Effective Systems Administrators

I've worked with many systems administrators who haven't impressed me. Some of these colleagues had formal training and good experience but were unconventional or unpredictable. Training can give you the information you need to accomplish configuration changes, but you also need common sense and a healthy dose of caution to succeed in IT. I've also had the privilege of working with some top-notch systems administrators, and I'm beginning to realize what separates these professionals from the rest. In particular, good systems administrators are methodical about configuration and change management. How you implement and oversee change can say a lot about you and your approach on the job. Here are a few of the good habits I've observed that you can apply the next time you roll out a new application or migrate to a new platform: - Carefully research and document problems before making changes. - Don't make changes for the sake of change. - Have others sanity check your proposal before implementation, then test and retest the changes. - Explain the risks to management and IT colleagues before deployment. - Maintain good backups, and develop sound restore procedures. - Keep detailed configuration information for all systems. - Have a tested local Administrator username and password for all systems in case you lose any network connectivity. - Distribute a step-by-step procedure before rolling out significant changes. - Develop a what-if list of things that could go wrong and the appropriate fallback procedures. This list should include plans to address potential problems that might occur days later (e.g., a server failure). - Notify users well in advance of when a project will begin and end and of any planned outages. - Keep a written log of activities during the changes. - Carefully review logs to monitor system operation before and after implementing changes. - Test the results from a user's point of view. Use a nonprivileged user account from a typical workstation. - Coordinate with support staff and try to anticipate any user education needs that might arise. - Document the procedures and save these files for future use.

These suggestions should help you think about how to manage changes to your environment. But you can apply the principles behind these suggestions (e.g., anticipation, documentation, communication) to just about any endeavor you undertake.

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