True Life Tale: Remote Support at All Hours of the Day

Users who travel expect 24/7 support on the road too.

I'm in one of those positions where I do help desk support, server support, Exchange support and SQL Server support for more than 350 users and 30 servers. My luck increased last year when we started to offer up laptops to our execs.

Here's the situation: Exec A goes on a business trip and he takes his laptop without letting me know or finding out what type of connection he'll have at the hotel. He gets there and we find out the hotel has dial-up. We give Exec A external access via a Citrix server; he calls me on my cell to fix his Internet connection and connect him to Citrix, neither of which he has used before.

My first task was to walk him — a non-technical user — through adding a dial-up connection to his laptop, adding a modem and trying to connect to Citrix. I'm talking on my cell phone and driving down the road and trying to explain to him how to cancel the Internet Explorer window when it refuses to open, then talk him through the process of right-clicking an icon to select Properties so he can add the dial-up connection.

Next step: launching IE, then going to the Citrix site and loading the ICA32 client. He wasn't completely lost by this time. I arrived home so I launched IE and tried to walk him through adding and installing the client. It wasn't working, so I asked him to click on the Start button and click Run, type "cmd" and "ipconfig /all" so we could run VNC (luckily, I did install this for network support before he left).

I needed that IP. Once I had that I launched VNC and was able to connect to him (yes, it was very slow). Once his laptop connected, I was able to start the install. I had to shut down on my end a couple of times to refresh my screen. With ICA installed, I was able to launch IE again, connect to our Citrix box and set up his client on the Citrix server. Thinking I was done, I bid him good night.

Not five minutes later he is calling and an Excel add-in isn't working. I log into our Citrix server as the user to add the user DSN, then log in as myself to run the install, and then I ran VNC to connect to him. Once I connected with VNC again I connected to the server, set up the mail and Excel clients. This was about two and half hours later and he informed me he was off to bed and should be back tomorrow afternoon.

[For his tale, Rick received Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Unleashed, courtesy of Addison Wesley. Submit your tale to: with "True Life Tale" on the subject line of your message.]

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Reader Comments:

Thu, Oct 19, 2006 bentech Phoenix, AZ

Even the best thought out plans can go awry. This article wasn't about the carefully planned deployment of a notebook... It was about how a tech in the trenches was able to utilize remote access technology to fix an issue that would have taken ages to walk someone through over the telephone. Instead of concentrating on the lack of planning, why don't we look at the details of what was done and make some good observations, suggestions, tips, etc that the rest of us can use in a similar situation....

Remote access rules!

Thu, Oct 14, 2004 Wile E. Coyote Seattle

I gotta agree with Ben Kanobe, We mke sure we buy all laptops, ( or no support) and we image all the laptops (all users have a dial up connection already made to our modem pool) and we have published our policies. Does this stop the callls? no but I can choose whom to charge and whom to not charge when they call me.
Are you a nice guy or gal who is friendly, probably no charge is this the fourth time this year you "forgot" to inform us check ahead? Oh yeah I am chargeing time to you. at overtime rates.

Mon, Oct 4, 2004 Ben Kanobe California

If you got em smoke em!

Your best bet is setting up default user profiles on laptops so that no matter who logs in or where they go, they have everything they need to do their job. No laptop should be given out without some sort of remote connection. Make sure all laptops given out are equipped with some of your personal favorites: Citrix, RAS, Dial up, and of course my all time fav, VPN!!!

Take the time and do it right the first time!!!

Personal Note: I prefer to use hard drive imaging and default user profiles. I have found that this tactic and not allowing users to be local admins of their machines has cut support calls in half at my company. When I send a computer out it is ready for the world!

Tue, Sep 28, 2004 Anonymous NY

Pete405 is correct. There would have been a problem with my phone and the exec would have cut-of. I've seen may a tech (it's always the techs) go above and beyond and then constantly complain about doing it. My wife does that, volunteer for something then get all upset over it. DON"T DO IT. You won't get fired for it. and if you do , remember it's because everyone is exespendible. The only time I would do it is when the user is a friend of mine or has control of my money.

Tue, Sep 28, 2004 Loyal Anonymous

pete405 is correct in a perfect world. Good planning can prevent many IT problems, but most IT Pros are not ranked high enough in the company to influence Directors and VP's of certain departments. Great policies get ignored, and never enforced, unless someone wants to go head hunting. The best we can do is put on a smile, do our best, and learn not to answer the phone from time to time. Everyone deserves family time at home, and lack of planning on their behalf does not make an emergency on your behalf. The first time they spend a trip without access, they will learn to make arrangements with you next time in advance.

Mon, Sep 27, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

pete405, if only we were all as lucky to decide. at our company we had to decide to offer laptops a few years ago and they have been problems ever since. policies only work if managers abide by them too.

Sun, Sep 26, 2004 pete405 Anonymous

This is a typical example of the difference between an IT technician and an IT professional. The tech will expend a ridiculous amount of time and enegry attempting to put out self-created fires, without any kind of big picture thinking.
You do not "decide to offer up laptops". You come up with a plan to meet a business need, you do the research necessary to decide what level of service they require, then you pitch a full-blown solution to management saying Option A costs X, Option B costs Y, and Option C (24-hour support) costs Z and these are the requirements for each option.
Don't whine about being on call 24-7 or how the user is difficult or didn't do what is required. If you need a laptop 24-hours before a trip so you can do work on it, put a policy into place, publish it, and when you get the 8:30pm phone call you are prepared for it. I have seen far too many good bit-pushers who have no idea how run an IT shop. They quickly burn out.

Fri, Sep 24, 2004 Been there - still there. Dallas - TX

I've had to do this a million times over the years too. I've found that the only way to make them (execs) learn is to force them to be inconvenienced.

For instance, there have been many times where I force them to use a modem connection knowing full well the hotel has high speed. I tell them that in order to use high speed, they need to tell me before leaving so that I can "makes some changes" to their laptop or it won't work, and that every hotel requires something differnet. After a while, they're eager to give me the laptop before they leave on a trip!

Unfortunately, some have to learn the hard way. Manage up as well as down as they say...

Thu, Sep 23, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

You call that lucky? When I go home after my eight hour day, that's it for me.

Lucky you!

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