A screen capture of the network scanner

Computer Monitoring

Do you have a computer network? How is the health of each piece of hardware in your network? The answer for most small businesses is surprised uncomfortable silence.

A screen capture of the network scanner
Not much hard drive space left here…

A friend first contacted me because one of their servers ran out of hard drive space and no one noticed for weeks. They wanted a simple way to quickly track their hard drive usage so I wrote a fairly simple program that would scan their network, record the disk usage and display the results on an internal web page. Since the little program was touching these computers every thirty minutes anyway, I added a few bonus features to my program to help their part-time IT guy. One piece of important information the program now collected was the status of hotfixes and operating systems patches, another was the date of the last reboot. They were thrilled, for about a week.

An email appeared in my inbox that simply said “computers missing.” I was confused and worried thinking my friend had suffered a loss like theft, on a grand scale. It turned out that the computers were missing from that internal web page, but only sometimes. After a bit of over-the-phone troubleshooting with the overworked part-time IT guy, I drove to my friend’s business to figure it all out.

We checked the program, because of course we all assumed there was some sort of error in my scripting. When we found nothing wrong in my programming (hooray!), I went to check the logs the scan program generated and noticed that while one computer had been rebooted nearly every day but there wasn’t a clear pattern to the others. We started checking the suspected computers in person. I mentioned that these computers were fantastically slow to allow a login and this worried me, the IT guy agreed and said it had been getting worse. When I asked about the rebooting server he looked shocked, and I knew this was going to be bad.

Somewhere along the line they made a business decision (a bad one, they admit) to not spend the time to run updates automatically. The idea was that the IT guy (who is part-time, remember?) would check each of the fifty-six computers each day and perform updates, run backups, and check for viruses. This worked for a while, now fast forward a few months, add more IT responsibilities and less work time and you can guess what happened.

So we worked together most of the day, fixed the backup scheme (which wasn’t working correctly), cleared one server of a virus infection (one of the causes of the slow network logins), automated all of the updates (now protecting against those viruses),  and cleaned a million pounds of dust out of a few workstations (the cause of the weird reboots, due to overheating). We also worked with their IT guy and created a list of tasks that needed to be done on a regular schedule to help the IT guy keep up with the computers on his network.

Now we have a part-time IT guy who can breathe a little easier, and a business that can now easily answer about the health of the computers on their network.

~Geof “what reboot?” Franklin

Researching ways to improve scientist’s access to data. Programming software to solve humanity’s problems. Disseminating emergency preparedness knowledge. Sharing knowledge about science. Practicing amateur radio. Serving humanity through volunteer efforts. Drives a robot to work.
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