The SWMI Story

Formatting a computer is so easy that anyone can do it.  Maintaining a secure, well-managed infrastructure is not; it requires not only someone who understands computers, but a good deal of common sense.  The goal of SWMI.CA is to educate people on the best ways to do this, whether they use a single computer with a wireless router at home, if they manage tens of thousands of systems in a corporate environment, or virtually anyone in between.

Secure: There is not a single aspect of IT that is the silver bullet for a secure environment; consider aspects such as intrusion prevention, protection from malware, data theft and sniffing as just a number of considerations for a secure environment.  Do not think that since you installed a router that also has a firewall you are necessarily secure.

Well-Managed: The old truism states that if you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it.  Imagine you are the manager of a company ultimately responsible for production, hiring and firing, payroll, accounts payable and accounts receivable.  How could you possibly manage efficiently without knowing how many employees you have, or how many of your product you make in a given time frame?  What about costs?  You wouldn't know how many of your product must be sold – and for how much – for your company to be profitable.  IT is the same way.  It is vital that as a systems manager you have the right tools to know what you have and what is going on at any given time.  If servers go down will it be more efficient to wait for people to start complaining, or would you be better off knowing as soon as the server indicates that it is about to fail?

Infrastructure: Many of us do not consider that just like an architect your IT infrastructure should be planned out in advance before the first nail is driven (note: you should not use nails on your computers!).  Ask questions like 'What do I want to do with my systems?' 'Do I have the proper tools to achieve my goals?' and 'How do I leverage the tools that I have (or that I need to acquire) to achieve my goals in a secure, well-managed way?' based on those questions and answers, plan out your environment on paper before going ahead.  Get a second opinion to make sure you didn't miss anything important.  Then build the infrastructure that you will be able to manage and maintain securely going forward.

Maintaining a secure, well-managed infrastructure is not rocket science… but it is a science and not, as some claim, an art.  If you are an IT professional then take pride in your work and make sure it gets done properly.  If you are an end user then remember the next time you turn on your computer and it not only works as it should, but has not been compromised then thank your IT pro!

A Secure, Well-Managed Disaster Zone

I owe a great debt to Microsoft Canada (Damir!) and Hewlett Packard Canada (Laurie!) who came through to supply me with a server for my last two projects.  If you happen to find yourself in the market for a server for a small to mid-sized company I cannot think of a better product than the HP ProLiant DL-585 G2 that I have been using since May.  It truly is everything that I could ever ask for in a server, and has been running my virtual environment flawlessly and without so much as a hiccup.  

Let me give you a little bit of information on this machine – that I have often described as the server G-d would buy if he were running a mid-sized corporation.  It is a 4U rack-mounted server with hot plug redundant power supplies.  Forgetting the basic configuration, the model that I have been working with has four dual-core 2.8GHz AMD Opteron CPUs, sixteen gigabytes of RAM, and six hot plug high-speed SAS (serial attached SCSI) drives (2x 72 GB for the system drive, 4x individual 146 GB drives for storage and virtual machines – all 15,000 rpm).  It has a fibre channel host bus adapter, dual gigabit NICs, and HP's server management package which I have come to love – Integrated Lights Out 2 (iLO 2) Standard Management.

In a word, this server rocks.  It would fit in perfectly in any company's data centre.  Having said all of that, I do not necessarily recommend it for your home office to sit under (or on top of) your desk, as I have had it for the past few months.  There are a number of reasons for this.

  1. The server is not quiet.  If you are a long-time reader of my blog (back to the days when it resided on www.mitpro.ca) you may have read about the Hovercraft, my old PowerEdge 4300 server which sat on the floor of my apartment in Ville St-Laurent and ran my mail server (see http://mitchgarvis.com/blogs/mitch/archive/2007/06/27/the-dell-hovercraft-is-officially-retired.aspx).  We called it the hovercraft because it was loud.  Well, this server is louder; initially it scared the puppies, though the entire family has grown used to its sounds from behind the closed door of my office.  For several weeks I continued to work in the office despite the noise, but eventually realized that laptops and wifi routers allowed me to escape the constant headaches.
  2. The server generates heat.  I do not mean it kicks the thermostat by a degree or two; I mean that if the central heating goes out in the winter we can all sit comfortably in a room with this server going… as long as we brought ear plugs.  Occasionally during the HP DL-585 G2summer Theresa would turn the air conditioner to max… I understand that she just does not like the heat.  Whenever it got too chilly for me I would just go down to my office and warm up for a bit.  Not to say that my office is not air conditioned… but the server wins!
  3. The server is not light.  The ProLiant DL-585 G2 is a lot of things, but it has never been accused of being portable.  The configuration that I described above weighs just shy of one hundred and fifty pounds.  When I picked it up it took two of us to carry it to my car, and when I got it home I had to remove the central processing unit (40 lbs) and carry it into the house in two parts.  I do not recommend putting it on your desk without doing some serious weight-capacity testing first.
  4. The server is not small.  19" wide by 26.5" deep by 6.94" tall (48.3cm x 67.3 cm x 17.6 cm) is a perfect size for a server room… if it had four legs three people could comfortably sit at it for afternoon tea.  In a word, it is BIG.

