Saturday, September 29, 2007

Yep, I'm the phone guy too - and I work Saturdays

In small companies, everyone assumes that the IT guy takes care of anything that uses electricity, even the phone system and everything associated with it. I don't mind. For the most part phone stuff is easy to handle. If it gets too complicated I call our phone vendor - the company that sold us the system. We don't have too many adds, moves and changes and the voice mail system is the same one I have used for the last twelve years through four companies.

I received an email this morning for one of our Saturday crew that staffs the charter scheduling desk. "Hey, Tim - I moved desks today so I decided to move my phone too." Uh, why would you do that - never mind. "So I plugged it in and it doesn't work. What did you do?" I kid you not. As if I did something to cause his phone to not work from 50 miles away. When I asked him what desk he moved to I remembered that the previous occupant of that desk had complained of a similar problem a few months back, right after a coffee spill.

He probably thought I was crazy when I told him to pull up the floor mat, unscrew the floor plate covering the phone and computer jacks and carefully pull all the wires out as far as he can without disconnecting anything. He emails back, "Hey, it's all wet under there. Could that be why the phone doesn't work?" Ya think? I'll bet somebody spilled another coke or cup of coffee on that floor mat and adjoining carpet area which seeped down into the floor jack for the phone.

So we air it out and things seem to work normal after awhile. I'll probably have to put in some new wiring when I get back into the office on Monday. This is the same guy who complains that I try to block his personal Mac from using our wireless network just because I don't like Macs. I don't dislike Macs - it's just that I'm a Microsoft guy and 95% of the rest of the world is too. He's also notorious for kidding me about the fact that we track all the web sites our users visit. I get nothing but abuse from some users. That's OK. It's all part of the job.

Friday, September 28, 2007

No, I'm not that Tim Malone - he's much younger

I noticed my blog finally showed up in Google today. I suppose it's vanity to look yourself up 0n Google, but you really should do it every so often. You may be suprised at what you find there, especially if you're an executive. I have been searching for years especially because I wanted to be sure that all traces of an old website I used to maintain had finally disappered. Yes, you can purge stuff about yourself from Google if you know how to do it.

Don't confuse me with that other Tim Malone computer guy. He's from Australia. He's also 19 years old and I'm a lot older. It looks like he's more successful than me since he already started and sold his first business. By his own admission he's an internet nut and a nerd. I too am an internet nut. My wife has affectionately called me a geek for most of our married life so I have a little in common with my namesake from Australia.

Intrestingly enough, if you Google Tim Malone today, the first web page that shows up is for "Tim Malone, M.Div, is an educator, retreat leader and spiritual director active in the Seattle community for the past 16 years." And then there's "A place called home - My family, our dog Brownie, and I live in South Central Minnesota. We call this home, and though we have lived in other areas, this remains home. Our extended families are here and this is what we know and expect."

So far I'm liking what I see when I Google my own name. These are guys like me who like the internet and like to express themselves creatively. Ah, but then there's the Tim Malone that shows up when you search for me in Google images. That is definately not me as I've never been in a gang or been photographed giving an Aryan salute. It's amazing what you can find when you Google your own name. That's why I had to use TMalone, MCSE on most everything -because my name has been taken.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A 32" monitor is not too big, is it?

The VP of Maintenance asked for a wall-mount monitor so the maintenance managers could see the status of all our aircraft in the air. We subscribe to a real-time tracking service, but it is too expensive to give everyone a subscription. Right now they have to get up and walk a few steps to the computer running Flight Explorer to see it.

After some negotiating, the CEO approved the purchase and I began shopping. I wanted a large screen model that could be seen from 30 feet away. So that meant a 30" screen or better. Plasma was out of the picture because I had a limited budget. I also wanted DVI, but had to settle for standard RGB at the price point I could afford - about $800.

I found a nice 32" model from LG Electronics (M3201C-BA) that fits the bill just perfectly. I bought another slightly smaller (27") LG model last year, for the maintenance library to view their aircraft schematics. It has served us well so I was predisposed to the LG brand. I found the one I wanted and began the negotiations with the suppliers.

I couldn't get them to go much less than $820 but got one of them to throw in some free freight and a reduced price on the wall mount hardware. Sold! Just have to set up an old retired computer with a wireless card to run the Flight Explorer software and we're in business. I bought the optional stand for $97 which we can use until we get it mounted on the wall.

Why we decided against shadow copies

One of the nice features of Server 2003 is the ability to make Shadow Copies of shared folders. Shadow Copy (aka VSS - Volume Snapshot Service) allows you to schedule snapshots of your data and then automatically save them. The users can then revert to a previous version of a file when they have a brain fart and overwrite or delete something accidentally.

While R2 of Server 2003 allows a new type of shadow copy called differential, which is actually much more efficient, we are still running Standard Edition SP2 on most of our servers. Thus we are stuck with the only option of scheduling a snapshot every so often - typically 7am and noon. You don't want to do it more often as it definitely affects I/O and therefore user annoyance.

While having a recent backup of a file elsewhere on the file server would come in handy, here's why we decided that implementing VSS would not be advantageous to our organization. VSS works best with a separate volume, preferably on a different physical disk. This improves performance and decreases the chances of data being overwritten on high I/O servers.

