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Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 8:49 am

Beginner Server Admin Inquiries / Tips

Fri Aug 08, 2014 7:13 pm

Greetings. I need some help and I'll try to be as brief and concise as possible. My organization has 30-40 computers and is switching from Windows 2003 R2 to 2012 R2. I've taken over the tasks of an outside IT company and only rely on them for occasional inquiries. I'm trying to reduce costs and the erroneous purchases they like to add to our bill.

My relevant skills (Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced)
  • General Computing Software/Hardware= Advanced
  • General Networking= Intermediate
  • Server Admin= Beginner
  • Networking Admin= Beginner

The IT company set up my old 2003 R2 server. The server manages all the DNS looks up and it seems to be more efficient to let it continue to do so(?). I've been managing Active Directory and GPO, and it seems like setting this up on a new server should be easy enough, especially if a lot of it is just mimicking what's already done. I've handled all the Enterprise software without issues, except the various components of Watchguard which is quite a bit beyond my knowledge (it seems the trained IT staff has trouble with it from time to time, and it looks to be more complicated than other Firewall solutions). I'm resigned to the fact that I'll need outside help to do all of the Watchguard setup. The IT company also want's to purchase Vsphere Essentials to manage some of the Enterprise software. I don't know anything about visualization software or the benefits it would provide outside of the occasional troublesome Enterprise software issues and easy rebooting; it seems like we could do just as well without it as we have for the last three servers.

I've been trying to brush up on all the server lingo and things I should know. It seems like setting up the various server components shouldn't be too hard overall to figure out. But today I learned that CAL's are a thing and I'd need to buy licenses to cover all our devices and components to keeps the BSA auditor's happy should they ever come a knocking. These seemingly well-known facts that I was completely unaware of start to make me doubt that I'm going to have my T's crossed when deployment comes in 1-2 months.

Where's a good place to get a crash course on server administration? I've actually considered pursuing some of Microsoft's MSA server training courses, but I don't know if this is a valid use of time.

Just would appreciate general thoughts, opinions, and tips to the many server admin's out there. I pretty much have to remain in a Windows environment and I wouldn't be better off with another OS.
Gerbil First Class
Posts: 145
Joined: Tue Dec 30, 2008 10:59 pm

Re: Beginner Server Admin Inquiries / Tips

Fri Aug 08, 2014 7:39 pm

So servers really aren't all that difficult. Especially Windows servers. A lot of the configuration is just click click next, fill in this box with this data and it's done. A full server rebuild for a small business (without testing, workstation joining, and minimal GPO's) can be done in about 8 hours. That's billable hours from parts in a box to a full Active Directory environment. When I worked for a MSP that would do exactly what it sounds like your support company does a typical server replacement and upgrade project would be done in 30-50 hours total (workstation migration, application compatibility testing, etc taking the bulk of the time). If you add in some extras like Exchange, virtualization, and networking upgrades it is very reasonable to go to 120 hours on a major infrastructure upgrade.

All of that being said, if the information entered in during that click click next part of the process is incorrect it can have long lasting and far reaching repercussions. I would be hesitant to give this a go on your own. The relevant skills section, I think, reflects more a lack of understanding of IT concepts than your actual ability. I may be totally wrong in this, but ask yourself this question. Can you explain variable length subnetting? If you can't then you are not at an intermediate level of General Networking.

My advice to you would be to find a provider that you trust more than your previous one. If you keep servers around long enough that your current server is still running 2003 R2 you will more than get your money's worth by having it done correct. Ask around to other SMB's in your area (if you share office space with others even better) and get good recommendations from your local business community. Any loss in productivity you could potentially suffer over the next 7 years you have that server will more than justify the 5-10k in labor that a well built and correctly configured server will cost you.
Gerbil Elite
Posts: 733
Joined: Thu Dec 27, 2001 7:00 pm
Location: Austin, TX

Re: Beginner Server Admin Inquiries / Tips

Fri Aug 08, 2014 7:51 pm

I am neck-deep in VMware, and I think it is really useful software; so much so I interviewed to be a pre-sales SE with them. Didn't get the job, but I am still a big fan. (fair warning...)

Anyway, I think that there is no course work that will make you an admin. The course work required is a desire to understand and a willingness to read all the documentation. I cannot think of a major SW vendor who doesn't do a lot of work to make sure that the people who use / admin their products have a pretty good idea of what best practices look like, how to install, etc., etc. You have to want to be an admin, have skill at remembering a ton of details, think critically about how single points of failure will impact your business, and more. You need to be at least a little paranoid about losing data and bad people stealing data.

Everything is your fault. :evil:

So, all that said, where I think VMware can make your life easier is stacking some (all?) of your internal only machines on one ESXi host and not putting them on an external network. Keep in mind the single point of failure notation above... this might make networking harder than it was with a flatter network. The other cool thing about the VMs is that you can begin to treat them as a more fluid resource. Without ESXi you will have physical machines that all require firmware updates, patching, monitoring and so on. You don't NOT have that with VMs, but you can dynamically move things around a bit more which simplifies the updates to hardware (or migration to new, more capable hardware.

Bottom line: read everything and practice paranoia about everything related to the company's IT resources.
I have nothing more to say about that.
Gerbil Team Leader
Topic Author
Posts: 298
Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2009 8:49 am

Re: Beginner Server Admin Inquiries / Tips

Fri Aug 08, 2014 10:36 pm

No, never heard of the networking term.

It's critical, but probably sound advice. On one hand, I really want to make sure things are smooth.

How practical/useful are enterprise grade SSD's for a server? This is is a $1-2k server with a single harddrive, minus OS, CAL's, and anything other server-esque things I'm not aware of. I should emphasize that my organization's server support needs are about as basic as they come. Our server provides user login with GPO restrictions and to backup employee data. Then it provides DNS which seems more moot seeing as our bandwidth needs aren't exorbitant. As long as the server is keeping all the data and there are daily backups, everyone is happy; our previous backup solution (tape drives) failed two years ago and I went against IT advice and did something different and extremely cheap, and everyone was happier for the cheaper solution. Other than the aforementioned needs, the server runs pretty rudimentary enterprise software. There are no "databases," cloud environments, or any critical components & info that couldn't be fetched pretty quickly from Symantec Backup in a pinch. While it would make extra work for everyone, business would limp forward for a few days as the mess was sorted out.

As for the local IT company, my general feeling is they're half hacks. I recognize they have special training for things like Watchguard and they're networking skills are well beyond mine, but their professionalism is extremely lacking. They sell first and ask questions (such as compatibility) second. But they have greater IT knowledge. And unfortunately, there aren't a lot of options in my area (rural).

As for Vmware, I don't understand all the implications of it. I do not know what ESXi is either. I may be haughty in my assumption, but I think it's use is beyond our very simple needs. As mentioned above, I really feel like this is a new toy the IT company is trying to sell us, as they couldn't really mention any practical use for it, except for testing new software and quicker recovery of application/server crashes.

I do appreciate the feedback. Any information is better than none, and gives me something to chew on to make sure I'm not going to make poor mistakes. I feel I come off more arrogant and stubborn than I am/really mean too.

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