Clean Office Back in May I actually brought the server with me to Montreal.  I drove, not because I couldn't write off the airfare, but because Air Canada laughed at me when I suggested I wanted to bring a 150lbs delicate oversized piece of carry-on luggage.  As I drove down the 401 it occurred to me that my Toyota Matrix had more computing power in it than the entire space program that launched the first few space shuttles, and likely more CPU cycles than the entire world did when Ronald Reagan was elected president.  The concierge at both hotels I stayed at were not entirely sure that I was not secretly playing a practical joke on them, and looked around for hidden cameras.  Needless to say they both expected (and received) sizeable tips for helping me to and from my rooms!

Over the past few years I have professed to anyone who would listen the need for a secure, well Desk with Servermanaged infrastructure.  Part of that should be a clean environment, and I am afraid that I have fallen quite short of that goal.  Several months ago I posted about how Theresa and I cleaned out our office together (http://mitchgarvis.com/blogs/mitch/archive/2008/02/04/an-organized-office-and-the-journey-into-the-unknown.aspx).  I took a picture at the time of what my desk looked like (see left).   Unfortunately the past few months my desk area has not looked exactly like that, what with the server and all (see right).  I took the picture this morning before removing the server, which thanks to months of air purification and cleaning (after adopting out our cats) has now been re-homed to the basement, where it will probably spend the rest of its life.

Now that I have a little bit of time (between contracts) I am going to spend a few days rebuilding my network environment… I look forward to taking the time to plan both the physical and virtual environment to my liking… a project that I am looking forward to tackling that will let me get back to being a system administrator for a bit!  I'm sure that when that project is done I will be proud to blog about how my home network is organized… until then, have a great week-end!

More comments from a converted Vista enthusiast

For more information about the Windows Springboard Series visit http://go.microsoft.com/?linkid=8418918.

In a previous post (http://mitchgarvis.com/blogs/mitch/archive/2008/05/05/windows-vista-comments-from-a-converted-enthusiast.aspx) I told you about the manager of the local Starbucks, a computer enthusiast whom I helped get going on Windows Vista and Microsoft Office.  This afternoon I got an e-mail from him that I wanted to share with you.  Not a word has been edited, and it was unsolicited.

<begin e-mail>

It’s been a while since I’ve seen you around, but that’s ok.  You’ve helped me out a great deal and I wanted to say thank you again.  Also, I know you are always looking for feedback so that is the other reason for my email.

I have just recently purchased a laptop and of course I wanted Windows Vista on it.  Over the months while running the OS I have found it to be incredibly reliable and very responsive.  There are a lot of misconceptions out there about the OS, mostly due to the OS being installed on computers which are either too old, or the user bought a new one that didn’t meet the world’s new standards.  These new standards are not entirely a bad thing either; newer standards continue to offer us more possibilities and more quality.  When I purchased my new laptop I made sure it was made of quality parts, such as the CPU having a 1066MHz fsb and a large cache, the memory clocked at 800mhz (a little bit above standard 667), the motherboard fsb clocked at 1066Mhz, and so forth.  Although, you can definitely run Windows Vista very smoothly with lower clock speeds, as long as the parts are all in sync and work well together.

Windows Vista has given me more reliability when I needed it and is a hardened OS when it comes to protection.  It gives me more detailed critical information so I can properly manage my computer by knowing what’s going on all of the time.  Microsoft Office OneNote 2007 has also made my life incredibly more organized and less stressful.  I’m able to organize all of the huge loads of information from a wide area of sources all in one application.  It has made my work much more effective and has proven to be much more action oriented so I can make the impacts I need in my business more often and in a timely manner.

