Why we still need old-fashioned backups: A cautionary tale

“Backups are becoming less and less necessary these days”, I’m told. High availability, cheap disk mirroring and snapshots, cloud storage, data syncing between services—all these factors make old-fashioned backups—the offline, offsite, multi-tier kind, probably to tape, an expensive and cumbersome luxury that is neither affordable nor needed today. I just got bitten, hard, by the…

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Do we need to put the fear of the bogeyman into you?

Do we do a disservice to young sysadmins by teaching them important rules of thumb as if they were incontrovertible truth? When I was starting out, I heard a lot of these, especially in security. For example, “a login server is always crackable”. I was dubious, because I didn’t understand the complex thought being expressed….

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What’s a sure sign of IT collapse?

I’ve been reading with horrified interest about the state of collapse in Zimbabwe. I’ve heard several public health experts remark that the rising deaths from cholera are a sure sign of the total collapse of the state of Zimbabwe.

Cholera is a disease that is easily prevented with modern sanitation, and even when it breaks out, is easily stopped with hydration and inexpensive medicine. For people to be dying on a mass scale from cholera shows that the state has completely failed.

Not to minimize such a horrific situation or equate it to the economic situation we’re facing here, but it did get me to thinking: what are the tell-tale signs of an IT organization in collapse from neglect or lack of funding? I have my own thoughts, but want to get some discussion going first. What do you think are sure signs that an IT organization is collapsing?
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New MacBook Pro: first impressions

My old MacBook Pro (a two-year-old refurbished 2.16 GHz Core 2 Duo with 2 GB of RAM and 120 GB hard drive) had developed problems with its left fan some weeks ago. It was noisy (like, outboard-motor noisy) and the internal temps were alarmingly hot (often exceeding 200° F). I knew I needed to get it repaired, but I use my laptop as my primary development machine, carting it from home to work, and just couldn’t be without.
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Dreaded question from friends and acquaintances #568: “What kind of computer should I buy?”

macallan wrote:

As an educational IT guy, I am frequently asked about when to buy a new machine. My advice is always: buy when you need a new machine, and get the “best” one for your needs at that time. There are lots of separate discussions about what the “best” machine for any given user will be, but I never advise people to wait more than a week, since there is always something better[1] coming soon[2]. Most people are constrained by the lead time on a new machine, or some other deadline, so I say just buy something already.

1] that’s what marketing calls every new thing
2] marketing will have you believe it’s going to be here tomorrow

I think that’s right; when I’m asked about “what computer should I buy?” I generally tell folks it’s best to buy based on:

  • When you need it, at the latest
  • What you need, at a minimum
  • What you can afford, at a maximum

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An odd thing…

With CES and MacWorld behind us, I’ve noticed something: people who last month were saying, “don’t buy one now, they’re announcing new models soon” are now saying, “don’t buy one now, let them shake out the bugs first”.

Suppose announcements were more frequent than they are now. Is there a point at which product announcements would become so frequent that such people would never buy one? Maybe they’d start buying models as soon as they’re announced. Or would they buy the current (soon-to-be prior) model only once they hear an announcement is coming?
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Leopard Preview cropping weirdness is driving me crazy

Something—I’m honestly not sure what—has changed in Mac OS X Leopard in a subtle way that has totally derailed my workflow for making presentations involving code samples. I give a lot of Keynote talks that are very heavy on code samples. For years, I’ve had a workflow for creating code-sample slides that’s worked pretty well…

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What’s a “pong-by date”?

System administrators are busy people, and folks who volunteer for LOPSA tend to be busier than most.

This causes problems when we try to manage projects with volunteer help, because sometimes people get snowed under with more important things. It’s unreasonable for us to expect LOPSA volunteer work to come before work and family commitments. But yet, the projects still need to get handled in a timely manner.

I’ve decided I’m going to start putting a “pong-by” date at the bottom of email requests to volunteers. What that means is, if I don’t get a response by that date, I’m going to assume that the answer is “no” and move onto someone else. No hard feelings—I don’t know whether you’ve fallen into a hole, you thought you’d have time and now don’t, you’re on vacation and not reading email, or what—I’m just going to find someone else.

So if you’ve gotten an email from me and see “Pong by January 1”, now you know what that means. 🙂

Feel free to use this yourself. http://lopsa.org/pong redirects here.

Trey Harris is President of LOPSA. His blog entries do not represent the views of LOPSA, its Board, or its membership.
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Random thoughts on mentoring

I’ve been thinking recently about what the term “mentoring” means for professional sysadmins. I’ve usually said that I’m “self-taught” in system administration. Most sysadmins I know say the same thing. I say this because I didn’t take any classes on sysadmin, and in the technical aspects, at least, I was self-directed in my first few…

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