IT Horror Stories: Upgrading got you down? Don’t let the bugs win! (Sponsored by Canon)

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This post is sponsored by the new Canon imageCLASS MF800 Series color printers, designed to help you get through IT. With features like a remote user interface (for control) and a 3.5” color LCD touch screen (for efficiency), imageCLASS printers give your office the type of reliable output and efficiency you demand from your printer – giving SYSADMINS more time to focus on the IT help requests that really matter! For more information visit www.usa.canon.com/getthroughit

Please note that all opinions featured in this article are entirely our own and do not reflect those of the sponsor.

We’ve heard about your IT help desk experiences, from inadvertent data center outages (it was a vacuum cleaner), to irresponsible bosses, to computers stuck to the floor. Now, we want to share a bit of insights from the Geeks Are Sexy Staff based on a particular story about dealing with outdated technology. One user responded to our call to action writing about his experience and now we’re here to help. Read on…

I used to work for a rather large and well known Computer/Electronics company at one of their retail stores. As I was manning my shift alone at the “bar.” A woman walks in, mid 30’s, carrying a computer that is easily 15 years old, her face streaked with tears. She walks straight past the greeter to my station, and plops her dinosaur of a machine on the bar and looks at me with hatred I have never seen before and says “fix it.”

Understanding that she could be distraught, I decided to ignore her rudeness, and kept my composure.

I smiled at her and said “Hi my name is ‘M’, what can I do for you today?”

“It’s broken. I need you to fix it” she responds angrily.

I look over the machine, it’s covered in dust and smells pretty bad, then look at her and say, “Ok, I notice that this machine is about 15 years old, so there isn’t anything I can do for it. No one here is trained on that legacy operating system, in fact, I doubt there are more than a dozen people at this entire company who can effectively troubleshoot this, and the hardware is well past the warranty or service period.”

She starts to cry. At this point she is starting to attract attention from other people in the store. My manager comes over to see what is going on. The woman screams to him about how I refuse to help her, and all she wants is a file that her dead husband had made on the machine. I try to calm her down, but it’s no use.

Against my better judgement, and after a fair amount of urging from my manager, I decide to at least attempt to see if it was a problem that I could fix. I inform her that I’m going to give it the ol ‘college try’ and she immediately perks up. I grab my trusty screwdriver, and loosen the screws on the back and remove the case. What happened next still gives me nightmares.

As soon as I remove the beige plastic outer covering, My hands and arms are covered with ROACHES. They were crawling everywhere, and making weird hissing noises. Now, I am a fully grown man, 6’4” and weigh about 260 lbs. I served in the US Army Infantry for 6 years before working here, and I screamed like a little girl. Flailing around, trying to get these vermin off of my skin. But the worst part was the stench, it smelled like a combination of roadkill and rotted chicken. It was everywhere, people halfway down the store were gagging and retching because of it.

I’m screaming, she’s screaming, the girl next to me -who I unfortunately manage to flick a roach into her hair- is screaming. Finally after about a minute of my little dance, and armed with a HEPA mask, I calm down enough to walk back to her. She smiles and says “so what do you think?”

I was flabbergasted, I tried to talk to her, but I just couldn’t put the words together. I walked to the back, told my Manager I was quitting, grabbed my stuff and never went back to that godforsaken place.

Granted, this is an example of one home user, but this is representative of what we as IT professionals see every day in our environments. Certainly, you’ve experienced it: outdated equipment and/or software…usually both. These are the very things which are the bane of any system or IT manager worth their salt. In an industry which sits firmly on a foundation of change, we as IT professionals don’t really seem to like it too much. This damnable fact of life is driven by the competencies of our core industry which forces our hand to comply with legal governances – simply keeping up with the details can be a full time job. The good news? These new governances means cool new “stuff.” Oh sure, we do love a good toy to play with, but it’s the whole “getting-rid-of-the-old” thing that we cringe at. Change goes hand-in-hand with planning. So with this in mind, as a whole, how can an intrepid IT professional approach this concept of change in his or her business environment?

