WServerNews: Doing IT in a post-Covid world

In this week’s newsletter

We’re refocusing COVID Corner to share and discuss interesting news and speculations. Also in this issue: Tethered to your IT job. Touchy-feely IT. Do virtual conferencing right. Work remotely sans VPN. Hello, Microsoft? Updating an ActiveX control over a VPN. Shorten your meetings. Twinning teams. Playing the percentages. Plus lots more — read it all, read it here on WServerNews!

And don’t forget to check out the latest issue of FitITProNews which has an article by myself on ways you can cope with stress plus lots of other great articles from IT pros into fitness and sound nutrition. How do you cope with stress? Email me at [email protected] with your stress-mitigation strategies and tips.

Enjoy this week’s newsletter and feel free to send us feedback on any of the topics we’ve covered — we love hearing from our readers!

 

Got questions? Ask our readers!

WServerNews goes out each week to more than 200,000 IT pro subscribers worldwide! That’s a lot of expertise to tap into. Do you need help with some technical problem or are looking for expert advice on something IT-related? Ask Our Readers by emailing your problems and/or questions to us at [email protected]

 

Editor’s Corner

In last week’s newsletter I expressed a few thoughts I had been having on how IT/dev jobs and work may evolve as the current COVID crisis recedes over the next several months (we hope). Several of our readers responded at length to my ruminations and their insightful comments raise some points that warrant further discussion.

Tethered to your IT job

For example, reader P. McDermott-Wells shared the following thoughts which I’ve interspersed with my own comments and questions:

I’ve been a long-time reader — keep up the great work!  Being of the old-enough-to-retire generation (over 40 years in tech), and now working from home completely (although I am now in tech education), I have a few observations.

I’ve seen employees apparently feeling pressured to be “attached” all the time now.  I’m thinking of some who were out the door at exactly 5 pm every day, and who are now responding to email as late as 7:30 pm or later.  Will executive management now expect their employees to stay tethered and respond outside of normal working hours, because they easily can work remotely?  Will that become the pressure to keep your job?

That’s a really good question. I know many IT pros who have already been seemingly tethered to their phones 24×7 as they support the IT infrastructure of their organizations. A few have told me that they feel even more connected now that they work from home, but several others have said they feel more in control of their lives working from home and so less stressed out. What about our readers who have switched to working from home? Do you feel more or less tethered to the office? Or still about the same? Email us at [email protected]

Think back to the whole out-sourcing movement  (how long ago was that? the 1980’s?).  That was the supposed “silver bullet”.  We can hire cheap 3rd-world dev companies and manage them from our HQ in the US.  Within about 2-3 years, companies realized that productivity was going downhill, as was quality.  Managers were living on planes going to the remote 3rd party firms to try to control both productivity and quality.  How much of that model is still used in tech today?  (Did we not see the same issues in quality as manufacturing became highly outsourced?) And to this you could add that we have outsourced security in the process.

Personally I think the allure of cost savings from outsourcing will continue to entice large companies even though such practices have led to increasing customer dissatisfaction in most cases. Save a buck now even if it costs you three bucks down the road, right? Such short-horizon thinking is hard to dispel.

How much will depend on the personal work ethics of employees?  Can you stay focused when no one is watching you?

While the media is reporting a rise in electronic surveillance of remote workers, I haven’t heard any reports of this among those in my own network of IT colleagues. What about our readers? Email me at [email protected] with your Big Brother stories, if you have any you feel free to share without endangering your job. (You can always ask us to keep your name anonymous.)

What has been the main reasons companies have resisted work from home?  They didn’t believe it would work well (and/or that productivity would plummet). Now they are forced to test their theories and see how well it can work. Could we have done this 5 or 10 years ago? Probably not half as well – how big of a factor are the advances in video conferencing?

Personally I’m not much impressed with most video conferencing solutions unless the participants of the meeting are provided with studio-quality microphones and each have a dedicated soundproof meeting room. Plus a really good internet connection of course. I was in one Zoom meeting recently with a bunch of people involved in a team project and IMO it sucked bigtime.

