Thursday, 26 November 2009

Temporarily offline - working from home

I went up to London to a training session on Monday of last week. It was a really good session (better than I had hoped for) and I thought it well worth while. Unfortunately on the Tuesday afternoon, I started to feel a little unwell - shivering, shaking and sweating. By the end of the session, I was feeling really bad, and the trip home was a real struggle. I eventually got home very late (almost midnight) and I literally collapsed into bed.

It was a rough night - hot & cold sweats. The next day I felt more ill than I have done in a very long time. I had thought about grabbing my laptop to do some work, but I couldn't get up the strength to go downstairs to get the bag. It wasn't until the Thursday that I actually felt well enough to do more than stagger a few steps. When I did get back online, I quickly cleared a small backlog of emails, dealt with some enquiries over access permissions, and processed some internal items.

For most people in IT, this is actually quite a straight forward situation - there really is nothing particularly unusual about it. Within our company, most senior managers, departments heads and the sales people are more than capable of working from home for several days, perhaps even a week or two. We have also started putting together some processes to allow some of the other staff the option to be able to work from home - driven partly by a need to ensure business continuity, but also to allow a more flexible working pattern.

However, when you look at a lot of companies they just don't have the faciltiies for this. There is still a real antipathy towards the idea of remote working, and it is seen as less than desirable. Yet there are so many benefits - reduced travel costs / environmental impact, better work / life balance, the opportunity for staff to cover a longer working day, more productivity and the option for some people to hold a job when otherwise it might not be possible due to family committments or health issues.

Will this situation change? I think it will as many of these companies will start to find that they have to adapt to these new patterns of working. But I suspect that it may still take many years before everyone gets the option. A real shame - but I suppose that is just a reality of life.

In the meantime, I'm now back to work and it's almost as if I hadn't been off.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Microsoft Data Protection Manager Server 2007

I written about this software before, but my staff and I think that it is such an awesome utility, I’m going to post some more comments about it. Quite simply, it is the best product that Microsoft have produced in quite a while, but for some strange reason, they just don’t promote it. As we are using it and it works so well, I thought that it would make sense to share some of our experiences.

So what is DPM Server 2007 and what does it do? Essentially, it allows you to backup servers and workstations using a disk-to-disk process, then a disk-to-tape process for longer term storage. In days gone by, almost everyone used a tape backup process as standard – but there are some serious issues with this.

Tapes stretch, or suffer degradation which makes them less reliable. Add to that, people have to change the tapes over (and sometimes they get tapes mixed up) and if you have to rely on non-technical staff on remote sites to change tapes (as we do), then you’ll know that they often forget to do it. Regularly, the backup software throws a wobbly so nothing gets backed up; and they don’t know how to check this or correct it, so they change tapes without anything being written to them.

Even if all has gone well, the recovery process can be awkward. First you have to make sure that you have the tapes (or even the right ones), someone has to change them back over, and sometimes you have to then inventory the tape to find the relevant file before you can recover that. Add to that, if it is a database, then you have to try to work out which bit you are going to receover – the actual file, the transaction log; it can get quite complicated.

The problem is of course that people do delete or over write files – this happened this morning with one of the design office guys at one of our remote sites deleting some drawings that another person had worked on yesterday. To recreate them would have taken probably the best part of a full day, and they are actually needed for a meeting with a customer, so they were keen to get them back as quckly as possible.

The recovery process is so simple with DPM Server, that it is almost embarassing. In the recovery console, point to the relevant server, open the drive and navigate to the file / folder. Click on it and select recover – then choose the options, such as restore to new location or overwrite, original permissions or new permissions, etc. Click start and wait for a about 1 minute while it starts the recovery process, then watch as the files are recoved. In our case, about 18 Mb of data restored in just over 2 minutes to a remote site. No need to panic, no swapping of tapes, no need for staff to run around like headless chickens.

As you may imagine the staff at our remote site were pretty greatful – we’ve told them that they owe us a few drinks the next time that we are up there (and you better believe we intend to collect!). But in all seriousness, the DPM Server makes the backup and recovery process so straight forward that our lives are considerably less stressed as a result. Anyone responsible for the data integrity of a business should really consider looking at using this product – you will make your life a lot easier.