Pages

Monday, December 21, 2015

Starting to diagnose DFS issues

One of my client's server pairs seems to be intermittent in its syncronisation of data. Here are a few commands to test the sync. 

Using an elevated command prompt ( right click, run as Administrator ) execute the following:

C:\Users\ryv> dfsrdiag.exe backlog /SendingMember:ServerX /ReceivingMember:ServerZ /RGName:RepGroup /RFName:"Data"

So what does this do? The initial part of the command is dfsrdiag.exe - the program to run the diagnosis. The switches are as follows:

/SendingMember:ServerX - this is the server pushing data to the replication partner
/ReceivingMember:ServerZ - and this is the server receiving the data
/RGName:RepGroup - DFS Management has servers in groups so it will want the group name
/RFName:"Data" - DFS is capable of managing different folder groups with different sync settings so you have to specify the folder. 

If all is going well the result from this command should come back with something like: 

No backlog - member <ServerZ> is in sync with partner <ServerX>

Operation succeeded.

If it doesn't come back with this then the fun begins. Once I have a good example I'll post that. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Ubiquity UAP-Outdoor+ Review

Recently for a motel client I rolled out 12 of these little babies. The UAP-Outdoor+ is a compact, apparently weather resistant access point. The website details are here: https://www.ubnt.com/unifi/unifi-ap-outdoor/

I chose these for a number of factors:

  • they are designed for the outdoors
  • 183M range (apparently)
  • 300Mbps speeds
  • 802.11b/g/n with plenty of bandwidth and a wide frequency band
  • price point was pretty good (compared to other products)
While not strictly producing a meshed network, the UAP-Outdoor+'s have a zero config handoff, so end users won't know as they move around through network range. 

Configuration of the access points was really quite easy - Ubiquity has a great bit of software called UniFi v4.7.6 Controller for Windows. Installing this on my laptop, and connecting it to the same network as the first access point got things up and running really fast. UniFi Controller allows you to configure SSID's, guest network information and everything else about the access points. Love it! Great bit of kit and it made the work of configuring all 12 access points very quick. Ongoing management is excellent too - it shows you information about the clients connected, the data they're using, the most heavily used access points - all sorts of stuff. It also allows you to play with the network topology. In this particular instance, three of the access points are not cabled in - they are "uplinked" via other WAPs. As testing went on, it appeared that my original plan to link certain APs together wasn't as good as the actual data suggested. So I modified it and moved the wirelessly linked access points to other master WAPs. Really excellent and I was very pleased with the rollout. All in all, the budgeted hours for the install were far over the actual hours - always good for the customer and the bottom line.

The range exceeded our expectations significantly and allowed us to push the coverage out to other parts of the property that were designated for a later stage. Needless to say, people were quite happy about the whole thing :-)

I look forward to using the Ubiquity gear again in the future. As for now, I can happily recommend the UAP-Outdoor+ access points!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

OTRS 5 Review and Thoughts

Recently I upgraded our several years old OTRS install to version 5. The upgrade procedure is exactly like all the others have been. It was straightforward and I actually found that the documentation was better this time around than it has been in the past. After backing up, upgrading and testing, I like, mostly, what I see. There are a couple of things that are a bit annoying though.

When closing a ticket, the previous version would automatically put in subject in the closure note. Likewise, in the Owner Update note it doesn't do it either. So each time, I have to update it. Not a problem if you're only getting a few notes every now and then, but we are changing and closing tickets in some large numbers at times.

Also, I have about 50 statistics generated monthly via a script I run. The syntax for doing this.

From: /opt/otrs/bin/otrs.GenerateStats.pl -n number -blah blah etc

To: /opt/otrs/bin/otrs.Console.pl Maint::Stats::Generate --number number etc

(from: https://otrs.github.io/doc/manual/admin/stable/en/html/statistics-module.html#stats-managing-the-module)

I like the speed of the updated system and the cosmetic changes are nice too. The menus have changed slightly and they are more dynamic with drop downs. The layout is a bit nicer too but generally the speed of the system is better.

Upgrade to version 5 if you have the chance - seems to be a winner!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The struggle towards productivity

Anyone working in the IT sector knows how hard it is to get a flow going without interruptions. Working in a small business and supplying support for everything in IT to our clients, the phone rings constantly (desk and mobile) and email never stops pinging in the background. Add to this our obsession with multiple screens, a billion web pages open, Twitter, FaceBook, Instagram etc and there is a huge amount of data overwhelming us.

We also get jobs logged from our other staff members, clients can create their own and the phone calls / emails generally generate work to be done. Keeping up with all of this is hard, and the hardest part is keeping all the tasks straight and on point. We use multiple systems - OTRS and another, non-cool job management system for our tasks. This is a nightmare too - jobs coming in to both, keeping them updated and trying to remember if you've actually updated the job or not. Plus trying to keep on track with a complex task long enough to get the thing done.

I've been working with my guys on being task oriented and not worrying too much about time. If they are working on a task for a client, and it's all billable, then move onto the next task and do it, then their time is being used productively and everyone is happy. This seems to be the best way to work with tasks.

I have also found that when the pressure is on, I leave my dual monitor setup and take my laptop off somewhere to work, usually the boardroom with no direct extension and leave the mobile phone on my desk. The more I do this the more I wonder if having dual monitors is a hindrance and paying attention to my multiple mobile devices is worth doing. I read research that suggested after a break in concentration it could take up to 20 minutes to get the focus back on what you were doing.

