5 Sysadmin Holiday Survival Tips

You can survive support tasks with some careful planning. These tips can help.

By Glenn Gray

Systems administrators are already dreading the inevitable holiday tradition of receiving an "emergency" phone call from the office workaholic, typically right as the festivities are about to begin. Often the remedies for these "emergencies" are as simple as locating a lost file or folder, but sometimes these workaholics manage to bring down a critical system. Either way, an IT-related interruption to holiday fun can really put a damper on a sysadmin's spirit. Here are five tips to help sysadmins survive the holiday season with their spirits intact:

Tip #1: Expect the unexpected

No one can really expect the unexpected, but sysadmins can at least make educated guesses about what systems might fail over the holidays by polling business users ahead of time. Send an e-mail message to the entire office (or at least the managers of each department) and find out who will likely be working over the holidays and when they will be working. This will provide you with a good indication of what systems will be in use over the holidays and what to expect in case of an outage.

Tip #2: Set expectations ahead of time

Make sure each department manager is informed about who to call in case of emergencies, under what circumstances they can call for assistance, and what kind of response time they can expect. Managing expectations is a key component in customer satisfaction at any time, but it can be especially important for maintaining sanity during the holiday season.

Tip #3: Let the help desk software decide

Don't burn out the one IT staff person the team can't live without. Balance the load according to skill sets over the holidays, regardless of who is on call. If a request comes in about a crashed Linux server, it makes little sense to let the Windows desktop support person struggle for hours trying to fix it. Get the right person working on each task to minimize downtime and maintain customer satisfaction. Employing good help desk software can help accomplish this by automating distribution of help desk tickets. When choosing help desk software for your organization, look for one that allows you to set up forwarding rules to get tickets to the right resources based on the type of work expected.

Tip #4: Do IT remotely

If there is a good chance employees will be in the office over the holidays, it's likely that IT staff will need remote access to office computers. Comprehensive remote support tools give sysadmins the ability to initiate remote control sessions from anywhere. In an office with a mixed-OS environment, it is critically important that remote support tools provide the ability to connect to multiple operating systems.

IT staff will likely need to be able to perform remote administration tasks as well. A crisis can be averted if a sysadmin is able to remotely restart a service or kill a runaway process. Similarly, sometimes the fix is simply unlocking the end user's Active Directory account. Make sure to use a remote support tool that incorporates the ability to manage multiple AD domains and Exchange accounts from the software console.

Tip #5: Do IT from a smartphone

Not your turn to host the entire family for the holidays this year? Consider yourself lucky! Of course, that probably means packing up the family and traveling to a relative's house, where you're not sure what kind of technology resources you'll have access to in case of an emergency. (If it's the grandparents' house where your family is meeting, you might be on a 56k modem.)

Performing sysadmin tasks from smartphones is becoming easier with mobile administration applications. Some mobile administration apps provide a comprehensive set of tools that let sysadmins perform all of their daily tasks from the most widely used mobile platforms. Imagine being able to control servers and desktops remotely, manage Active Directory objects, and monitor critical business systems from a smartphone at 3G or even 4G speeds.

If a wired connection to the Internet is not in the cards this holiday season, look to a robust mobile administration application to keep the office running smoothly while traveling.

Removing Holiday Stress

Nobody wants to deal with work while they're enjoying the holidays with family and friends. However, by sharing and using these five sysadmin holiday survival tips, you and your IT department can address any office emergencies quickly and painlessly while still leaving time for one last glass of eggnog.

Glenn Gray is product marketing manager at SolarWinds. You can contact the author at

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