Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What I Use

Applications I use everyday:

  • Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate (32-bit) – If you pump enough RAM into Windows Vista it can be very usable. 
  • Microsoft Outlook 2007 – I started using Outlook Express because it came with Windows, but when I saw the power and integration of Outook 97 I was sold.  Since then I’ve used every version.  I was even more hooked when I began using Outlook with an Exchange server.  Although I have tried many other PIM’s, still nothing compares to the productivity and utility of Outlook.
  • Mozilla Firefox – Hands down FireFox is the best cross-platform browser. 
  • Digsby – multi-protocol instant messenger app with social networking
  • Winamp – tried and true media player with great keyboard shortcuts
  • Google Chrome – the fastest browser for start times and load times, lacks extensibility of FireFox, but the features redefine browsing like Gmail redefined email
  • Microsoft Virtual PC running Windows XP Professional – If you run Windows Vista and your a sysadmin, you have to run Windows XP too.  Just keep it clean and give it about 512 MB of RAM and it’s just like having a second computer around.
  • andLinux – unique hybrid-virtualization of Ubuntu linux that allows me to run KDE apps natively in Windows (like Konsole for Linux server management)



  • Putty – for ssh/telnet management of servers, routers, and switches
  • Launchy – application launcher to free you from the Start menu
  • Switcher – Expose-like application for Vista, requires AERO
  • reSizer – window placement and sizing with a mouse can be tedious, using reSizer I can move windows between monitors and resize to fit the screen without leaving the keyboard
  • Remote Desktop Connection – remote management of all of those Windows servers out there


Server Applications I use regularly:

FireFox Extensions

  • GrandCentral Click to Call
  • PDF Download
  • Adblock Plus
  • CyberSearch
  • Delicious Bookmarks –
  • Google Gears
  • Tiny Menu

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Why Does Windows Azure Matter?

Microsoft hosted their irregularly scheduled Professional Developers Conference (PDC) recently. (PDC events only occur when Microsoft are releasing new platform.) As the event grew closer we knew that Windows 7 would be a topic as well as their Live Services, but the “Cloud” OS was probably causing the most buzz around the tech industry. Thankfully we live in an era where we don’t have to sit through the long, dry Microsoft keynotes to get the lowdown on what Microsoft is up to. Microsoft announced their cloud platform called Windows Azure. Enterprise IT has been administering servers for years attempting to not only keep those end users happy, but also keep their servers in working order. Maintaining software and hardware on servers that are mission critical can be very costly and difficult. The arrival of virtualization for the Enterprise has dramatically increased the ability for IT staff to manage and maintain the server farms while decreasing costs including energy costs. The next step in the evolution of IT is hosted services. Microsoft and third parties have already been offering various hosted services for some time at varying levels of success. With Windows Azure Microsoft hopes to combine virtualization with hosted services by providing a cloud-based platform for developers, businesses, and the enterprise. In the future the everyday sysadmin will no longer responsible for server hardware and OS patches because Microsoft Exchange, SQL, Dynamics, Sharepoint, et. al. will be hosted by Microsoft on their Azure platform which is globally distributed. Of course not all current IT or business decision makers are going to want to start paying monthly fees for software they paid good money for. As the services Microsoft provides through Azure makes business sense they can migrate in a hybrid fashion to say hosting their Exchange "server" to the cloud while keeping their Sharepoint in house. The advantage comes to the small to medium sized businesses who may be thinking about upgrading their own servers and find that it would be more advantageous to pay for the software as a service instead of maintaining their own server(s) in house or paying a consultant.

So how does this affect the everyday sysadmin? How will the role and responsibilities of the IT staff change if we no longer have to maintain server software and hardware? Will we all become Helpdesk staff or will Microsoft take on that as well? I am assuming someone will still need to maintain accounts or maybe there will be a fancy web portal for the designated "technical" employee to add accounts and reset passwords. Downsizing may be in our future, or we will need to change along with everyone else in this fast-paced industry.

Useful Links:

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Internet Explorer 6 Comes to Windows Mobile

That headline has to be the most misleading one I’ve ever wrote.  Yes Internet Explorer 6 is coming to Windows Mobile.  It is not the version 6 that we have grown to loathe as system administrators, but it is based on current desktop IE 7 and maybe even 8.  The browser will support rich media such as Silverlight and Flash as well as AJAX.  Page rendering will be more close to the desktop alternative which of course has been around for years with Opera Mini (available for WinMo via Java) and recently with Safari for the iPhone.

And the bit about it coming to Windows Mobile is misleading because they just announced the availability of the updated mobile browser, but it will not be available on current handsets only future handsets.  Future here meaning many months until you see them overseas since carriers are not as strict and controlling about the devices.  Then maybe sometime in 2009 we may see WinMo handsets using the browser.  Alternatively the hardworking folks at have been providing kitchens and ROMs for WinMo phones to help you keep your WinMo device running the latest software.  Flashing your phone with unsanctioned ROMs is not an easy process, but you may find yourself taking the plunge if your mobile drives you crazy like many other users.

The upside is that Windows Mobile is finally going to have a decent browser which may mean more developers coding websites to be friendly to Windows Mobile based devices. 

Here is a video of the browser in action. 


Keep in mind that Opera Mini, Opera Mobile, Safari, and Skyfire have already beat Microsoft to the punch so they will not get a lot of positive reviews for their efforts.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Cacti Breaks When RRDTool is Updated


Running updates can cause any sysadmin to break out in a cold sweat, especially when that service you and your users rely stops working.  Today I ran my updates on my CentOS 5.x server and noticed that the rrdtool package had been updated.  Like any good sysadmin I keep a log of the updates I install on each server so that I know what has been installed and so I know services to check later to make sure everything is still working. 

Since I have spent so much time with my Cacti monitoring system I knew that it was dependant upon the rrdtool.  When I logged into my Cacti everything appeared normal until I looked at my graphs.  All of the text on the graphs were missing.  I still had the pretty colors and the graphs, but there were no numbers, labels, headers, etc.  After searching around I found the solution in the Cacti forums.  The problem was related Cacti not being able to pass the default font variable to the specific version of the rrdtool 1.2.28.  So you have to put the path to the rrdtool font file in the Paths section under settings as well as the Font File fields under the Visual field.

The font path on my CentOS system is: /usr/share/rrdtool/fonts/DejaVuSansMono-Roman.ttf



Having a monitoring system like Cacti paired with Nagios can really help you and your IT department implement proactive measures to maintain your network.  If you would like assistance in putting together your own monitoring setup with Cacti and Nagios please contact me.

Nagios 3 Comes to CentOS


I manage quite a few CentOS servers of the 4.x and 5.x versions.  When I ran my yum updates this week I noticed that there was a Nagios update.  When I restarted Nagios I saw that it had been upgraded to version 3.  So far nothing broke because of the new version, but with the new version comes new features.  You can read the changelog here.


NOTE: The beauty of Linux is that you don’t have to restart your system when you install updates (except for the kernel).  But if the package manager (yum, apt, etc.) doesn’t restart the service the old binaries will still be running.  So for example when I installed the Nagios update today version 2.x was still running so I had to restart Nagios to actually be running 3.x (command: service nagios restart).