Upgrades LibreOffice to 6.0.2.1

Note: If your FileCloud Instance is running on Ubuntu 14.04 or Older versions you will need to do the following steps to upgrade it to v18.1

* Install a new FileCloud v18.1 Instance on Ubuntu 16.04
* Migrate the Database and the Manage Storage path to the freshly installed FileCloud Instance.

 

FileCloud CLI

Starting from v18.1, FileCloud is introducing a new CLI tool for Linux Distros: filecloudcp

filecloudcp will help you to find the current version running on the server, check for updates, and you can upgrade your FileCloud instance from command line itself

filecloudcp will have the below usage:

# filecloudcp

usage: filecloudcp

-v | –version : Show the current version of FileCloud installed
-c | –checkforupgrade : Checks for FileCloud Upgrades
-u | –runupgrade : Upgrades FileCloud Version
-p | –resetpassword : Performs FileCloud Admin Password
-h | –help : This message

For more details on the installation and upgrade process visit  FileCloud

The Qualities That Make a System Admin an Asset for an Enterprise

The job of a system administrator is somewhat different from the job of a dedicated IT consultant with expertise in a specific technology. System administrators are entrusted with the responsibility of server maintenance, performance monitoring, security upkeep, and hardware upgrades. Whenever a server problem arises, it’s expected that more than a few IT systems and related processes with being negatively impacted. Also, this means that dozens (or even hundreds) of end users will be shouting out, calling for immediate support, and in general, making life tough for the system administrators. Because of the hands-on nature of a system administrator’s job, it’s recommended that you look for certain qualities in candidates who’ve applied for openings of a system administrator’s role in your company. Also, skill enhancement training must focus on nurturing and strengthening these qualities in system administrators.

 

Reliable Strong Technical Knowledge

There’s absolutely no alternative for a system administrator. He has to be at least above average in his understanding of technologies, processes, systems, and hardware and must have a parallel learning track that leads to subject matter expertise. This entails:

  • Understanding of operating systems, applications, services, and organizational processes
  • Earning highly relevant and updated technical certifications such as RHCE and MCSE
  • Furthering one’s understanding of cloud computing technologies, virtualization, and networking, all the time.

At any stage, each of your systems administration teams must have a few technical experts who can collectively be relied upon to address any kinds of technical issues in the processes they own.

Enterprises generally use three gates to qualify high potential system administrators:

  • Undergraduate Degree Holders with specialization in computer science/IT
  • System admins certified by a credible agency
  • System admins with experience of working in an enterprise with similar IT infrastructure as yours.

A Good Sense of Judgement

Across the globe, there’s call and clamor for more innovation in how IT personnel perform their jobs. For system administrators, however, the propensity to innovate must take a back seat to a sense of operational discipline. Remember, it was a manual error done by a system administrator that causes Amazon S3 outage in February 2017. Enterprises must seek to deploy dedicated system administration experts to innovate to create new products and let those with a well-developed intuition and judgment take care of operations. Everything that a system administrator does has ripple effects that can be amplified and often become too gigantic to control. However, a good sense of judgment helps them stay in control when the going gets tough.

Need to Work With Non-Technical Staff, Patiently

Ever so often, the people who report a problem with IT systems, are themselves not skilled in how basic enterprise technologies work. When a system administrator has to work along with such individuals, they must be able to mold their language in a way that the other persons are able to understand. This also calls upon system administrators to exercise a lot of patience, so that they are able to draw our important information from the end users. This, in turn, can help administrators isolate the potential problem areas and shorten the lifetime of analysis and solution implementation significantly.

 

 

Discipline

Let’s face it – monitoring is a crucial component of a system administrator’s job. Apart from this, system admins need to drive efforts to improve system performance and do so by checking the impact of one set of configurations versus the other. Then, they need to make important decisions around balancing the IT applications’ computing resources need, security considerations, etc. All this requires admins to perform several experiments and tests on non-production systems. Monitoring devices, applications, business processes, and services, apart from everything else, calls for a lot of discipline among system administrators. This is in spite of there being advanced monitoring and reporting tools. The working hours, particularly during upgrades and critical issues, can be taxing, and it’s only with unflinching discipline that admins can truly read monitoring results and take appropriate actions.