“…and all she wants is a file that her dead husband had made on the machine.”

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Take a long hard look at what you have now. How much more life does your gear have left on this earth? Does the manufacturer still offer maintenance for that server or legacy app anymore? Is it now ‘extended maintenance’ or close to end-of-life? Do you even have backups of your essential data – more importantly, can you restore that data? If your hardware is now a home for small rodents and various forms of insects…it’s time to do something about it! Aside from your new gear being simply faster (and cleaner) than the old, here are some compelling reasons to move ahead with those upgrades:

Security – Old tech, particularly software, is consistently prone to security exploits. Updated “stuff” means updated software.

“No one here is trained on that legacy operating system, in fact, I doubt there are more than a dozen people at this entire company who can effectively troubleshoot this, and the hardware is well past the warranty or service period.”

There it is, old-timer in the corner effect: Old stuff means there’s that one guy who’s ready to switch jobs, and he’s the only one that knows how your systems work. If it goes down, he might not be there to help you. Upgrading isn’t just important for when things go right, but it helps when someone knows your gear when things go horribly wrong.

Power consumption and cooling – Hardware refinements over the years have made computational processing much more efficient. As such, you can leverage virtualization to run many servers on one physical server. Less hardware? Less cooling required!

Business representation – Are you a marketing group?  You need to modernize your print hardware and online representation. Printing customer copy on an old inkjet printer isn’t going to cut it. It looks bad and you should feel bad.

So, you’ve decided to upgrade! Think about what you are going to impact if you travel down this road? Identify what your business does to make ends meet. Is it a customer relationship system? Maybe a financial solution or an industrial production line application… Whatever it is, figure out how it is being used today by all your personnel/clients, and discover what it takes to keep the lights on. Build a recovery plan. Test your backups. Approach a company that specializes in continuity solutions which can emulate your environment. Get your staff involved, and identify what it costs for your business to be down…per hour.

Planning sounds daunting, especially for that person who might spend most of their time fighting fires. This is why finding that special someone to head up your upgrade project (because that’s what this is!) is your key to success. This person needs to help identify what business critical processes are running from day to day, determine who is responsible for them and discover what needs to happen in order for those processes to keep running no matter what. Once that’s done, it’s time to get departmental champions who can take an active role in the upgrade plans and help shape the expectations of the staff as well as the project team during the transition from old to new.

This brings up the subject of contingency. Be Batman. You need to have plans if things go south. Heck, you really should have a plan ‘B’ for your contingency plan (you know, having a tertiary plan doesn’t hurt, either). Prioritize and create a dependency tree for your important systems, then create emergency procedures for each if something doesn’t go right. This is something that you’ll keep for any disaster, not just the ones that might occur during your project.

Create your timelines, make them realistic. Create task lists in an order that make sense and don’t overburden your staff. Set expectations for your customers/users; How will their routine work-day be impacted by this upgrade? For how long? Keep everyone in the loop. Some might cringe when reading this, but your relationship with your co-workers is very important. No, really.

Don’t give them a reason to “hate the change” – give them ownership so they are part of the change.

You’ve got the plan, you’ve got the budget, most importantly, you’ve got the buy-off from key players in your company for this new upgrade. Execute your plan, keep communication going and evaluate your changes as you go.

Once you’ve got everything in place and running, it’s time to inventory what you’ve got and document as much as you can. Sure, getting new gear can be fun and exciting, but take this opportunity to put all of that in writing. Document how the new gear works, what happens to your business if it doesn’t, and who to call when you need help. All of this needs to be put somewhere handy, because you WILL need it again – especially when it comes time for the next upgrade!

Upgrading is a necessary fact of IT life. “Change for change’s sake” is most definitely not the point. That’s why you must make it meaningful and appropriate and business-centric. Remember, IT doesn’t (typically) drive the business; it’s the other way around.

[Picture Source: ArvutistuudioCC BY-SA 4.0 | Christopher SessumsCC BY-SA 2.0]




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