Nov 07 2008

A Far Reach

Around the globe or across town, agencies rely on remote management to provide efficient, reliable support to users.

At the State Department, the IT staff oversees 200 Microsoft Exchange Servers that provide e-mail service to hundreds of locations around the globe.

While not responsible for day-to-day administration of all of State’s remote servers, the central IT department in Washington, D.C., does serve as the eyes and ears on servers worldwide, which requires having remote access to manage the servers when necessary.

Central IT staff at State deal with the complexities of remote management daily. How do they do it? An IT official at the department and others elsewhere in government offer advice on making the most of remote management by using tools in existing apps, taking advantage of virtualization and backing up files to disk.

Use Native Tools

James Roddy, acting branch chief of mobile computing for State’s Messaging System, says he sticks with native tools (in his case, the Exchange Management Console) because “the Exchange world is up to speed and secure.”

With State locations crossing all time zones, central IT staff must maintain Exchange servers 24x7. The Exchange Management Console allows responsive management in real time to investigate exploits, alert remote staff and reduce vulnerabilities, says Roddy.

Because an exploit can affect mail flow, for instance, monthly patch management from the main data center to Exchange servers worldwide is essential. “When it comes to security, we have to make sure there’s open communication between Washington and any site we’re managing,” says Roddy. Local IT doesn’t always take kindly to Washington making changes, so good communication is essential, he points out.

At the Small Business Administration’s data center, Chief Technology Officer Paul Christy relies on a complement of native system administration and management tools: Microsoft management tools for the agency’s Windows server environment, Cisco Systems management tools for network typology, and CA Unicenter for event and incident management.

SBA’s Christy says he tries to follow one rule when it comes to remote management: Keep it simple. “We minimize the number of tools we use and get the most out of every tool.”

Virtualize Your Servers

The benefits of server virtualization are well documented: fewer physical servers to manage, a smaller data center footprint, reduced power consumption and ease of new-server deployment. But, says William Kirkendale, CIO for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA), one benefit that’s often ignored is remote server management.

fact: 200: Servers that SBA supports centrally in Washington, D.C., using the Microsoft Management Console

With 18 remote sites throughout the District of Columbia, CSOSA manages 200 machines from its D.C. data center. An early VMware adopter, CSOSA found that server virtualization made it easy to scale IT services to its remote offices, says Infrastructure Manager Don Cuffee.

Cuffee manages the virtual environment using VMware VirtualCenter for provisioning, performance monitoring and device utilization, operational automation and routine management tasks.

Move to Disk for Backup

One of the biggest issues with remote locations is the lack of discipline when it comes to backups, says James Baker, research manager of storage management and storage replication at IDC. He recommends automating storage management and moving from tape to disk.

“Once the data is on disk, you don’t worry about losing the media. Disk technology has compression, so organizations can store more data in less space, and stored data can be encrypted for security,” says Baker.

That’s the approach being taken at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which centralized storage management using NetApp SAN storage management software to allocate and make changes on the fly at remote sites, says Ray Sexton, chief of ODNI’s IT Operations and Infrastructure Branch. “It saves the storage administrator and user significant time and heartburn.”