We have been aiming to have 90 min stretches working on a single task, then a break for a bit, then back into it. It's incredibly hard, but getting the other staff around us on board is making it easier. With a bit of luck we can continue to push this forward. Leave a message in the comments if you have productivity tips that work for you!

XenServer physical moves - traps for new (and old) players

Recently one of our clients relocated their main office and we moved their servers for them. Upon arrival, racking and cabling the XenServer hosts all powered up immediately. The HP StoreEasy NAS with all the data on it also started up.

We noticed that our XenServer hosts had no IP addresses - no data was showing and they seemed to have lost their configuration. Uh oh.... we had a huge bet on getting this thing going by the end of the day with the managing director. There were beers involved and we were pumped to make it work.

After fiddling around with the XenServers and trying to get it working and swearing a *lot*, I turned them all off then back on. Lo and behold they came up and it took a bit to figure out what had gone wrong.

The answer was simple - the XenServer hosts are big, fast machines with a lean install on a high speed SAS drive and the NAS is slower - running Windows Storage Server 2012 and RAID'ed disks. The hosts had come up first, looked for the storage repository and then failed when they couldn't find it. Odd given that I thought the hosts retained most of their settings.

So in future - NAS up first, then start the hosts and all will be happy. The rest of the move was spectacularly successful and we had plenty of beers to drink as a result!

OTRS 5 Review

I've been using OTRS for about 10 years now, starting when I was doing desktop / server support at uni. Since then it's changed a lot in the way it looks, but fundamentally it has remained the same. The great things about OTRS are:

  • creating / modifying / updating and closing tickets is easy
  • the interface is relatively straightforward
  • creation of tickets from emails is easy
  • reporting is straightforward
  • open source and robust
Since the early versions it's ticked all these boxes and I was very interested to see what OTRS 5 was going to bring. The interface is still the same, updated here and there with a prettier graph showing closed / opened tickets but generally the same. Fonts are still nice and readable and its good for what it does.

We use it for our clients that have a maintenance agreement with us. We have them create tickets that we then update and put minutes against. OTRS has never had a parts component and we have always used a secondary system for that. It does a good job too of keeping tickets together - I can't recommend using the master/slave system enough. Merging tickets has always worked flawlessly too.

The upgrade process is well documented and relatively straightforward. Just be aware of what user you are accessing the system as when you're doing it - sometimes you need to be root and other times it's important to be the OTRS user. All in all, it took about 45 minutes with backups, testing and checking before I let the boys go wild on it.

So while the interface is prettier there are a couple of things that annoy me right off the bat. When I add a note I now have to put something in the title - before it would simply put "Note" in there. Likewise for closing a ticket or changing ownership - this one extra step is annoying because I do it so frequently. Also, we have queues that are underneath a top level queue and that needs to be manually expanded out each time now instead of it sitting out like it always has. Minor annoyances it's true, but annoyances nonetheless.

I suspect most of the changes in the system are in the back end and I'm noticing that it is running more smoothly. We are using a fairly archaic IBM server to host it on an Ubuntu Linux Server platform with about 10K tickets give or take. MySQL is our database of choice and the backups run at around 1 GB in size. Thus far it has all been good. I'm looking forward to seeing how it travels over the next few weeks. I have noticed that the iPhone package is no longer supported - apparently the interface scales with the mobile platform - we will test this further. 

Enjoy :-)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Plone - the open source Content Management System - a review

One of my clients, a non-profit, has a lot of files on it's clients. They need a way to digitally store these files, securely and with availability for certain people. They also need these files to expire and be deleted after a given length of time - usually about 7 years.

These were the parameters I was given to search for a Document Management System (DMS) or more commonly a Content Management System (CMS). There are quite a lot of them, but most are designed for front facing information delivery - that is, to write something, put it up for review, have it reviewed and then published. We do not want this data published ever - and some CMS's make that a bit tricky to manage. So at the end of the day, I looked into several CMS systems that looked like they could be useful.

The first one to be reviewed was OpenKM (www.openkm.com). It looked OK, was open source which is preferable and seemed to have solid security and publishing options. Backing up the database and upgrading OpenKM seemed like a nightmare. I tried a couple of times only to experience great sadness and eventually throwing my hands up in defeat. Scratch that guy off the list.

The next one I seriously considered was Plone (www.plone.org). An open, attractive looking interface certainly helped matters from the get go. I liked it, it looked nice and the decision makers at my client would like it too. Open Source, Linux install - OK good to go. The installation documentation is pretty good, a bit fuzzy at times ( though I do attribute that in part to a lack of solid caffeine) and it was relatively straightforward to get going.

I followed the instructions and started to build the site. It was pretty straightforward and offers different workflow types - so for an internal site, there is no publishing option available. Posts (or uploads of files) are set to either "For Review" or "Private" which is perfect for the application we have at hand here. File size uploads are relatively straightforward to change - there is a config file, much like MediaWiki or similar, that allows for changes to the site that are outside the scope of the in-application setup.

After the build, and setting up internal DNS, outgoing mail and accounts, I set it loose with the client. They have logged in, tested it and come back with a plethora of questions - many many of them. I have changed the security options several times and it's handled it all quite well. Before the system goes into production I'll be making sure backups and restores work. Phone has internal ones that I still need to do more testing on. Stay tuned!