I would also point you to this excellent opinion piece about predictions: https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/elizabeth-ames-coronavirus-new-normal-dont-believe-all-the-predictions-heres-why. Those of us old enough to remember several up and down turns in the past don’t buy all of the doom and gloom.  Our first mortgage was at 16.5% interest in 1984! Who remembers stagflation? We lived through gas shortages, long lines, and high prices. Did American stop driving? Most of the “crises” did not fundamentally change life as we know it.

I sort of agree and disagree here. On the one hand this COVID-19 situation won’t change human nature so much of what’s being called New Normal will be likely to revert to Standard Normal over time. The big question of course is, how much time will this take? Also, there are some things today that are different than they were in 1984. For instance the news media is much more fragmented and fear-driven than it was several decades ago, at least according to my own remembrance of those times.

Personally, I find working at home much less stressful: I control the music, the interruptions, the view out my window, lunch and break times, and can enjoy my furry feline companions all day.  I can even get some work done during some of the most time-wasting unnecessary Zoom meetings (sorry, my video cam is not working today…).

I completely agree 🙂

Touchy-feely IT

Wayne Hanks from Australia also offered some thoughtful observations on what doing IT may be like in a post-COVID world:

Hi Mitch, I was just looking at the latest newsletter and had some thoughts that I felt needed to be shared.

  1. Working for Big tech – having never done it, not sure what to say here, although there will always be benefits in being close to work for meetings, and getting to use all those perks.

I had asked last week whether “the Great Tech Worker Migration” was coming as remotework becomes the New Normal for big tech as companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter and others allow employees to work from home forever. I ruminated a bit on how this might affect salaries and where people who work for these companies choose to live now that travelling to the office is not part of everyday life for them. I agree though with Wayne here that the perks and other benefits will soon be missed by many of these workers, so I personally don’t hold out for this kind of thing to be a permanent change for those companies.

  1. Whilst many programmers, architects, project managers, etc may well be able to do all their work remotely, for those of us that actually need to touch the hardware and rearrange the cables, there will always be a need for us to be close to the company location.

Yes there’s nothing more satisfying than feeling the click of a fiber optic cable going into a patch panel when you’re setting up stuff in a datacenter. I was going to say the sound not feeling but who can hear anything with the datacenter A/C going full blast all around you?

  1. Managers like working in their corporate office, if only so they can play their corporate games and intrigue. Very difficult to be Machiavellian when the only employee you directly control is your cat!

Agreed, human nature doesn’t change, so evil pointy-haired bosses will continue to be what they are for us Dilberts of the world.

  1. Small companies, particularly mom and pop shops etc will come to rely on MSPs even more.

I think you’re probably right about that. What do other readers think? Email me at [email protected]

  1. Whilst a lot of work can be offloaded to remote workers, there will always be a need for someone to man the helpdesk and sort out issues for the helpless luddites.

Unless the helpdesk people are also remote — which they likely are of course.

If other readers would like to weigh in on how they think IT jobs and IT work is going to change for them as a result of the COVID crisis, send your comments to us at [email protected]

Do virtual conferencing right

For those of us who find ourselves doing much of our work-related meetings and customer interactions online, the following article by Angela Reyna recently published on the North American Network Operators Group (NANOG) website may be helpful:

Making the most of a virtual conference (NANOG)

https://www.nanog.org/stories/ten-tips-virtual-conference/

Work remotely sans VPN

Susan Bradley aka The Patch Lady has a helpful post on the Ask Woody website that explains how small businesses can temporarily allow users to remote into their desktops at the office without using a VPN:

Patch Lady — remoting into a desktop without VPN (Ask Woody)

https://www.askwoody.com/2020/patch-lady-remoting-into-a-desktop-without-vpn/

Hello, Microsoft?