 

Understanding of Procedural and Management Components

Design, delivery, and lifecycle management of IT services is an emerging discipline. ITIL, COBIT, and similar frameworks capture the essence of this discipline. Aligning existing IT practices with the best practices entailed in these frameworks is guaranteed to help an organization achieve its IT and linked (financial and operational) objectives. System admins, particularly, need to be well-versed with the tenets of these frameworks. This helps a system admin to contextualize everything he/she does. These frameworks help administrators understand the vision of the CIO, and assist them in taking tough decisions (from equally feasible and practical options) when the need arises. Understanding of procedural components, adherence to best practices, and appreciation of the basics of project management can truly make a system admin a pillar of the team he/she is a part of.

Communication Skills

A system administrator might not think of this skill as an important one to acquire in the current context of his/her work. However, IT leaders understand how they need to be prepared to promote meritorious candidates internally to higher roles within the same teams. This also means that a system admin who spends most of the working hours in a server room might also be the one transitioning enterprise specific knowledge to new hiree. Showcasing the merits of a new web server upgrade, explaining to a web developer that his method of coding will cause memory leaks, and presenting an idea to managers – all these will happen in the lifetime of a system admin, and sooner than he/she might expect. The best way to be prepared – upgrade your communication and presentation skills.

Concluding Remarks

System administrators are the lifeline of an IT heavy enterprise. These are the people that keep the computing engines in order. They also, of course, need to build upon their existing skills and acquire new ones to keep on adding value to their teams and the organization. The skills and qualities outlined in this guide deserve the attention of any system admin, and the HR and IT management personnel in charge of their skill enhancement.

 

 

Author: Rahul Sharma

Secure File Sharing with Clients – Best Practices and Guidelines for Users and Employees

File Sharing is a common use case in modern enterprises & professional offices. But careless file sharing by employees can put an organization’s intellectual property in jeopardy. It can also expose the organizations to business & legal risks. So one of the critical roles of system administrators is to educate their employees about secure file sharing practices. Here we list 10 common sense guidelines that can help you keep your organization files secure and safe.

Secure File Sharing with Clients –  Guidelines for Employees

1. When you share a file with your client, always set an expiry date for the file share.

Secure file sharing with expiry date

Secure file sharing with an expiry date

2. When you share a sensitive file with the client, make sure your share is protected by a strong password.

Secure file sharing with password protection

Secure file sharing with password protection

3. Some secure enterprise file sharing solutions like FileCloud offers two options: public and private file shares. Always use private file shares when you share a sensitive file. Private file shares require the receiving party to have an account in the file sharing system. It allows for strong auditing and security.

Private file share

Private File Share

4. When you receive files from clients, set a maximum upload limit for the file share.

Secure file sharing - Upoad size limit

Secure file sharing – Upload size limit

5. Always follow the principle of least privilege   when you share files. For Ex, don’t give upload permission if download permission is sufficient.

6. Before sharing any file, make sure the files don’t have personally identifiable information (PII) or protected health information (PHI)

7. Never share a top-level folder with clients. By default, a majority of the enterprise file sharing applications allow access to subfolders when your share a top folder. It is a big risk.

8. If your use-case is to securely receive files from your clients, don’t give permissions to download and view files from the share.

Secure file sharing - Upload only option

Secure file sharing – Upload only option

9. Always enable file change notifications when you share a folder. It helps you to receive timely notifications of views, uploads and downloads.

Secure file sharing - file change notification

Secure file sharing – file change notification

10. Periodically check your file share analytics and make sure the files are downloaded by intended recipients.

These guidelines are simple to follow and at the same time powerful. It will help you to increase the security of file shares.

Many file-sharing applications are available in the market. But make sure when you choose a solution, it is not consumer grade. Most consumer-grade file sharing solutions are optimized for easy file sharing. Security is an afterthought for these solutions.

FileCloud offers the industry’s most powerful, secure enterprise file sharing solution. specifically built for businesses. You can register for a free trial here.

You don’t need to take our word. Please try it yourself and you will find why we are growing faster than dropbox and Box.