For a system administrator, when the phone rings at two in the morning, it's rarely good news. If you run a data center, or you are an administrator for a data visualization system, or for that matter, you are pretty much anyone in IT, you know when the phone rings that it's probably terrible news. Likely, your sleep for the night is over.
But it doesn't have to be that way. For most people responsible for the smooth running of a company’s data systems, it may be that everything you need is right there in your pocket, or on the table next to your bed. If you plan ahead, a surprising number of system admin problems can be handled using apps on your phone or tablet. But you do have to plan ahead.
Most system admin problems actually can be solved by using the browser in your mobile device. Routine problems, including configuration issues, mail server hiccups, or Web server crashes can be solved by browsing to the proper administration page and taking the appropriate action. This can include restarting servers using administration tools such as HP's ILO (integrated lights-out) that can let the administrator control the server platform directly. Or it can include managing a virtual machine that's run amok, or simply changing a password for a user who’s suffering a memory lapse. (At 2:00am, sigh.)
Of course, there are times when the only thing that will solve the problem is a drive to the data center to fix something major. For example, if your communications interface has gone offline, it may be that there's no way to get past it to perform management except physically restoring power, swapping cables, or both.
But there's a great middle ground. For example, if you're running a Microsoft server environment, and Active Directory suddenly stops working, you need a dedicated means of administering it. Or if your DNS server goes offline, it may be that you need a specialized console to restore it to functionality even if a backup server has taken over.
What's even better is to tell in advance when a server or other infrastructure item is starting to have problems. Perhaps an application failed after an update attempt, or perhaps you have a disk array that's running hot. If you learn of these problems in advance, then you may be able to take action before it fails in the middle of the night. That surely beats the 2:00am phone call.
What Kind of Admin is this Anyway?
Unfortunately, not every problem can be solved with an admin website. Worse, even where there is an admin website, it can’t handle every problem. Sometimes you need an admin tool that runs on your mobile device and gives you a window into the workings of your data center, database, or communications system.
If your needs are fairly simple, you can sometimes use a free product such as Active Directory Assist which can give you a reasonably complete set of basic management functions for Windows servers, including the frequently used requirement to change a user's password. This app is only available for iOS devices such as the iPad and iPhone, but there are similar admin apps for Android devices, such as Server Monitor (aimed primarily at Linux servers).
Most system admins need more than just Active Directory monitoring. For these folks there are other tools, a couple of which don't limit users to any specific mobile platform.
There are agents for monitoring nearly every currently available desktop and server OS; there are mobile apps for every major and some minor mobile platform including iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, Windows 8, and even the Amazon Kindle. There are desktop apps for Windows. About the only thing missing is a desktop app for the Mac.
But wait – Suppose that 2:00am call is about your company's data rather than about the data center? Then the problem is finding a way to do a quick data visualization right from your mobile device. If you have an iOS device, preferably an iPad, then MicroStrategy has a free app that lets you visualize everything from personal data to big data, and it lets you design how that data visualization should appear. Surprisingly, MicroStrategy Mobile for the iPad is a free app. The company also has a collection of analytics apps for iOS.
It's an unfortunate fact of life as a systems administrator that the 2:00am calls will always be there. And in a few cases, say a broken pipe in the ceiling of the server room, you still have to drive to the office.
But at least you won't have to do that every time. What's even better is that you might not even have to change out of your robe and bunny slippers as you reach into your pocket for that admin console that lives in your phone or tablet.
By Gretchen Hoffman
By Meaghan Moraes
By Gretchen Hoffman