Got a technical question for Microsoft about one of their products or services? Microsoft Q&A is now their official support site for questions concerning Microsoft Azure and it will soon be the main channel of support for their other product lines. Read the news here:

Microsoft Q&A graduates to General Availability! (Microsoft Docs)

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/teamblog/microsoft-qna-ga

or go directly to Microsoft Q&A here:

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/answers/products/

Got more thoughts about anything in this newsletter?

Email us at [email protected]!

Tell all your friends about WServerNews!

Please let all your friends and colleagues in the IT profession know about our newsletter. Tell them our latest issues can be found at wservernews.com while older issues dating back to 1997 can be found in our archive. And let them know also that they can receive WServerNews each week in their inbox by subscribing to it here. Thank you!

 

Ask Our Readers – Updating an ActiveX control over a VPN (a response)

Two weeks ago someone named Jon asked us the following question:

Interesting notes on ActiveX – I have an issue that needs a more “creative” solution though. The VPN software we use for work (F5) sometimes needs to update an ActiveX control, usually after the hard drive is shealed of “junk” files. Problem is it needs Admin rights and we can’t do anything remotely for pretty obvious reasons. Normally I would login as admin and run the software, update the ActiveX, then allow the user back in, but logging the user out terminates the VPN connection, and users are getting fed up with having to be hard wired to the network for me to correct this. Any thoughts or solutions (preference is using PowerShell) would be most welcome.

Jeffrey Harris suggests doing the following:

I have a few ideas.

First, remote assistance allows a remote user to connect into the user session, and the UAC prompts can be redirected to the helper to respond to.

Second, set up a scheduled task with a dedicated account (could be a domain account if the customer has active directory in use) and the necessary rights to automatically reinstall the Active-X control periodically (say, weekly).  It is likely that the account only needs to be a Power User, not an administrator, to install the software, but using a domain account means the account could be disabled centrally if necessary, rather than having to connect to each computer to do so.  The task could be deployed remotely using PowerShell.

A third option is psexec to do for Windows what Linux and Unix have done for years — run a remote shell to a computer.

If any other readers want to weigh in on Jon’s question you can email me at [email protected]

 

Tip of the Week

>> Got any IT pro tips you’d like to share with other readers of our newsletter? Email us at [email protected]

Shorten your meetings

Microsoft 365 has a useful feature called End Meetings Early that allows you to choose a value that over-rides the default meeting duration when you create a new meeting in Outlook. Ewan Dalton explains it in this blog post:

Shorten your meetings (again) (Tip o’ the week)

http://www.tipoweek.com/2020/05/13/528-shorten-your-meetings-again/

 

Admin Toolbox

>> Got any admin tools or software you’d like to recommend to our readers? Email us at [email protected]

Sysinternals Whois, a command-line utility that reports domain registration information for the specified domain, now works with new whois registry server redirects:

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/downloads/whois

LogLauncher brings ConfigMgr related and other logs together, in one view:

https://gallery.technet.microsoft.com/LogLauncher-61ba5c99

PerfView is a performance-analysis tool that helps isolate CPU- and memory-related performance issues:

https://github.com/Microsoft/perfview/blob/master/documentation/Downloading.md

 

Mailbag

In last week’s newsletter I mentioned that NORAD had recently twinned its operational team into two separate, independent and fully-functional groups, one of which is on-duty in their underground Cheyenne Mountain facility in Colorado while the other is physically isolated at some other location. I asked whether any of our readers have worked at a company that has two alternating fully-capable operational teams, one working and the other always at ready standby. It turns out that because of the Covid-19 crisis Martin Urwaleck has implemented an arrangement like this at the organization he provides IT support for in Vienna, Austria:

Hi Mitch, I’m already planning for the 2nd wave we expect in Europe for Autumn this year. I built two teams that are able to run the business — one is in the office for one week, the other works from home. After this week we do a disinfection of the office and the teams change. Physical contact between the two teams is strictly forbidden — we have to use video conferencing between the teams. As my staff is now aware of this topic we can start with this regime whenever it’s necessary.

