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Information Services and Mac
Adversaries no more

By: John Welch

This is the first in a series of articles on how to make the Mac a happy part of any company's Information Services, (IS) structure. Conversely, it is also a way for Mac users to help their company's IS staff learn how to work with the unique benefits and problems the Mac brings to any network. So, it is going to be a bit of a primer for both sides, and if it helps make your life easier, great!

First of all, we have to understand why IS people are the way they are. One phrase: "Dilbert" is the truth.

Most IS people, (including yours truly), spend a lot of time keeping informed of what is going on in the computer world. For example, in addition to ten weekly computer magazines, and seven monthlies, I have ten web sites that I check more than twice daily, another twenty that I check weekly, and too many that I check on other schedules. In addition, I have three webserver mailing lists, one Microsoft Office list, five Linux lists, a PowerBook list, an Outlook Express Beta list, five Mac server lists, and a Rhapsody list. This is on top of being the PC Administrator, (Read: "All things not Unix", and I'm slowly learning that as well) for my company, and taking three college classes a semester, in hopes of finally getting a bachelor's degree. Before you go thinking, "this guy is a nut", I'm NOT that unusual.

A recent survey in one of the computer rags basically stated that being a computer administrator for anything over ten computers is one of the most stressfull jobs in the world. In the larger companies, you have to be getting shot at to bet the stress level. This is also a job that takes over your life. I haven't been able to arrange more than three vacation days in a row since 1994. In comparison, when I worked on B-1B bombers for the USAF, I took a thirty - day vacation every year. When an IS person does get some time off, they usually end up getting called, coming in, or telcommuting anyways, so the end result is that my next vacation will be spent diving. Can't work on computers under water.

In addition, IS people never know when the VP of martketing is going to tell them that they, (the computing-impaired) just signed a deal forcing the entire company's email system to migrate to Notes/Exchange/IMAP, and it has to be done in six months. Oh yeah, and his/her department also needs a complete replacement of all their PCs, they want to add some people, and they heard this ATM stuff is really easy now, so they want that on the desktop, so can that coincide with the email change? (Okay, I made up the ATM bit)

Why am I telling you all of this? So that the next time your IS guy/gal tells you something that seems utterly self-serving and Naziesque for no good reason, you'll know that it IS self-serving and Naziesque, but that there is a reason behind it.

So, amid all of this, you have Microsoft making promise after promise that if you only go to NT everywhere, you will have no security problems, everything will interoperate together, gumdrops will fall from the sky, and manna will grow in your footsteps. It's a lie, and the amazing thing is how year after year, so many IS people fall for it. It's like the scene in "Animal House": WHACK! THANK YOU SIR, MAY I HAVE ANOTHER! Only with Bill Gates holding the paddle. (If it seems I pick on Microsoft, it's true I do. And when they stop making blatant pie-in-the-sky promises, that won't come true unless you live on the Enterprise, I'll stop calling them on it).

The fact is, all operating systems are buggy. The difference between Mainframes/Minis/Workstations and everything else is that on the big iron level, bugs are a serious matter, and taken that way. You will never hear IBM saying "We know there are a couple of hundred thousand bugs in the current release of OS/400, but the next version, which will be out real soon now, will fix everything." Bugs are identified, thoroughly investigated, a soultion is proposed and thoroughly tested, and only then released to the users of that product. I can never remember having anything but complete confidence in the results of installing an AS/400 PTF, (Program Temporary Fix, IBM's version of a service patch), as opposed to an NT service pack, which usually instills intense fear. But NT is what IS professionals are beaten with daily, and they literally have no desire to introduce any more variables into that unstable mix. Especially a variable named MacOS.

So now, with all of this going on, how do you keep your Mac, or get a new one? Well, you do it the old - fashioned way. Show the IS staff how this oddball computer can make their lives easier. Show them how it can easily fit into their setup, NOT how their setup can be modified to fit your Mac. Show them viable ways to work with their backup system, security system, etc. And I'm going to help you.

One of the major concerns for IS is control. Keeping control of configurations, software, licensing issues, upgrades etc. Unfortunately, Macs have the reputation of being unable to fit into a centralized management scheme. This is not true. It's just not obvious how they can. There are a few big name admin solutions that handle Macs, TNG Unicenter from Computer Associates comes to mind. Also the upcoming SMS server 2.0 from Microsoft will handle Macs as well. But like all things, sometimes the bigger dinosaurs can be outflanked by the smaller, nimbler creatures. Like Dr. Solomon's Software, and a recent purchase they made, NetOctopus.

I use this product every day and have been very impressed by it. It has allowed me to do both the Quicktime 3.0 upgrade as well as ColorSync 2.5 to almost 30 Macs, without leaving my desk. This includes restarts, shutdowns, etc. It handles virus upgrades, application upgrades, and with the next release, OS upgrades as well. Right now it also lets me administer DOS and Windows 3.X PCs, and the next version, (currently in beta) will let me administer Windows 95 and NT as well from my Mac. It lets me check file versions, OS versions, and for the programmers out there, every gestalt call that Apple uses, (very handy for in-house written software). With a few clicks of a mouse, I can check to see how many 7500/100s I have, that might be affected by some of the cache bugs that model once had. I can make sure that all of my Macs are upgrades with the SAM Intercept 4.5.3 extension, restart them, and then install Microsoft Office 98 on all of them. I can also delete old extensions, or files, move files, send notices, in short anything you can do with Unix, short of killing individual programs, (I can see them, but I can't kill them), I can do with NetOctopus. It is also fully scriptable, something on the order of 300+ scriptable items, therefore, it can let me know via email about almost anything I want it to. For installations, it can read Apple Installer scripts, and run them, (but not InstallerVISE or Stuffit Installer), freeing me from having to create my own installation packages. But, if I do need to create a custom install package, it has a fine utility for doing that, and can even build Apple installer packages for me, with my own script. But here's the best thing of all: It doesn't need AppleTalk. Don't get me wrong, I like AppleTalk a LOT, but it is slow, and tell an IS person you need to run AppleTalk across his/her network, and you're in for a lot of swearing. NetOctopus runs across TCP/IP just fine, and very fast. It is a well-threaded application, and surprisingly does not put a lot of load on the Mac it runs on. I have it running on a 7500/100 with 64 MB of RAM, an internal 2 GB hard drive , 2 - 2GB externals, and a DLT tape jukebox. In addition to NetOctopus, this Mac also runs Retrospect for all the PCs and Macs in the company, and runs AppleshareIP. It's a busy machine, that hasn't crashed once in the last two months.

The point to NetOctopus is that here is solution to give your IS staff, that runs across TCP/IP, only requires one additional server, that is a LOT cheaper than an NT server, and will give them as many, if not more capabilities for Mac management as they currently have for Windows. Best of all, it's cheap. The per-seat cost is around fifty dollars, and you can have multiple copies of the server program running. For the demo, the NetOctopus rep. GAVE me the CD with the server and agent apps on it. The same CD as you get when you purchase it. Without a valid serial number, it's a 30 day demo. Kind of a refreshing attitude, and helped clinch the sale. This is, by the way the classic case of giving away the razor, (server app), and charging for the blades, (user agents). Again, this is just one answer to Mac "problems". I hope to have some more for you soon.

Created: 05/05/98
Updated: 11/09/02

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