Tuesday, September 25, 2007

An Evening of Essentials

Last night we held the first meeting of the fall for the Waterloo Wellington IT Professionals user group (photos on Flickr). A crowd of about 40-50 attended the event hosted by our local TriOS college in downtown Kitchener, Ontario. Our speaker was Rodney Buike, an IT Pro Advisor with Microsoft Canada. His topic for the evening was Microsoft's System Center Essentials, a system administrator's toolkit in a single package for managing small- to medium-sized IT operations.

Rodney's an experienced presenter and the topic was a timely one, so when you add on a few door prizes, some pop and pizza, and comfortable chairs, you've got the formula for a very good IT evening.

As Rodney pointed out, whether you manage a network of 25 personal computers or one of 2,000 personal computers, the issues of management are pretty much the same. You need a handle on the hardware and software assets, the status of hard drives and services on the servers, the situation with service packs and updates, and notifications and alerts to help you deal with all these issue proactively.

Most of us in small IT shops depend upon a number of point solutions to get the job done. In my own case, asset management is accomplished with the help of an Excel spreadsheet. There is no automatic discovery of assets or of changes in assets, just a spreadsheet with information that may or may not be up to date.

Again, service packs and operating system updates are handled, in my case, by Windows Server Update Services (WSUS), although I still have to manage most of the desktops by hand if users aren't compliant in leaving their notebooks and desktop computers on at night. I also have to do a lot of weekend server upgrades since weekend shift work varies week to week, thereby making a scheduled automatic server upgrade impossible.

Monitoring of essential services is outsourced and seems to work reasonably well, but I would still like all these essential services in a single tool instead of the assembly of point solutions. Rodney's presentation on System Center Essentials gave me a sense of what's possible.

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