If any other readers are doing this kind of thing we’d love to hear your stories — email us at [email protected]

 

COVID Corner – Playing the percentages

The following COVID-related news release from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) caught my attention this week:

COVID-19 Pandemic Planning Scenarios (Center for Disease Control) (PDF)

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/planning-scenarios-h.pdf

CNN has a short summary of the CDC report’s findings here:

CDC estimates that 35% of coronavirus patients don’t have symptoms (CNN)

https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/22/health/cdc-coronavirus-estimates-symptoms-deaths/index.html

The following sentence from the CNN news item interested me the most in this news item:

“The CDC also says its “best estimate” is that 0.4% of people who show symptoms and have Covid-19 will die”

What’s interesting about this is that back in early March the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated the coronavirus death rate at 3.4% as reported in this tweet from The Washington Post:

https://twitter.com/washingtonpost/status/1234921173236035585

So given that the death rate from seasonal flu (influenza A and B) in the USA is around 0.1% does this mean that COVID-19 is only a couple of times more dangerous than flu instead of several dozen times more dangerous as the WHO originally estimated?

I haven’t studied the recent CDC report in detail, but we may be comparing apples with oranges here as it appears the CDC percentage is based on case fatality numbers while WHO used hospital fatality numbers for establishing their percentage.

But the real problem (in my opinion) is that it’s misleading at best and meaningless at worst when we try to combine the impact of multiple independent variables (e.g. the deceased person’s age, whether they had prior underlying health issues, whether they resided in single family dwellings or apartments or nursing homes, what level of air pollution there is in their city, and so on) into a single risk factor expressed as a percentage. In other words, statements like “3.4% [or 0.4%] of all individuals infected by COVID-19 will die” are (in my opinion) not factual (scientific) and therefore should never be used as guidance by governments when making important decisions. Society needs to use a much broader collection of “facts” to choose the best course to follow in crises like pandemics. Not that there really is a “best course” of course since it’s not a mathematical minimax problem we’re trying to rigorously solve — it’s addressing problems in that messy thing called the real world.

How do our readers feel about these things? Do numbers like the media is reporting scare you? Do they govern your behavior? Or are you deeply skeptical of them? Or perhaps too skeptical? Email me your thoughts: [email protected]

 

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Conference calendar

NOTE: Because of the concerns surrounding the COVID-19 situation some of these conferences may be moved online or even cancelled. Please check the conference websites for the latest updates.

>> Got an IT conference or event happening that you’d like to promote in our newsletter? Email us at [email protected]

Microsoft Inspire

July 20-24, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada

https://partner.microsoft.com/en-us/inspire

 

Cyber Security Summits

For dates and locations see https://cybersummitusa.com/summits/

 

Other conferences

European Collaboration Summit – June 8-10 in Wiesbaden, Germany

https://www.collabsummit.eu/en/

Evolve – June 8-10 in Las Vegas

https://evolvetechconference.com/

RSA Conference Asia Pacific & Japan – July 14-16 in Singapore

https://www.rsaconference.com/apj

VMworld – Aug 30 – Sept 3 in San Francisco

https://www.vmworld.com/en/us/index.html

Interop – Sept 21-24 in Austin, Texas

https://www.interop.com/

European SharePoint, Office 365 & Azure Conference (ESPC20) – Nov 9-12, 2020 in Amsterdam

https://www.sharepointeurope.com/

DevOpsCon – Nov 30 – Dec 3 in Munich, Germany

https://devopscon.io/munich/

 

Podcast Corner

VPNs in the Pandemic with Richard Hicks (RunAsRadio)

http://runasradio.com/

Learning To Live With SNMP (Heavy Networking)

https://packetpushers.net/series/weekly-show/

Augmented and Virtual Reality on VMware vSphere (Virtually Speaking)

https://www.vspeakingpodcast.com/

Public Cloud Workload Repatriation Part 2 (The CTO Advisor)

https://www.thectoadvisor.com/podcast

Nation-backed attackers own easyJet, jump airgaps, hack ports (Risky Business)

https://risky.biz/netcasts/risky-business/

Securing remote work using M365 (Microsoft Cloud IT Pro Podcast)

https://www.msclouditpropodcast.com/

Microsoft Build 2020 Recap (Microsoft Cloud Show)

http://www.microsoftcloudshow.com/podcast

 

