There’s an App for That?

On a recent trip to Southern California, I made plans to meet a friend for Happy Hour. I knew the venue would be crowded, but I had no fear. Why? I have a smartphone. He has a smartphone. There are no less than 28,756 ways for us to connect and ultimately enjoy a beer (or three) together. It’s almost difficult to remember what life was like before smartphones. The amount of computing power in our palms is mind boggling … at least for an old-timer like me.

These days you can find apps that’ll age you 25 years or make you look 50 pounds heavier. However, it might be worth asking the question “What are some non-ridiculous, non-inane things that can be achieved with this technology?” Back in the dark ages, when I was still a day-to-day systems administrator, an “On Call Engineer” designation was accompanied with a bevy of restrictions. I either couldn’t leave my house where I had dial-up RAS access to my systems (yes, I’m that old) or I had to carry around a text pager that required me to deduce, in 160 characters, what the crisis du jour was.

How can a smartphone and mobile application ease the “On Call” burden of today’s typical IT Engineer?

If I could be 23 years old and starting my sysadmin adventures again here are the things that would be top of mind for me:

Easy-Peeze (Is Setup a Breeze?)

Think about the logistics of getting all performance and availability details off your network and into a smartphone display. ACLs, DMZs, and encryption, oh my! It’s enough to spike the heart rate of any Information Security guy worth his salt. Any mobile application must be easy to setup or it’ll never get done.

A Palantir For My Processes

I want to be able to see everything that’s happening with my network and systems (and be able to communicate with them) while I’m away from the office. Not unlike Gandalf and his Palantir (that crystal ball object) from the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Your typical mobile apps are an update on the theme from IT days past: They give a message or show a status of what’s wrong. That’s better than nothing, but it’s similar to a “Check Engine” light that illuminates in your car. There’s no context. No Insight. You might as well carry around a text pager. Deeper mobile visibility would manifest itself in better decision support no matter where your Engineers are located.

Rock Around the Clock

If the app is easy to setup and it gives deeper insights, then it doesn’t matter where your IT Engineers are located or what time it is. It would mean 24×7 access to your systems because mobile data on today’s cellular networks are, more or less, ubiquitous. That would have been a nice touch way back in the dark ages. I wouldn’t have needed to stop what I was doing, find a phone, and respond to a page. No need to pause a Netflix show binge-watch to deal with a network problem.

Who’s Watching the Watchers?

Full visibility to systems is good. Ease of setup is nice. Anytime access is a step in the right direction. However, what would I really want in a mobile app if I were the day-to-day engineer responsible for system health and uptime: Alternate alerting paths. The primary method of alerting in all NMS systems today is email. What happens if your email server goes down? How are you going to get that alert? If you have a mobile application that sends and receives “I’m alive” heartbeats to your network, then that’s a huge win. It means your know your monitoring system is up and running. Conversely, no heartbeat potentially means one of two things: your monitoring system is down or your Internet access is offline. Either scenario should signal a sysadmin to swing into action.

Mobile and smartphone technology have come a long way in the last 30 years. If only I knew where to look for an NMS solution and mobile application that would allow me to completely monitor my network while enjoying beers with my friends.  Oh wait … maybe there IS an app for that?

 

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