Windows Insider

Get a Grip on Those Gripes

From software packaging to lying users, the world can be an annoying place for IT admins.

Ever get just flat out pissed off about something in IT? I sure do. Often, the problem is that there is little we can do to fundamentally change what is bugging us. Or is there?

This month we're giving you the chance to sound off on the issues that irk you the most. In sifting through dozens of responses, which again proves systems administrators can be a vocal bunch, we learn a lot about what's bothering you. Airing out some of these issues may inspire other administrators to grapple anew with some of their thornier problems.

We'll start off with IT Specialist Jeremy Soto in Heidelberg, Germany, who has a beef with software packaging. "Poor installation and upgrade packages are the worst," he writes. "Why don't all vendors use just one install engine like InstallShield or MSI that supports truly quiet installs and provides options for single file installation? When I attempt to do a background network installation [using tools like Systems Management Server or Altiris], some of these packages are a major challenge."

Software companies take note: If you're still creating your own custom installation applications that don't support silent installation, meet me after class. Jeremy's rant is a valid one. Admins who use software management systems struggle with them all the time. If you don't yet support a silent installation, please make it a high priority in your next release. And make sure you post the silent command-line switches prominently on your Web site where people can find them.

A Question of Semantics
Kyle Beckman, Systems Support Specialist from Atlanta, Ga., has a problem with the wording in the Windows Group Policy. "I don't understand why Microsoft has so many double negatives for the wording in Group Policy. ‘Allow access' to something seems the most understandable way to do it."

Group Policy wording is extremely precise, but Kyle's impression is correct. Interpreting the meaning of the setting sometimes requires the skill of a master logician. What exactly happens when you Disable the Do Not Process The Run Once list? Only the help file knows.

Ron Elstun is a CAD Systems Administrator from Littleton, Co., who has an interesting problem actually created by Microsoft. Why, he asks, did the company change its Windows XP file sorting? He notes that Windows 2000 and earlier versions sort the following files [character-by-character] in this order:

11200.dwg
220.dwg
31.dwg

But with XP, the files sort numbers as:

31.dwg
220.dwg
11200.dwg

"This drives me crazy," he says, "since I work with CAD files that are named with numbers 99 per cent of the time. The first two or three numbers determine the type of drawing (electrical, mechanical, piping, etc.)."

This gripe actually has a fix. There's a registry key you can modify to revert the sorting algorithm back to the old Windows 2000 sort-by-character style. To do this, in the registry key type the following: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESoftware\Microsoft\WindowsCurrentversion\Policies\Explorer, this creates a new DWORD value named NoStrCmpLogical. Once you do this, then set the data to 1.

Liar, Liar Pants on Fire
Peter Cousins is in technical support in England and asks the age-old question, "Why do users lie during the diagnostic process [when we're trying to fix their computer]? Either way they lose," he says. "If their lying ensures you can't identify the problem, then their computer remains broken. If you identify the fault, then you know they have lied! So why do they do it?"

It's been said that a job in technical support is equal parts scientist, investigator and psychologist. Our user population has a very real belief that IT's looking over their shoulder and that any problem with their computer could be an RPE -- Resume Producing Event. Consequently, they're given incentive to make up stories about how their computer broke.

On the other hand, we in IT can be a little holier-than-thou when we're trying to fix someone else's machine. It's difficult to bite your tongue when you know that someone's really screwed the pooch, but it's also our job to get it fixed. In response, we sometimes decide to play the role of psychologist. So get them on the couch, have them tell you about their mother and figure out the real reason for the problem.

Role Playing
David Jackson from Chicago has a beef with how companies don't match roles with titles. "What bothers me is how companies classify jobs inappropriately. A software developer should be paid as a developer, and a DBA should be paid as a DBA. Too often companies use job titles that don't match the tasks performed, and then use those titles as an excuse to pay less than market value."

Salary.com reports the national average for median salary of a DBA is $83,952, while for a Web Software Developer that figure drops to $68,970. What's notable here is that most Web software developers also deal with databases in writing their code.

Sites like Salary.com are interesting because while their data has given ammunition to job seekers, they also supply that same ammunition to employers. This means both sides of the negotiating table can escalate the debate.

Fun-House Mirror
Lastly, I have one gripe about disaster recovery as it relates to storage area networks (SANs). High-end storage manufacturers sell high-reliability disk arrays that cost millions to implement. Unfortunately, the little guys with five or 10 servers in their networks are still stuck with the same old RAID options, namely RAID 1 and RAID 5.

What I'd like to see out of the major server manufacturers is a poor-man's equivalent of EMC's Business Continuity Volume, also referred to as the "third mirror." Imagine this scenario: You set up all your servers as a RAID 1 mirror for the system and apps drive, but instead of stopping there, you add a third disk into that two-disk RAID 1 set. This disk is also in the mirror set, but it mirrors itself to the primary pair perhaps once a day at three in the morning.

Why is this cool? Well, if during the day some vulnerability's concept code stops being conceptual and you get hacked, a regular RAID 1 isn't going to help you. Once the virus infects the machine, the RAID controller conveniently copies the virus to both disks in the mirror. This usually means a reinstall for you.

But if you had our "third mirror" in place, the fix would involve little more than restarting the server with the third drive as the primary. This would effectively and immediately take you back in time to that last snapshot at three in the morning. The solution would take a few more hard drives, but a few more hard drives is a lot cheaper than a whole SAN.

Still royally ticked off and want to vent? Drop me a line. It's a hard world out there, and we systems administrators have to stick together.

About the Author

Greg Shields is Author / Evangelist with www.PluralSight.com, and is a globally-recognized expert on systems management, virtualization, and cloud technologies. A multiple-year recipient of the Microsoft MVP, VMware vExpert, and Citrix CTP awards, Greg is a contributing editor for Redmond Magazine and Virtualization Review Magazine, and is a frequent speaker at IT conferences worldwide. Reach him on Twitter at @ConcentratdGreg.

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