A Day in the Life of an IT Pro: When pre-historic laptops go rogue on the corporate network

In this ongoing series Kent Row (seasoned IT admin evangelist) reveals the trials and tribulations of an IT professional, he wrote his own bio:

Kent Row is a seasoned evangelist for IT admins at SolarWinds. He is at the forefront of a technological age of hosting, firewalling, trolling, tweeting, blocking and CTRL-ALT-DELETING.

He is fluent in both technical and non-technical liaison; an organisational guru who has averted more crises than you’ve stacked applications. Don’t let his excellent communication skills fool you though – he has his very own privacy policy and will maintain customer confidentiality at all times.

I’d recently moved up to the dizzying heights of managing our wireless system at work. We had a combination of Cisco and Avaya access points (APs) and controllers, thick and thin APs with halfway decent local area network (LAN) links, routers and switches. We also had a boatload of BYOD on a guest SSID and not the world’s newest notebooks roaming about on the corporate network.

We started having a problem where random APs would stop responding, but only on two floors of the building. I got out the laptop with the sniffer and patrolled the halls looking for the problem.

Stranger, looking at the wireless connection history, it only happened between 11:00 and 4:00 PM every other Friday and even then it was intermittent. Worse, it was on the corporate network.

I set up a monitoring alert to let me know the location of any AP that failed, and at 11:12 the next Friday I got an alert and jogged over to the second floor. There was Bob, from Slough. Bob worked from home from time to time and had the oldest laptop in the company. If legend be true, he still had a copy of Encarta 98 on his desktop, and enjoyed the odd game of Solitaire on his lunch break.

I asked Bob some questions about his computer set-up. He told me he “never could get WiFi working, even here,” so he just plugged in Ethernet like he did at home. Bob was very happy to get a new laptop and I was happy to have killed his poisonous wireless adapter.

In a large network environment, it is impossible to manage all your processes manually. You need to automate mundane processes like periodic network scanning and report generation and focus more on faster network troubleshooting and high network availability.

Getting up-to-date information about the network’s availability and performance should be a top priority for administrators. Network Performance Monitoring (NPM) enables users to detect, diagnose, and resolve network performance problems and outages before they become an issue.

Intelligent alerting goes one step beyond by including device dependencies, correlated events, sustained conditions, and multiple condition checks so you only get alerted for critical issues. As we’ve seen in this case, network alerts are a vital checkbox for any modern network monitoring tool and clearly an excellent dinosaur spotting tool too!

You can read all about Kent Row’s other adventures “Emailgeddon”, and "A Down Webserver, Down-Under", if you want.

Image source: Boston Public Library Flickr: By Spencer Grant?