Monday, October 06, 2003

Controlled Chaos

If they weren’t so dang useful, computers would never get used. How’s that for stating the obvious?

Thinking about the amount of information flowing through our computer networks at any given moment is staggering! We’re moving more information in one second these days then were ever conceived to have been available 100 years ago. Sure we had books, and businesses had ledgers and other info squirreled away in dusty files, but today it’s information overload! My job? To see that it all flows smoothly.

As a network administrator/network engineer I am responsible for managing the information pipeline at our organization. This covers everything from e-mail, to desktop computers, web page content, and access to a variety of servers and mainframes.

How was your experience setting up your own computer at home? Getting online with something like AOL? Getting a virus in your e-mail? Isn’t it fun?

This is why I view the management of a large network as controlled chaos. At any given time you’re balancing user support, with application support, with server support, with circuit support, with liaison support with other agencies, all while trying to stay up with where the current technology is heading, and trying to learn even more stuff that you’ve never heard of until the boss wants it now.

There’s new computers, old computers, updates from Microsoft, updates for every conceivable program the organization uses, hardware failure, software errors, user confusion, my confusion, talking on the phone, communicating through e-mail, communicating through reports, etc…

Most of that information you can probably keep up with pretty well. Now let’s dive head first into the depths of the digital world. Let’s talk communicating between computers. TCP/IP, IPX/SPX, DHCP, SMP, Smtp, NAL, SMS, NDS, Active Directory, SCSI, RLL, MFM, IDE, Frame Types, NetBEUI, Appletalk, FTP, http, html, xtml. There’s scripting through PHP, CGI, Pearl, DOS and Java. This paragraph could go on to fill up a large book, but you get the idea. All this without even listing the multitudes of software and hardware that’s out there.

Now, get all of this to synchronize, and play nice together, all the while following the structured rules that each protocol, program, and hardware device demands.

Why do I do this? Would you believe I enjoy it? Really! I love my work. I’ve always liked mysteries, and trying to figure out how things work. At amusement parks, while all the people are riding rides and having fun, I spend my time looking at the mechanics of how everything is working, and wondering what programs are need to run it all.

I’ve had folks sit in my office and watch three phone lines ringing, e-mail flooding in, and me remote controlling another computer while changing setting on three servers. They tend to just shake their head and wander off.

If small bits of time go by with no phone calls, I may sit down and try to finish a computer program that will make everything run even smoother, or perhaps tell me when things aren’t running so smooth.

Now that I think about it, perhaps controlled chaos is too tame a phrase.

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