How To Live Without A Systems Administrator

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Reprinted From: New Castle Business Ledger
Written By: Jon Chorney
As more small organizations take advantage of computers in general, and networks in particular, maintaining the systems without hiring a full time technical person has become an increasingly common concern.

Fortunately, both Microsoft and Novell now offer network operating systems for small businesses which are quite stable and also simplify basic operations by adding and deleting users, changing passwords, setting file and directory access levels, creating workgroups, and maintaining a log of incidents that affect system operations. Once installed by the dealer, network systems, like most business software, should continue to run with a minimum of problems.

Problems with the network that may occur are usually caused by changes in hardware or software at the individual computers connected to the system, rather than the system itself.

A loose network connection can cause intermittent problems which may be inconsistent in their characteristics. While the network cables themselves are reasonably strong, the connectors themselves can be easily disturbed. Therefore, care must be taken whenever equipment is relocated so as to minimize strain on the cable. Since most network cables today use a connector which is just like the one on your telephone, they can be easily disconnected and then reconnected.

You can also avoid problems if you make sure that new programs are compatible with the brand and version of your network operating system as well as the brand and version of your individual computers' operating systems. (Here's a tip: only use the "recommended" as opposed to the "minimum", requirements when deciding whether or not a particular program will run satisfactorily on your system.) Slow or erratic performance can be signs that the system is inadequate for the software.

In addition, try to discourage employee "experimenting" with demonstration disks, screen savers, games, etc. Unfortunately, some programs have difficulty functioning with particular hardware components. Evidence of these kinds of problems range from impaired functions within programs to loss of the use of the modem, printing problems and strange colors on the screen. In extreme cases, the system may fall to boot altogether. By restricting what is loaded on your machines, you significantly reduce the chances that you'll have difficulties.

In today's connected world, an additional danger is computer virus infiltration. An antivirus program with the most current information update is an absolute necessity - not a discretionary purchase. The most common sources of viruses are floppy disks, Internet transmitted programs and e-mail (another reason for limiting the installation of games and demos). Since the effects of viruses range from nuisance messages to the wholesale destruction of all data on a hard drive, this is nothing to take lightly.

The most important part of your computerized business is your back-up system. Tapes or removable disks are the most common media. The simplest way to be safe is to backup everything every day and then take the tape, or disk, away from the office for the night. In the event of disaster, you could rent the equipment you need and utilize your backup to restore your operation. (Even if you just accidentally delete a file, your backup system will immediately prove its worth.) The backup media should be tested on a regular basis make certain the information is accessible and complete.

While your own staff may prove to be a valuable resource of problem solving knowledge, there may be times when you need outside help. Recommendations from people whom you know well can be the most reliable guide to finding the company or individual to give you the professional level of knowledge you may need. The choice of such a provider should be made in advance of any emergency. (Note; keeping detailed records of all purchases and installations can save costly billed hours when the service person is called.