While we have about 150GB available on a 256GB array, it has all been configured in two volumes: the OS and data. We would have to completely wipe out and reconfigure our array in order to follow Microsoft best practices. I suppose I could turn on VSS with the existing volume configuration but with up to 64 available Shadow Copies disk space is quickly consumed.

Besides, how often do I really need to do a restore? I use Backup Exec and have a NAS with three days of backups always online. I can do a restore from any one of those or pull a tape from anytime over the past twenty days. My file sever is also overloaded with services right now so any more I/O while the shadow copies are created would be a real drag.

Conclusion: We decided that implementing Shadow Copies on our main file server is not a good idea for us a this time. If I were setting up a new file server and had the disk space to spare, I would set the array up properly and turn it on. Perhaps when we migrate to Server 2008 sometime next year we will take advantage of this cool feature.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Dear NameNotFound

I received this email today from a tech agency. Do you think maybe there could be something wrong with their mail merge skills?

"Dear Namenotfound: This is Deepak from Thinking-Minds, Inc. We are a consulting firm based at Kingstown, RI. Specializing in enterprise IT consulting and project staff augmentation for major Fortune 500 organizations and Big 3 consulting firms.

While scouting for a suitable resource, I came across your resume on web, which matched some of the requisite skills of the requirement. The details of the positions are as follows. Position : UNIX System Administrator located in Chicago, IL."

I'm registered on Dice, ComputerJobs, ComputerWork, Career Builder and several other sites that list tech jobs. I try to make it very clear in my listings that I am looking for local contracts in the evenings and weekends to build Microsoft networks with Small Business Server.

I also have my own website with my online resume that spells it out fairly clearly. I have a full-time job that I love, mainly because I get to work from home most of the time. Obviously these headhunters don't do much research or they would know that I'm in California, not Illinois.

Maybe Deepak needs to get a better Thinking Mind.

I'm beginning to see a pattern here

It seems like every entry I've made so far has something to do with Outlook and Exchange. Email issues are taking up more of my time each day than anything else. It's not that there is anything wrong with the email server - it's more the user expectations that are the issue.

I received an email from a remote user who said he couldn't receive any email on his laptop. Knowing that he carries a mobile email device I emailed him back and asked him to describe the symptoms. He wrote back, "it's just sitting there with this blue bar saying it's downloading."

"Hmmm...could it be that someone sent you an email with a large attachment? Maybe you should just wait it out," I suggested. "Nah, that couldn't be it," he said. "It has never taken this long before to download my email." Of course he knows nothing about the connection speeds at his hotel.

I receive the same email from him every five minutes, "Isn't there something you can do to speed it up?" I'm glad I've trained my users to use email for everything but the most urgent tech support requests. Otherwise he would have heard the exasperation in my voice.

Finally, he says he is going to go to supper and will be away from the keyboard for awhile. I tell him to be sure to leave the computer running and Outlook open. Maybe he will be surprised and his email download will finish by the time he gets back. I don't hear from him again.

Curiosity causes me to shoot him an email the next day (this morning). "Did you ever get all your email last night?" His response, "Yeah, I couldn't figure out what was wrong. Did you do something on your end to speed it up?" Sigh. It just doesn't do any good to try to explain.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The end-user is always right

I got a call today from a user complaining that she couldn't see one of our company contacts in her email address list when composing a new email in Outlook. At first she thought the person in charge of keeping the contact lists up to date had failed in her duties. I was able to see the contact OK and wondered why she couldn't.

It turns out that each Outlook client must be configured at the user workstation to include public contacts as Outlook address lists. Apparently she hadn't done this. Just right click on the public contact folder, select properties, Outlook address book tab, then check the box for 'Show this folder as an email address book'. Do the same for subfolders.

When I advised her of the procedure to do this, she asked, "Did I do something wrong?" I replied, "Of course not. I should have set this up for you in advance." Sigh. That's what computer guys are for, right? I suppose I should put stuff like this on our intranet. It keeps coming up over and over again. But then nobody reads the intranet even when I tell them the answers are there.

Hotfixes - what the publisher calls an 'oopsie'

We got to the bottom of the Symantec Backup Exec 11d problem with random Exchange Server mailboxes not getting backed up properly. It looks like they are being backed up - they just don't show up as a selectable mailbox when you try to restore them. The solution is to make sure you have installed all the latest hotfixes, which requires a reboot of the media server. Oh, and make sure you push out the remote agent to the Exchange Server. This is critical to making it work. Here are the reference documents: and

I know, this is boring stuff, but such is the life of an IT Manager. It can get real exciting when an executive calls and wants his deleted mail items restored and you discover that you are unable to do so because you haven't kept your backup software patched.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Backup Exec 11d still not perfect

One of the most basic needs of an enterprise is to ensure good backups. I have been using Symantec / Veritas Backup Exec for years. The product has gone through some growth pains lately. We are up to version 11d now.

We rely heavily on our backups. They are critical to the security of the business and the peace of mind of the IT Manager. I don't have to do a restore very often, but when I do, I sure expect the data to be there in a retrievable format.

One annoying little bug discovered this past week is that some mailboxes do not show up in the restore library selection. It seems that Backup Exec will arbitrarily choose which mailboxes in the database it will include for backup.

One of the first orders of business this week is to figure out the cause of the exclusions - there must be a logical reason, right? The product is fully patched with all the latest hotfixes and otherwise seems to work just fine. Symantec touts their product as being the best for protecting Exchange Server. Right now I'm a little bit disappointed in that claim.