<end e-mail>

It is always nice to hear positive feedback from people I helped get started with Vista.  I know there are plenty more, and I will gladly post your comments.  If you are not yet working on Vista then, as always, tell me why and you might win a copy for yourself!

For more information about the Windows Springboard Series visit http://go.microsoft.com/?linkid=8418918.

Yet Another Internet Scam…

The original e-mail arrived in French… not entirely normal to begin with, although not unheard of.  The original text is attached below.  The title translated to 'FW: Free Computer (Verified)!  At first I figured someone was forwarding a Craig's List post to me… people are giving away Pentium machines all the time.  Not so…

A quick translation of the text (which was forwarded through eight or nine people before it got to me) is:

"Ericsson is giving away free laptops to counter Nokia who is doing the same.  Ericsson hopes to improve its popularity.  Because of this Ericsson is giving away its new portable WAP.  All you have to do is forward this e-mail to 8 people.  In approximately two weeks you will receive an Ericsson T18.  If you forward it to 20 people or more you will also receive an Ericsson R320.  However it is important that you also send your e-mail to Anna Swelunq at Ericsson.  Important: It's not a scam… it works!  So do yourself a favour and give yourself one of these laptops!"

So let's evaluate the e-mail and see how many things just don't make sense:

  1. Nobody gives away free laptops willy-nilly.  If they did then I could have saved a lot of money on this one.  Granted there are occasions when companies do give them away to select groups, but it is rare and never based on 'send this to 8 people.'
  2. Nokia makes cell phones and not laptops.
  3. Ericsson is an extremely popular company.  They do not need to improve their popularity.  Incidentally like Nokia they do not make laptops.
  4. A WAP is a wireless access point, not a model of laptop.
  5. Nobody is sending you anything for forwarding anything to 8, 20, or 60,000,000 people.
  6. The Ericsson T18 and R320 are both models of cell phones (not surprising, as Ericsson makes cell phones!).  Incidentally both are extremely old models that have long since been discontinued.
  7. Any time someone tells you This is not a scam! then it likely is.

I asked Anna Swelunq of Ericsson for a comment on this scheme.  I received the following answer:

"Sorry, this mail server does not recognize that e-mail address."

So let's review this one more time for the cheap seats: Stop forwarding e-mail to your entire contact list in the hopes of getting something for nothing!  You will get nothing but responses from people on your contact list asking you to stop sending them garbage!

For a better of understanding of why these e-mails (like chain letters of old) are started, please read this article from my archives: http://mitchgarvis.com/blogs/mitch/archive/2006/08/21/virus-hoaxes.aspx

</Mitch stepping down from his soap box>

—-

FW: Ordi gratuit(Vérifié) !

Bonjour à tous,

La société 'Éricsson' distribue gratuitement des ordinateurs portables ceci dans le but de contrer Nokia qui a fait de même.

Éricsson souhaite ainsi augmenter sa popularité.

Pour cette raison Éricsson distribue gratuitement le nouveau portable WAP.

Tout ce qu'il faut faire c'est envoyer ce mail à 8 de vos connaissances.

Dans environ deux semaines vous recevrez un Ericsson T18.

Si le message est envoyer à 20 personnes ou plus vous allez même recevoir un Éricsson R320.

Important: il faut envoyer une copie de votre e-mail à: anna.swelunq@Ericsson.com

Important: ce n'est pas un canular ça fonctionne!

Alors faites vous plaisir en vous offrant l'un de ces portables!

Un autre canular sur l’Internet…

<Because the original e-mail on which this article is based was in French I decided to write a rudimentary translation for my French readers and friends.>

Je ne reçois pas souvent des courriels en français, mais des fois, alors je l'ai regardé prudemment.  Le titre parlé d'un ordi gratuit, et le texte lisait:

« Bonjour à tous,  La société 'Éricsson' distribue gratuitement des ordinateurs portables ceci dans le but de contrer Nokia qui a fait de même. Éricsson souhaite ainsi augmenter sa popularité. Pour cette raison Éricsson distribue gratuitement le nouveau portable WAP. Tout ce qu'il faut faire c'est envoyer ce mail à 8 de vos connaissances. Dans environ deux semaines vous recevrez un Ericsson T18. Si le message est envoyer à 20 personnes ou plus vous allez même recevoir un Éricsson R320. Important: il faut envoyer une copie de votre e-mail à: anna.swelunq@Ericsson.com.  Important: ce n'est pas un canular ça fonctionne! Alors faites vous plaisir en vous offrant l'un de ces portables! »

Parmi les problèmes avec le courriel:

1. Personne ne donne librement des ordinateurs portatifs a n'importe qui.  S'ils faisaient alors je pourrais avoir épargné beaucoup d'argent sur celui-ci.  Accordé il y a des occasions quand les compagnies les donnent aux groupes choisis, mais ces cas sont rare et non jamais basé sur « envoyez ceci à 8 personnes. »

2. Nokia fait des téléphones et non des ordis.

3. Ericsson est une compagnie extrêmement populaire.  Ils n'ont pas besoin d'améliorer leur popularité.  Aussi, comme Nokia, ils ne fabriquent pas des ordis.

