IT pros readying for holiday season woes

While a lucky few are winding down for the silly season and a well-deserved break, the Christmas season for some IT professionals is a time of potential disaster.

Security, disaster recovery and having a job at the end of the holiday period are just a few of the issues that will keep IT professionals awake at night.

Darryn Capes-Davis, IT manager, Children's Medical Research Institute (CMRI) at Westmead in Sydney, is the one-man band who looks after all computer and network related affairs at his organisation, covering help desk queries to managing the switched network backbone.

Capes-Davis said that while it is still business as usual at CMRI, one of the most pressing IT issues is security and "making sure everyone's data is secure, and there isn't a virus outbreak over the Christmas period, especially the holidays".

"While we normally rely on a contractor, it is important that everything runs smoothly. I'm going away over Christmas and the New Year, and unless a complete disaster happens, most things should be okay.

"We have the appropriate backup in place. It would really only be a hardware failure that could get us into a disaster situation, or of course, a bomb," he said.

Current projects Capes-Davis is working on include re-using 10 Macintosh computers, installing Linux onto them and changing them into PCs, so the CMRI can continue to use them. "It's a bit tricky, but you've just got to know what you're doing".

Capes-Davis said as part of next year's budget, he is considering moving the CMRI from an NT4 based environment, to Windows 2000 or the .Net server.

Simon Huggard, systems manager, systems support unit at Monash University's Sir Louis Matheson Library, said his big concern is having backup for disasters.

"We have had disasters. In December last year, we lost two years worth of data, so it's important to have backup," Huggard said.

The university is installing a new server as part of a $600,000 project that has been in the works for a while.

"Replacing the old servers is something we haven't done in a while; they're getting old. We are looking at the server redundancy and disaster recovery plan and will move the old servers to another location once the new server has been installed and is working, which will take a couple of months," Huggard said.

Software upgrades, he said, are always a challenge, adding the last one was a complete disaster which was "the vendor's problem". He is hoping everything will go well this time round.

With various projects in the pipeline, Huggard said the university is also planning electronic publishing of journals and other Monash publications.

With most of the Monash students, teachers and staff on Christmas holidays, the university experiences a lower usage of systems at this time of the year.

"But there is always something going on; there's summer school which only involves a small number of users, but it does limit the downtime we can have," he said.

Huggard said with the library's system support unit open usual library hours, it will be the university's IT department that could face having to come in to the office to solve an IT issue at 5am on New Year's day.

A national IT manager at an aviation organisation said he is losing sleep over human resources issues as those concerning the management of staff always seem to be there.

Over the next six months, he will be working on information-related projects and anything to do with the capture, presentation, collation and sharing of business information.

He said he will also work on "tidying up" the network operating environment, and "moving to a more best-practice server or client operating model".

"The ongoing challenge of achieving management buy-in for IT projects is also a continuing challenge and as there are limited resources, so is the maintenance of a consistent IT user environment," he said.

"In a dynamic company with many moves and changes that is difficult; with new applications and servers comes the challenge of keeping on top of your user account management, which seems to grow."

The national IT manager said a "skeleton staff" will hold the fort at his organisation over the Christmas period, "because we provide a public service the work doesn't stop, so things will still be very busy".

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