New on Techgenix.com

Amazon Macie: New enhanced version with lower pricing available

AWS has rolled out an enhanced version of its Amazon Macie security service. The new version has several new features and, best of all, lower pricing.

https://techgenix.com/amazon-macie-enhanced-version/

Best patch management tools to keep remote devices updated

Administering remote devices can be a headache for IT pros. But with these patch management tools, you can update remote devices painlessly.

https://techgenix.com/best-patch-management-tools-remote-devices/

Azure AD and applications: From creation to improved security

In this two-part series, we are going over all the steps needed to publish and secure an Azure AD application. Here’s Part 2.

https://techgenix.com/http-techgenix-com-azure-ad-and-applications-part-2/

Review: Exchange Online backup solution NETsec Mailbox Archiver

Businesses needing to restore mailboxes in Exchange Online often use a third-party product. NETsec Mailbox Archiver is one such solution. Here’s our review.

https://techgenix.com/review-netsec-mailbox-archiver/

What is DevSecOps and why is it important for your company?

What is DevSecOps? Why is it important and what are its benefits? What obstacles could organizations and teams run into in the process of implementing it?

https://techgenix.com/what-is-devsecops/

 

Fun videos from Flixxy

Kermit The Frog & Debbie Harry- ‘Rainbow Connection’

Debbie Harry, lead singer of the rock group ‘Blondie’ and Kermit The Frog singing ‘Rainbow Connection.’

https://www.flixxy.com/kermit-the-frog-and-debbie-harry-rainbow-connection.htm

Cat Herders Classic Super Bowl Commercial

Herding cats: Don’t let anyone tell you it’s easy.  Award winning Super Bowl Commercial from 2000.

https://www.flixxy.com/cat-herders-classic-super-bowl-commercial.htm

This Man Escaped the Iron Curtain by Zip Line

In 1986, Daniel Pohl was stuck in communist Czechoslovakia, looking for a way to escape life under totalitarian rule.

https://www.flixxy.com/this-man-escaped-the-iron-curtain-by-zip-line.htm

Adorable Critters Captured On Hidden Spy Cam

All across the country, animals are kicking it into high gear as spring progresses and temperatures begin to climb.

https://www.flixxy.com/adorable-critters-captured-on-hidden-spy-cam.htm

 

More articles of interest

Container auditing best practices for large-scale deployments

Container auditing and reporting are essential security and compliance measures in a production environment. Apply these practices to uncover abnormalities, control user access and choose the right tool.

https://searchitoperations.techtarget.com/tip/Container-auditing-best-practices-for-large-scale-deployments?Offer=Content_Partner_OTHR-_2020May22_TG_A1

Windows Server 2019 RDS updates a boon for remote work needs

Enhanced security, improved end-user experience and cloud integration are just a few of the perks for organizations that move to Windows Server 2019 RDS.

https://searchwindowsserver.techtarget.com/tip/Windows-Server-2019-RDS-updates-a-boon-for-remote-work-needs?Offer=Content_Partner_OTHR-_2020May22_TG_A2

Design firm ups productivity with Workspot

Mead & Hunt is using Workspot virtual desktops to enable remote work during the pandemic — and it’s paying off in ways the firm didn’t expect.

https://searchvirtualdesktop.techtarget.com/feature/Design-firm-ups-productivity-with-Workspot?Offer=Content_Partner_OTHR-_2020May22_TG_A3

Business continuity challenges emerge as work from home ends

As governments consider reopening, organizations must address how it affects business continuity planning, such as accounting for WFH employees returning to offices and the potential for outages.

https://searchdisasterrecovery.techtarget.com/feature/Business-continuity-challenges-emerge-as-work-from-home-ends?Offer=Content_Partner_OTHR-_2020May22_TG_A4

 

Send us your feedback!

Got feedback about anything in this issue of WServerNews? Email us at [email protected]

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