4. Un WAP est un point d'accès sans fil, pas un modèle d'ordinateur.

5. Personne ne vous envoie rien pour avoir expédier quelque chose à 8, 20, ou 60.000.000 de vos amis.

6. Les modèles Ericsson T18 et R320 sont deux modèles des téléphones (non étonnants, comme Ericsson fait des téléphones !).  Aussi tous les deux sont des modèles extrêmement vieux qui depuis longtemps ont été discontinués.

7. Quand quelqu'un vous dit ce n'est pas une escroquerie ! alors elle est probablement exactement ca.

J'ai demandé à Anna Swelunq d'Ericsson un commentaire sur cet arrangement.  J'ai reçu la réponse suivante :

« Désolé, ce serveur de courriel n'identifie pas cet adresse. »

Arrêtez l'expédition des courriels à votre liste des contactes entière dans les espoirs d'obtenir quelque chose gratuitement !  Vous n'obtiendrez rien sauf certaines réponses te demander de cesser de leur envoyer des ordures !

Pour un meilleur compréhension pourquoi ces courriels sont commencés, lisez s.v.p. cet article de mes archives : http://mitchgarvis.com/blogs/mitch/archive/2006/08/21/virus-hoaxes.aspx

Greatness

In the past year I have become a father to my fiancé's ten year old son Aaron.  I had previously never had any experience as a father, and certainly no real exposure to ten year old boys.  It has been a challenge that I have been struggling with, and I can only hope that with time I will improve as a Dad.

Monday was a beautiful day, and while Aaron was sitting on the front lawn I decided to get out the basketball and shoot some hoops.  As always I was hoping that he would join me, and suspected that he would for a few minutes and then lose interest; it is not that I have no faith in him, rather that I have great faith in his consistency.

As he sat on the lawn and watched me make some and miss some, he said 'I wish I could find something that I was really great at.'  I started to think about that, and tried to remember something that I was great at the first – or second or third or fourth time I did it.  I couldn't come up with anything.

As much as I wish it were not so, the reality is I am not and have never been a natural athlete; if it is ever in one's genes then it was not in mine.  I happen to have loved playing sports as a kid, and when I put my mind to it I became good at a lot of sports, and at one point or another I played organized hockey, baseball, soccer, basketball, and track-and-field.  The greatest individual accomplishment of my high school athletic career was Most Improved Player on the basketball team.  I was good and got better by spending lunch hours, after school, week-ends, free periods, and holidays practicing… not for a few minutes at a time, but literally hours and hours on end.

I tried to explain this to my boy, who looks at me and sees me excel at any number of activities.  It is not easy.  The reality is that while some people may have a natural inclination to things – whether it be athletics, academics, art, or music, nobody is actually great at it the first time out.  It takes practice, dedication, more practice, good teachers (coaches, role models, etc…), more practice, aptitude, coordination, and still more practice.  We seldom learn anything when we do something right, so we have to make mistakes – a lot of them.  We have to do things wrong and make slight changes and then eventually do things right… and then repeat a thousand times. 

What is required to achieve greatness?  dedication.  Frankly I have inherited from my parents the hope that my boy will be dedicated primarily to his academic endeavors before athletic ones.  However because of the love I have had of sports over the course of my life I admit that I would not be unhappy if he did develop a love of sports… and you can be sure that even if he rode the bench I would be out there for at least a couple of his games cheering like a proud dad!

I do not think the search for greatness is a question of finding something you are great at… it is about finding something that you would like to be great at and then giving it all you've got.  I have wanted to be great at a lot of things over the years and although I have probably not succeeded, I have gotten to be pretty good at many of them.  For basketball, baseball, golf, and singing that has always been enough for me to really enjoy doing them.  For some of them the journey continues (I try to golf as often as I can), and for others I will have to live with the memories… and in those I seem to get better at them every year!