Showing all posts tagged sysadmin:

Uphill Both Ways

Is IT getting too easy?

I was listening to the latest episode of the excellent Exponent podcast, where the topic of PC gaming up. The hosts were discussing the rise of the Steam platform, and ascribed it primarily to convenience.

PC gamers used to build custom rigs, worrying about thermal profiles and harried by IRQ conflicts. They would then get their games - on physical media! in boxes! - and install them, then immediately patch the game, their video drivers, and possibly several other things. Because of all this, gaming was a demanding and niche pastime.


With solutions like Steam and the decline of the custom-built PC in favour of self-contained laptops, the level of convenience rose enormously. Something like Steam could never have risen to be a $1.5B business twenty years ago. However, I do wonder if we are losing some necessary skills to convenience.

When Steam appeared on the scene, everyone knew what it was doing and enjoyed the convenience of not having to do it themselves. Very quickly though, new gamers came on the scene who had not experience the old ways. All they knew was downloading games from Steam and having everything taken care of for them, even including updates and patches as they became available. Even mods, which had always been tricky to install and always came with the exciting potential to blow away your install, became easy with Steam.

Of course the skills required to be a gamer are of limited macroeconomic utility. It could be argued that keeping gamers busy chasing down IRQ conflicts would prevent them from embarrassing themselves in public (ahem Gamergate ahem), but there is a wider point. The same choice of convenience over detail plays out in enterprise IT as well, where sysadmin skills are getting harder to find.

Gamers used to need to know the precise version of the driver of their graphics card. Now, many gamers barely know whether they have one. In the same way, sysadmins used to have deep knowledge of what was behind the door of their server room, while now all they know is the login to the corporate AWS account. Meanwhile, key bits of infrastructure are still running on obsolete operating systems that nobody knows how to operate any more.

So as the consumerisation of IT rolls inexorably on, will IT users at all levels turn into Eloi relying on a handful of BOfH Morlocks to keep everything running?

Or is this like vintage car people claiming carburettors added character to engines that was lost when electronic fuel injection made the whole thing too easy?

Image by MootCreative via morgueFile


PFY story

Tales from the front

In honour of Sysadmin Day, here’s a story from my own sysadmin days, originally posted here. It’s a snapshot of history, from CodeRed, to Ghost, to my sub-BOfH stylings. Enjoy!

So I'm talking to my BOFH, currently undergoing recovery on some Mediterranean island with his s/o, via a rather good free online SMS service, when I notice the (usually) non-PH B bearing down on me at a high rate of panic. It's too late to hide beneath my desk (too much "reassigned" hardware), so I stand my ground...

Once I make sense of his pathetic gibbering, I gather that he has just received a call from IT-Security (an oxymoron if I ever heard one, at least in these people's hands) about some machines in our IP pool still sending requests from CodeRed, only three weeks after it first turned up in the wild and (of course) instantly penetrated $ORK's network. So I speak to him in calming tones, get into my records and find the owner of one machine, but note that the second IP address is still listed as "free" in my records. Now any discrepancy between the Real World(tm) and my records must immediately be adjusted, naturally in my records' favour, and traditionally with much screaming and gnashing of teeth on the part of the luser who made the Real World(tm) alteration.

I wander over to the luser I did manage to locate, but he tells me that he passed the machine on to $OTHER_LUSER and did not see fit to inform me... Sometimes being the PFY sucks - I need to instill more respect in these people, but I'm leaving soon anyway.

At $OTHER_LUSER's desk I find both the problem machines... This one will need watching, I fear. I enquire of $OTHER_LUSER what part of the extra-ultra-high-priority email I sent around about patching all Windows machines1 he didn't understand, and he burbles something about how he thought pointless waste of neurons forgotten even as it emerged from his mouth.

Sighing I kill the processes, remove the backdoors, patch the machines and reboot them without asking if he had anything important to save among the myriad apps uselessly cluttering his task bar. I sense him about to protest and turn all 500 watts of my hardest stare on him - he holds out longer than most, and his eyebrows are beginning to singe when he finally looks down.

"Good", I mutter darkly, and wander back to my cube to check the web servers’2 logs yet again - I had foolishly assumed that all was well, but yet again my naive trust in humanity's native intelligence has been proved wrong. Fortunately this time everything would appear to be well, so it's back to snoozing for another hour or so until it's time to go home...

  1. Yes, even if it's a test machine. Yes, even if you're going to Ghost it again in a few weeks. Yes, even if it would be hugely inconvenient. YES, ALL FSCKING WINDOWS MACHINES!!! YOU INSISTED ON HAVING THEM!!! YOU IGNORED ME WHEN I POINTED OUT EVERYTHING THAT WOULD GO WRONG! YOU THEN INTERRUPTED ME WHEN EVERYTHING ON THAT LIST PROCEEDED TO PROVE ME RIGHT BY GOING WRONG! sigh 

  2. All Apache on various flavours of UNIX and Linux - do I look like I enjoy pain3 

  3. Someone evidently did - when I arrived there was IIS everywhere. Not any more!