Making Users and Administrators Happy

Pleasing both camps can be a complicated task in itself. Here are a few tips that might help.

When it comes right down to it, you don't need complicated organization charts and maps to separate the IT factions. You can divide IT into two camps: users and administrators. Those who have no responsibility for keeping systems (other than their own) up and running are users, and everyone else is an administrator -- whether they want to be or not.

It's important for both camps to be happy, but what that entails can differ significantly for each side. We can examine myriad situations and implementations -- each with its own success or failure variables -- but since the focus of this column is integration, the topic will be confined to that. We'll look at users first, then administrators.

User Happiness
One of the keys that determine the success of any IT endeavor is winning the buy-in of the users. While you can ramble for days about how demanding and fickle this lot is, the fact is that sometimes, the little things you do for users can reap large dividends. To that end, what follows is a list of suggestions of rather simplistic means that have the potential to help make life easier for users.

Suggestion #1: Provide backup space. Everyone knows they should do backups, but no one wants to spend the time messing with them. With the price of storage as reasonable as it is today, it costs very little to open up enough storage space on a server for everyone to copy their important files and feel safe.

Note the word “copy.” One thing that slows down the adoption of good backup procedures is that no one wants to learn an archive program. If users can simply copy their files and let you do the backup from the server, they're far more likely to adopt it.

From the perspective of the user, the operating system on the machine being used to hold their backups is invisible. They should know whether it's a Linux server or a Windows machine, unless you choose to share that information for some reason.

Suggestion #2: Always use roaming files. The days of expecting a user to use one -- and only one -- workstation are numbered. Users move between departments, floors and buildings with great frequency, and the last thing they need is to be faced with a different desktop at each different location. Providing them with their familiar desktop's look and feel increases their comfort level and can help productivity.

For many years, it's been possible to store profiles on a server for the user to access, regardless of which machine they use on that server. One step above this is storing profiles on a central point that is accessible no matter where users log in -- something that's too often overlooked in mixed environments.

If, for example, you use Windows as your traditional network and have but a few Linux machines, it's common to store the profiles for those Linux machines locally, in a /home directory. If those users like to move around, however, you can change their home directory designation to any location that can be mounted (think /etc/fstab). Now, the same contents in the home directory appear regardless of which machine they use.

Conversely, for a mostly Linux network with only a handful of Windows machines, you can store the ntuser.dat and associated files anywhere on the network and achieve similar results.

Suggestion #3: Focus on print resources. Make sure that every printer is available to every user regardless of their operating system. Thanks to the Internet Printing Protocol, as well as CUPS, Samba and others, there's no reason why printers have to be isolated.

At one point, printers were among the most frustrating things to manage on the network. Thankfully, those days are now behind us, and the reasons -- as well as the excuses -- for segregating printers have vanished.

Suggestion #4: Enforce security. Users will grumble that security measures slow them down. They're right. That inconvenience, however, is nothing compared to the disastrous results that can come from tolerating lax security measures. It's important to educate users about why the security measures are there and then enforce them with full gusto. It may not make you well-liked, but being an administrator isn't a popularity contest.

Suggestion #5: Educate regularly. Speaking of educating your users -- communicating regularly with users and explaining issues from an IT perspective can help develop mutual respect. Remember: Many of the people with whom you work see you more often than your spouse does, and everyone realizes how important communication is there.

Regular communication can be encouraged by holding meetings (monthly brown-bag lunches), creating a newsletter, regularly adding to a blog or invoking any of a number of other options. Find the communication channel that's right for your organization and use it.

Administrator Happiness
One thing that makes administrators happy is being able to fully understand problems and implementing solutions that work with minimal complication. If the network is down, you want it up and running in the quickest way possible -- and in a way that also assures it won't go down again. In order to do that, you need to understand what caused it to go down in the first place and what can be done to keep it from ever happening again.

This ties directly in to knowledge. In past columns, we looked at different ways in which knowledge can be obtained: case studies, books, blogs and so on. This month, I'd like to open up another possibility: this column. I invite you to send in your questions related to operating system integration to integration@insightbb.com. While it's not possible to respond individually to each query, those that are asked on a regular basis will be answered/addressed in future columns starting next month.

About the Author

Emmett Dulaney is the author of several books on Linux, Unix and certification, including the Security+ Study Guide, Fourth Edition. He can be reached at eadulaney@comcast.net.

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