Disorganized Datacenters and Bad GUI: Top 10 IT Pet Peeves, Part 2

In the first installment of our “Top 10 IT Pet Peeves,” we here at Enterprise Networking Planet looked at three of the things that drive the IT department crazy. Today we look at a couple more in our IT aggravation countdown.

7. Disorganized Datacenters

Rats’ nests.

That’s what Ken Quigley, an IT engineer for Rockport Technology Group, calls them.

They’re the main complaint that Quigley and his RTG colleagues have about their work. We interviewed him about his own network engineering woes, and Quigley wasn’t shy about discussing his frustration “when [we] walk into the…datacenter and the lazy bastards that wired everything had no sense of organization.”

Of course, many a datacenter engineer has complained about excessive cable, but Quigley’s woes go above and beyond this singular bête noire.

“[S]ometimes you go to these places where everything was just thrown together – no color codings, wires everywhere – and you’re left trying to fight your way through it,” vents Quigley. “It’s a lot of wasted time for something that should be relatively simple.”

Sometimes the problem stems from poor planning. “[P]eople [are] not documenting which ports are coded for what[,] or misnumbering wall jacks and ports,” Quigley explains. It comes back to the lack of proper documentation that we discussed in Part 1.

“That’s where a toning tool comes in handy,” says Quigley. Sometimes called “tone generators” and “cable trackers,” toning tools are used to trace and verify cables and connections where it would be difficult to do so otherwise.

“[E]very network engineer should have one,” Quigley urges.

An ounce of prevention, however, is worth a pound of cure. Quigley outlines how enterprise administrators can help their network engineers and effect significant cost savings by describing what an organized datacenter should look like.

“Usually, if it’s done in an organized fashion, certain ports will be color coded. Say, voice will be yellow, data blue, PoE will be another color,” says Quigley. “[The cables will] be organized and wrapped together and tucked away nicely. You can easily follow the wire from one port to the other without rummaging through a whole bunch of other wires or worrying about accidentally unplugging something.”

Taking these simple steps to keep a datacenter tidy can go a long way toward allowing your IT workers to keep their sanity amidst what Quigley dubs “the madness that is network engineering.”

But what about on the software side?

6. A Big GUI Mess

“The golden rule of platforms is that you eat your own dogfood.”

These words became accidentally immortalized when Google employee Steve Yegge inadvertently shared his Google+ rant publicly (so much for “Circles”). In the post, Yegge credited his former employer, Amazon, as an example of eating its own dogfood, for creating a fully workable, fully externalizable platform while refusing to allow employees to encode “backdoor” workarounds.

Deploy a poor GUI implementation, however, and your organization will be inviting these backdoors. Worse, few people will know about them.

Programmers, frustrated with working with supposed-to-be-intuitive-but-not-really point-and-click interfaces that their organizations have foisted upon them with neither sufficient feedback nor salesmanship, admit to coding undocumented backdoors to get around the GUIs. (And there’s that word again: undocumented. The subject of failing to properly document code comes up a lot when it comes to IT pet peeves.)

The result can be a data infrastructure nightmare, especially when combined with the seemingly random lines of superfluous code that GUIs tend to vomit up. Over time, as these problems self-perpetuate and understanding plummets, organizations may come to rely even more on the GUIs that got them into trouble to begin with.

“Simon,” a security threat analyst with decades of experience in IT, agrees that GUIs tend to make users helpless and lazy. (Simon has asked that his real identity be kept concealed. He currently works for a Fortune 50 company that sells and uses numerous GUI solutions.)

“We live in a point-and-click world of impatient people trained by GUI interfaces,” says Simon. “Without thinking, they click on a link.”

Indeed, according to Simon, this learned helplessness can backfire big time on GUI-philic enterprises because of the significant security threat that GUIs can present when users aren’t careful. He therefore cautions those who would deploy GUI-based solutions to implement administrative controls, using the example of the modern browser or mobile app.

“[P]op-ups occur so often in today’s world that it has become an automatic reaction to…click ‘OK’ or ‘Cancel[.]’ And if that pop-up says, ‘Install this untrusted (malicious) Java app?’ and the user clicks ‘OK,’ whose fault is it? Wouldn’t it be safer, for the user, if it said ‘Untrusted app, rejecting install’ instead, thus protecting the user? [Alternatively,] if it really [i]s from a trusted source, require the user to go through a formal process of installing the app[.]”

Of course, let’s make no mistakes: GUIs are vital when it comes to enabling accessibility and collaboration. Not everyone is – or should be expected to be – a programmer. The primary issues of good GUI deployment are twofold: 1) infrastructure, and 2) security.

Everything – everything – starts with a coded (and, naturally, well-documented) solution. Rather than pick GUIs as patchwork solutions (and possibly suboptimal patchwork solutions, at that) to your problems, invest in a well-coded infrastructure first and then seek GUIs that will complement and fit well within your existing infrastructure. (“Cloud-in-a-box” solutions with GUI interfaces have been touted as one way of accomplishing this.) In the long run, this tactic will afford your employees greater understanding, and your IT department greater adaptability, without getting “locked in” to a single vendor.

Then that leaves the issue of security, which can be solved by comprehensive training and well-enforced security policies. Frequently, vendors are all too happy to offer to train your employees on their products and avoid common problems.

“As easy as GUIs make life these days, they also help create some of our worst issues,” insists Simon. “I prefer command line interfaces[.]”

The IT department will always run into problems – that’s the nature of the game – but proper planning and controls can provide some relief and free up time and energy for truly worthwhile projects. Just have to think things through and make sure everybody knows what they’re doing.

Want more IT pet peeves? Check out Part 3 here and Part 4 here. And in case you missed it, Part 1 is back here, behind the tangle of unlabeled cables in the corner.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Joe Stanganelli is a writer, attorney, and communications consultant. He is also principal and founding attorney of Beacon Hill Law in Boston. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeStanganelli.

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