A Whole New World

I just got home from my first day as a sysadmin at Northeastern, and I think I’m really going to like it.

Since this is my first position in academia, I can’t generalize and say “wow, academia is so much different than private enterprise” (I’ll leave that for others who know better than I do), but I can tell you that it’s going to be a really interesting period of acclimation.

The infrastructure that I’m dealing with is widely varying. The College of Computer and Information Sciences has been around since 1982, and I suspect there are still small lingering parts of that infrastructure lurking about. While part of the infrastructure is utterly modern (particularly the user-facing portions such as the managed Windows and Linux desktops), there are certain portions that are visibly datable to the early 90s.

The “onboarding” process (does anyone else hate that term?) reminds me of how we used to bring people on at IA when I started there. It’s pretty rough and it could definitely be streamlined and automated, but when there’s an average turnover rate of around seven years, you have to wonder if it’s really worth the effort.

What is worth the effort is unifying the knowledge base. There IS network documentation, but it’s pretty well spread out, questionably updated (my predecessor actually left a year ago), and inconsistent. Creating a cohesive documentation repository (one which can, hopefully, be updated in an automated fashion) will go a long way to making the infrastructure faster to pick up for whoever has to do this next time.

Also up for renovation is the monitoring system, but I’ll save that for a later episode of This Old Infrastructure.

  • AK

    Congrats on the role! As an alumnus of CS at NEU, you’re lucky they moved out of Cullinane!

  • AK: Thanks! West Village H is beautiful, but we’re already out of room!

  • Crad

    What type of document management system would you recommend? We struggle with this same issue but don’t want a full flow doc mgmt app. Still considering SharePoint.

    For monitoring we use n-able and love the new automation engine for remediation and common sys admin task.

  • Crad: I have varying opinions… I suspect the best solution depends on the use case and the userbase.

    I had a lot of success with KnowledgeTree, and I liked the feature set.

    There are also some ServerFault threads that may be relevant:



  • Personally, I think there is nothing better for IT related documenation than Microsoft OneNote. I wrote about some of my early experiences with it here: http://itforme.wordpress.com/2010/04/06/using-onenote-in-it/ Since that time, I simply can’t live without it. Works fantastic in a team environment. All you have to do to wow someone is type in something in the search box, and it will find text inside of screen shots. Amazing stuff.

  • Alex

    Hey Matt! Congrats on the new gig! Best of luck to you! I’d be interested in a blog post about the knowledge base you go with. At the place I work at we could really use this. We’ve talked about it a few times, but it never really comes to be. I’d like to set something up like that and I’d be interested in hearing what you would use. thanks!


  • Congrats Matt! Looking forward to seeing more blog posts from you :) May the 4th be with you! :)

  • Academia really is a different world, even more heterogeneous than mid-size corporates. When you have 250 servers providing 130 different services you learn things. Thing like the identity-management system they wrote in 1997 is still around and integrating new stuff with it is a large part of why things are as clunky as they are. Or how to get data out of a $100K scientific instrument bought in 1992 and only has an ISA card for an interface (and Windows 3.1 drivers). Or building a private cloud to give every department clamoring for their own server a way to at least provision such.

    Never boring!